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Vol. VII, March 2001

 

The Angel's 3rd Instruction, IV:
"Do Good, and No Evil Can Befall You!" (Tob 12:7)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The instruction of St. Raphael, which we are considering, surprises through its depth. What a great lesson he gave on the correct balance between silence and preaching! After that follows another fundamental truth, a truth which should be communicated to all, especially to those who with deep sincerity are seeking for right counsel and behavior: "Do what is good, and no evil can befall you!"

1. "Do good" — what a surprise! Is that not the norm? Could we even consider another possibility? And what a promise St. Raphael gives here: "no evil can befall you!"

a) Is not confrontation with evil a fact of daily experience? Disrespect between persons is all too frequent; calumnies, even in public, are common; life itself is at danger everywhere. Many live in fear and are moved to act by this passion. "All day long my enemies taunt me," claims the Psalmist (Ps 102:8), and St. Paul quotes him saying: "... we are being massacred all day long, treated as sheep to be slaughtered" (Rom 8:36; cf. Ps 44:22). And the Lord did not promise anything much better to his followers: "I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves" (Mt 10,3) and, "Remember the word I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you" (Jn 15:20). St. Raphael had not yet heard this lesson of Christ, but, he understood his fallen brothers, he understood human life too, and knew the story of Tobit: He had done good burying his brothers in the faith, and it appears as if the evil of blindness was the salary he received for his good works (cf. 2:7-10, note the comment to this in the Vulgate, 2:12-18)! How therefore can we understand the promise of St. Raphael?

b) On the one hand, we wonder about this promise, but on the other, we find it so frequently repeated in Scripture that we cannot but accept it. The Psalmist teaches: "Turn your back on evil and do good, you will have a home for ever!" (Ps 37:27). And Ecclesiastes assures: "One who obeys the command will come to no harm!" (Eccl 8:5). And we might also here refer to St. Paul’s words to the Romans: "Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head’. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good!" (Rom 12:17-21). This is expressed most clearly by our Lord Himself: "You have heard how it was said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth’ ... and ‘You will love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say this to you, ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’" (Mt 5:38.43-44). It seems that Jesus makes no changes to the traditional doctrine and demands: do good in any way and at any coast.

2. In our unbelief, it may help us to ask "what is good, what is evil?" and "what does it mean to do good?" How is it possible that the good can have such an effect? Does the good even have an exorcistic effect?

a) We must first observe, that St. Raphael speaks of the one who does good: "Do good". He does not refer to our subjective — albeit good — intentions. Tobit did not merely consider being a faithful Israelite, of how ‘he should and would like to bury the dead, or of how wonderful it would be if he were allowed to do so. But after all the king does not allow it, so God must consider him dispensed.’ Not to such dreamers as these does the statement of St. Raphael refer, but to those who know the will of God and put it into practice, who do what is good: "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice" (Lk 8:21). "It is not anyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Mt 7:21). Tobit was one of them: He went out and buried those whom he found dead.

b) Secondly we must remember that "good" and "evil" are contrary terms, terms that are opposed to each other. "Good" is that which corresponds to the nature of creatures, it is that which contributes to their perfection and their fulfillment before God, and finally it is that which corresponds to the will of God. Good develops all that is granted by God and brings us closer to him. We speak of "evil" when we expect some good and do not find it. For example, we seek harmony and peace in parish life and find tension and quarrel. An act is considered "evil", if instead of being constructive and helping the other to achieve his or her true end, it undermines and destroys. Good and evil cannot stand together. They are mutually exclusive.

This contrariety between good and evil leads to a further consideration necessary for a more complete understanding: That which is defective is called "bad" or "evil". The defect may refer to the "good" which we expect according the thing’s nature or which we expect according the plan of God. So seen, a sinner is a "bad" Christian, but a "good" Christian — one who fulfills the basic duties of the Christian life — could still be a "bad" religious. Therefore, to "do good" does not just mean the avoiding of sin, or living according to nature and reason, but also involves the positive fulfillment of God’s will.

When we look at Tobit, we notice that the good he practiced is of a spiritual nature: he was obedient to God and faithful to the law of his fathers. The evil however, the blindness from which he suffered, was of a corporeal or material nature and of temporal or passing character. In this case the good and evil belonged to different levels so permitting their coexistence. St. Paul expressed this truth in very powerful terms when he pronounced the following punishment: "you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor 5:5). The instructive story of Job is to be understood in the same light: His upright intention kept the evil thoughts of his apparent friends out of his mind while his physical suffering purified his soul still more.

3. Now, this is what St. Raphael says: Those who take steps towards what which is good do, in fact, walk away from evil. Let us see how this is reflected in daily life.

a) As the sun drives out darkness, so does the smile of a child take away the sadness of the adult. The presence of a friend frees from despair, and good activity frees from laziness and all that follows in its wake.

"Do what is good, and no evil can befall you." We could say that these words provide us with a short description of — the formal aspect of — our priestly ministry, for all that we do has as its purpose the bringing of our people closer to God who is the supreme Good and, in so doing, we withdraw them from all that is evil.

As we announce the Gospel and the teaching of the Church, we expel heresies and evil thoughts from the minds of many. As we administrate the sacraments, we invoke the good and the evil flees away. This is especially true with regard to the sacrament of confession, where our action could be compared to that of an exorcist.

If we seek the presence of God in adoration and unceasing prayer, the devil will certainly take his leave. If we try to make our Holy Hour and adore our Lord and God, the evil one will depart, for he can stand anywhere better than in the presence of God. When Jesus said, "‘The Lord your God is the one to whom you must do homage, him alone you must serve,’ then the devil left him, and suddenly angels appeared and looked after him" (Mt 4:10-11).

If we cultivate devotion to Our Lady, the humble "handmaid of the Lord", surely every proud spirit will flee from us. If we sincerely love our neighbor, we expel all egoism from our hearts. Reading and meditating on the Word of God fills our minds with holy thoughts so that bad thoughts no longer find "place" in our souls.

Visiting a confrere, we help free him from mistrust, deception or even depression; (such visits should form part of our "plan of life" which the Church suggests in the Directory for … Priests, 76; the seventh point mentioned in this context refers to the priests "care for his communion and friendship with other priests").

These and many other examples show us, in short: To turn to the good, means to turn away from the evil, or: "do good, and evil will not overtake you!"

b) In the Catechism, the Church teaches: "Angels are spiritual creatures who glorify GOD without ceasing and who serve his saving plans for other creatures: ‘The angels work together for the benefit of us all’ (St. Thomas Aquinas, Sth I, 114, 3 ad 3)" (CCC 350). St. Thomas wanted to convey the following truth: If we commit sin, we cannot justify ourselves by saying that it was the devil who seduced. But the good we do is always done with angelic help: "ad omnia bona nostra cooperantur angeli". Once more, the holy angels do not just demand, but they also help immediately to fulfill what they ask.

4. Dear Brothers in the priesthood!

Have we grasped the simplicity of the first "exorcism"? If we fill our minds with good thoughts, the distractions of worldly thoughts will diminish, as they will no longer find place in our minds. Let us, therefore, take to heart what St. Raphael taught Tobit and Tobias. In this lenten season let us return to spiritual reading, to daily meditation on the life of JESUS and to following him by walking the Stations of the Cross. Let us pass time like Christ with the Father in personal prayer and adoration. Let us seek the presence of God - and the devil will flee us.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC