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Vol.VII, December 2001

 

The 3rd Instruction, XIII: "I Came ... It Was God's Will"
(Tob 12:18)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

This will be our last meditation on the book Tobit, a book so near to life and yet so uplifting in its message. At the end, St. Raphael revealed his identity. This surprised the pious Tobit and his son. "Stricken with fear, the two men fell to the ground. But Raphael said to them: 'No need to fear; you are safe. Thank God now and forever'." (12:16-17). This last narration leads us to the goal of every angelic apparition and instruction: it offers us some essential characteristics of souls living "in union with the holy angels" (Consecration) and gives secure criteria of discernment for all heavenly communications.

1. St. Raphael manifested that he is more than just some human companion, more in the natural order as a pure spirit, and more in the supernatural order as being sent by God: "I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord" (12:15). "When I came to you it was not out of any favor on my part, but because it was God's will" (v. 17).

a) This open declaration of his full identity threw Tobit and Tobias at the ground, "stricken with fear, the two men fell to the ground" (v.16). Holy fear filled their souls. It is more than fitting that the angel manifested to them his authentic splendor, so that they might manifest him their due respect, docile openness, prompt obedience and loving collaboration. Do we not claim the same for us priests in view of our ordination? The laity, though, can show respect before a priest's dignity only when he identifies himself through his dress and behavior (cf. Pastores dabo vobis, 33.5).

b) But St. Raphael continued saying: "No need to fear before my greatness, for it is for your benefit; you are safe. Thank God now and forever. ... continue to thank Him every day; praise Him with song. ... Get up from the ground and praise God" (vv.17-20), for I do not want from you anything else than your consent and collaboration in order to guide you to God; only in Him can you find all you need and want. This is the sole intention of every angel who shows his spiritual power and might so that man be impressed and filled with holy fear. The overwhelming majesty of an angel is just a shadow of the still infinitely greater divine glory. What further qualities do we know of a priest who lives oriented towards God like the angels? He is selfless and transparent, poor and yet a representative of God as they are, so that others who meet him are grateful that he is different, has and inspires authority. Through his priestly ordination and power, which make him "more", his love and serving help become more effective.

a) In the attitudes (postures) of the body in prayer we have to distinguish always between a positive and negative motive. To "stand before God" or in prayer should not express self-affirmation and vainglory, or one's strength nor the petition of one's own rights, or even still less: a contentious attitude of confrontation. It should, rather, express recognition and respect before God, personal freedom and total disposition, the readiness for any order from God, - attitudes which other postures do not express. God wanted this, when He said to the prophet Ezekiel: "Son of man, get to your feet; I will speak to you!" (Ez 2:1; cf. Rev 7:9). And the Church asks this from us, whenever we stand solemnly before God as when we recite the Apostolic Creed or say the "Our Father". Kneeling can mean humility and surrender (cf. Rev 4:9-10), but also lack of courage out of shame, a will to hide oneself before God like Adam (cf. Gen 3:8-10) or it may expresses rather negatively some unhealthy concentration in oneself. To sit, the third bodily position, expresses negatively indifference, but, positively, attention: it tells that someone is expected and invited (cf. Rev 4:2-4).

So the two fell on the ground, but the angel invited them, "Get up from the ground and praise God" (v.20). As Raphael is not just some traveler, whom they met "by chance", but an angel, so does he tell them: You are not just a sinful creature, but sons of God, too. Therefore, be with Jesus, the Son, and with Him praise the Father.

b) We stopped already once on this point and drew our attention to how much St. Raphael insists with Tobit and Tobias on praising GOD (cf. Circular VI,12 and VII,1). Much more important than penance, which bows down over our sins and our ruin, is praise. Praise looks forward and enjoys God, in Whom lies the key, the solution to each and every problem. Joining the song of praise of the angels "always" leads us to a habitually positive view of reality! Praise opens the soul like a window of a house, so that the warmth of the sun and the fresh air can come into the home and all rooms. Praise elevates, brings the soul positively nearer to God, animates the soul, encourages it and makes it stronger.

This should be said of all those who desire to live in union with the holy angels and let themselves really be guided by them: They should be living flames of praises before heaven and earth, at the same time filled with holy fear and ardent love, and due to their sincere faith they should always be trustworthy witnesses to God's presence in any and every circumstance of life. In fact, "when Raphael ascended," Tobit and Tobias "rose to their feet and could no longer see him. They kept thanking God and singing His praises; and they continued to acknowledge these marvelous deeds which He had done when the angel of God appeared to them" (vv. 21-22). Thereupon follows chapter 13 of the book, which is an extensive song of praise, similar to those in St. John's Book of Revelation.

3. The story of Tobit is applied theology. We tried to abstract from the concrete situations some doctrinal truths about the holy angels and our life with them. In conclusion to these meditations we want to sum up these truths, so that each one of us can apply them again, now in the lives of the faithful of today. What were the points we found?

First we realized, that Tobit merited through his "justice" or righteous and faithful life the grace of the angel's assistance. Later on can be seen, that obedience is a necessary attitude for a fruitful collaboration between the angel and man.

Then, concerning the angels themselves we learned:

The angel is an individual person with a proper name.

The angel is a pure spirit, so that he has no real body and cannot eat material food as we do.

The angel stands before the throne of God, in His presence, individually and in groups; he is, at any moment, ready for every divine wish, whatever it might be.

The angel is already present in man's life, long before we ask God for such help; this is the case for the personal Guardian Angel or for an angel who is given charge over a large group, for example a family.

The angel was sent by God and is therefore a servant of Divine Providence or of the paternal care of God. He knows how to overcome the fallen angels and orients man in the spiritual battle.

The angel knows the material world: the surface of the earth, the country and its ways; the qualities of creatures and their effects, for example, their healing power.

The angel submits himself not only to the Divine will, but also with God to man's freedom; he is humble and submits himself to the rules of discernment.

The angel accepts petitions from man: man's prayer sets the angel free.

The angel watches over man, foresees situations, acts as mediator among men and especially brings together partners of life.

The angel does not keep all difficulties away from man, he might even cause some problems to test man's strength and occasion his growth.

The angel shows man how to live a life which pleases God:

- he taught the famous threefold program of Christian holiness, that is: prayer, fasting and almsgiving;

- he instructs man that he who commits sin and does evil brings harm on himself, but he who obeys and does good, cannot be befallen by any evil;

- he reminded the young Tobias of the need of prayer as the first duty and of the obedience due to his father;

- he taught both the duty of praising God unceasingly as well as keeping silence over the marvels of God wrought in the interior depths of the soul.

4. Dear Brothers in the priesthood, we have arrived at the end of this biblical angel story. After such a marvelous lesson there remains only to emphasize one more point, the similarity of St. Raphael's mission with that of us priests.

He gave some sermons and instructions about spiritual life, about the defense against the devil and how to overcome sin; all this is also part of the prophetic ministry of a priest and belongs to it.

He acted as mediator between heaven and earth, between God and man as well as between man and God presenting man's prayers and offering them to the almighty God, similar to the proper priestly or sacerdotal ministry of us priests.

And he accompanied man on his way on earth, sharing with him all his needs and helping when and wherever he was asked, just as is expected from us priests as Good Shepherds or pastors of the sheep.

May we, therefore, in future readings and meditations on the book of Tobit always be encouraged by the example of St. Raphael to fulfill our priestly mission with new zeal and enthusiasm, with renewed conviction that we are servants of the Lord and that He is following each of our steps, He Himself, but also his angel which He certainly has sent to us as "fellow-servant of your brothers the prophets" (cf. Rev 22,9).

Let us join in Tobit's praise:

"Blessed is God who lives for ever, and blessed is His kingdom. For He afflicts, and He shows mercy; He leads down to Hades, and brings up again ... Make His greatness known there, and exalt Him in the presence of all the living; because He is our Lord and God, He is our Father for ever. I exalt my God; my soul exalts the King of heaven, and will rejoice in His majesty. ... For Jerusalem will be built with sapphires and emeralds, her walls with precious stones, and her towers and battlements with pure gold. The streets of Jerusalem will be paved with beryl and ruby and stones of Ophir; all her lanes will cry ' Hallelujah!' and will give praise, saying, 'Blessed is God, Who has exalted you forever'" (Tob 13).

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC