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Vol. VII, August 2001

 

3rd Instruction IX "...Sent to Test Your Faith"
 (Tob 12:12-15)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The meditations on the angels in the Sacred Scriptures have already shown us a much larger picture of the angels than we commonly have in mind. We saw the angels not just as mediators between God and man but also between man and man. We saw them as "silent caller" (Ex 3), and also as "horses of fire" (2 Kings 2:11), as "example of pastoral love" (Gen 16) and as an "educator of the priest" (Gen 22) as well as vocation-director (Judg 6). They "withstand" man on the wrong way (Num 22:32) and, if necessary, testify against him (cf. Dt 4:26). They help man to worship God (Dt 25-33; IV,3), but also convince him of his sins (Jdg 2:1-5) as instruments of God's justice (Jdg 5; IV,6). The holy Angels are servants of the Most High, soldiers in the Divine Army, powers who touch mountains and make them smoke, and who speak like thunder (cf. Jn 12:29). Nevertheless, whatever they do, their only goal is and remains the glorification of God! With this in mind we do not wonder when St. Raphael explains to Tobit and Tobias that he had come also to test Tobit's faith.

1. In his explanation of his mission in the life of Tobit he reveals a secret which makes many people question the existence of God, or at least, His presence and goodness. They ask: how could God exist, be good or even be present, when a man like Tobit who has only done good to others and does not even spare his own life for them, goes blind? St. Raphael said: "I was sent to put you to the test. At the same time, however, God commissioned me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah" (Tob 12:14). To understand the divine pedagogy we have to analyze first what happened.

Tobit, as a man full of the fear of the Lord, tried to obey the law of the Lord. In his faithfulness, he buried the body of a man, whose corpse had been left out in the open. Upon returning home, he innocently took a nap in the courtyard; there he sad down with his back against the courtyard wall, with his face uncovered. By a freak accident, the hot droppings of sparrows fell into his eyes, and he became completely blind (cf. 2:9-10). His wife had to undertake woman's work to support them.

Let us consider the magnitude this physical suffering must have caused him. One of the hardest things in sickness for a man is the feeling of helplessness. In this regard, blindness is a trump card: Tobit found himself unable to care for his family any longer. He also had to stop doing good works. Once his wife said to him: "What about your own alms? What about your good works? Everyone knows what return you have had for them!" (2:14). Does her complaint not continue to echo in ever so many minds even today? What good does God have from this blindness, which made Tobit incapable to do good anymore (cf. Ps 6:5; 115:17)? Where was God at that moment? He could have prevented Tobit's blindness directly by himself or through one of his angels? What good or purpose did it serve? Could it be that this limitation or withdrawal of freedom was a punishment, a punishment of a man who could affirm: "I, Tobit, have walked in paths of truth and in good works all the days of my life ... I had kept faith with my God with my whole heart" (Tob 1:3.12)?

2. a) St. Raphael added: "At the same time, however, God commissioned me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah" (Tob 12:14). This reminds us the famous statement of the prophet Hosea: "Come, let us return to Yahweh. He has rent us and he will heal us; he has struck us and he will bind up our wounds; after two days he will revive us, on the third day he will raise us up and we shall live in his presence" (Hos 6:1-2). It sounds like a general rule, a principle regulating the way God deals with us. Sickness and suffering, hindrances and crosses, afflictions and tribulations ... all these contradict life and development. It seems contradictory to God's "yes" to life; it seems to be so illogical to our human mind, it seems downright senseless. We cannot understand how this fits into the plan of God. However, experience of life teaches us: difficulties or even limitations of our physical life help to develop and ennoble our spiritual strength. Incomprehensibility or intellectual darkness awakens and strengthens our faith. The loss of members of our natural family helps us to seek our spiritual family in the Communion of Saints. The lack of some pleasure should and can be a ladder to seek for some spiritual joys, to mature from the sensual to the spiritual, from transitory, passing, short-lived moments to the persisting, stable, permanent, definitive values.

b) Now the pedagogy of God is more clearly seen and more easily understood when we look at the final goal, that is, God. And in this exercise no one can help us better than the holy angels. First, because they contemplate unceasingly the face of our Father in heaven, and second, because they are faithful ministers of God's holy will. We referred already on different occasions to the trials in man's life and considered different aspects: temptations as a means to "discover all that was in his (man's) heart" (2 Chron 32:31) and as a sign of predilection (cf. Circular V,6,7 and 9); then different forms of temptations according the spiritual state (cf. V,3) or some ways of reaction (cf. VI,9). But concerning explicit trials, in which the holy angels are present, we will now direct our attention.

There was Abraham: God and the angels announced him the birth of a son (cf. Gn 17:15; 18:10). Yet, again, God, with the ministering service of an angel "put Abraham to the test. 'Abraham, ... take your son, your only son, your beloved son, ... to offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains" (Gn 22:2). When Abraham obeyed promptly, "early next morning", and arrived at the top of the mountain and "stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son, ... the angel of Yahweh called to him from heaven" and said, "Do not raise your hand ..., do not harm him, for now I know you fear God" (Gn 22:10-12). That was the purpose of this test: to manifest the depth of Abraham's fear of the Lord, which, indeed, was very great.

And how was it with Saint Joseph? Did he not struggle many days and nights between the obedience to the divine law and the faithfulness to the pure and holy Mary who "was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child" and he did not know how it came to be. Only, when he wanted to put an end to the irresolvable question and "decided to divorce her informally ... suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared to him" (Mt 1:18-20) and cleared up what had happened. It was not sin from which St. Joseph needed to be purified, but the passage from the natural hierarchy of values to the supernatural, from the old-testamentary to the new-testamentary alliance.

Or what about St. Peter? Only after he had been in prison for some days, "on the night before Herod was to try him, ... suddenly an angel of the Lord stood there" (Acts 12:6) before him and freed him. In the contrast between the days in prison and his regained freedom, he recognized: "Now I know it is all true. The Lord really did send his angel and saved me from Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting" (v. 11). While he could think in prison: "God does not see me, he does not care for me. Does God exist at all?", the miraculous intervention of the angel wiped all such questions and thoughts out of his mind and helped him not just to believe, but to "know that it is all true" and real!

3. a) The graces which even such holy people still gain through such heavy burdens are great: Deeper fear of the Lord, clearer understanding of the presence of God in our life, deeper faith in the help of God in every circumstances, more trust and confidence, simple humility, careful obedience in all to God's holy will, more careful vigilance and mistrust towards the proper will, stronger perseverance in the unceasing prayer, comprehension of others, but also strong and unwavering encouragement - are these not all graces which the holy angel urgently wants to transmit to us! And if there is no other way, then, why not through trials and temptations?

b) Our story of Tobit is proof of this: First, it is confirmed that the test was for real: four years of blindness brought Tobit to the margin of existence and nearly to despair. However, still directing himself to God in prayer (3:1-6), was the means for grace to enter: first, "the same day Tobit remembered the silver that he had left with Gabael" (4:1); second, he confessed before his son his faithfulness to the spiritual inheritance of his fathers (ch. 4); and third, he confessed and defended his trust in God and his angel's help before his wife (5:21-22).

Trying him in this way, God knew the right time in which to give back the eyesight to this faithful servant and let him see the blessings he prepared for him in the riches the son brought home and, more yet, in his daughter-in-law of the same faith who is a sign of future happiness for him and for all the family: Health and wealth and a blessed future! Truly, God, through his angel, not only strikes us, but also binds up our wounds for a stronger life.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Understanding the pedagogy of God, we do not wonder further, why the mission of the holy angels is so vast. They have to help us reach heaven, and we are to be found in all corners of the world and in so many different situations and conditions or states of soul (cf. Mt 24:31).

Furthermore, we learn from the fact that St. Raphael had to test Tobit, how much more we still have to trust in God's real presence at every moment and in every place, in the attention of the holy angels in all circumstances! The story of Tobit tells us once more, how much we should follow the example of Our Lady and say always "Yes!" ­ except to sin ­ and to conform ourselves quickly to the situation God's providence has prepared for us, for "God works with those who love him" (Rom 8:28).

May the lesson re-sound in our ears, time and again: The less we interfere in God's work, the clearer and quicker He can and will do his work in our life and through us in the lives of others.

May St. Raphael help us to grow in our confidence in God and in our collaboration with the divine will, be it even through tests.

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC