Vol. VI, Nov. 2000


To Live and Work in Union with the Angels (cf. Tob 11)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood! 

St. Raphael’s mission as the companion of Tobias, as they now return home, is coming to its end. They "went together," setting out on their journey home.

1. As they neared home, Raphael took the initiative once more. He said, "You know how we left your father. Let us hurry on ahead of your wife to prepare the house while the rest of the party is still on their way." He admonished further: "Have the gall in your hand!" (Tob 11:2-3). Then he gave him instructions for the application to his father’s eyes: "I am certain that his eyes will be opened. Smear the fish gall on them. This medicine will make the cataracts shrink and peel off from his eyes; then your father will again be able to see the light of day" (11:7-8).  

In the meantime, his father Tobit and his mother Anna were fighting against despair (cf. 10:1-7). Still, they persevered and did not lose hope: "Anna sat watching the road by which her son was to come. When she saw him coming, she exclaimed to his father, ‘Tobit, your son is coming, and the man who traveled with him!’ ... Then Anna ran up to her son, threw her arms around him, and said to him, ‘Now that I have seen you again, son, I am ready to die!’ And she sobbed aloud. Tobit got up and stumbled out through the courtyard gate" (11:5-6.9-10).

"Tobias went up to him with the fish gall in his hand, and holding him firmly, blew into his eyes. ‘Courage, father,’ he said. Next he smeared the medicine on his eyes, and it made them smart. Then, beginning at the corners of Tobit’s eyes, Tobias used both hands to peel off the cataracts. When Tobit saw his son, he threw his arms around him and wept. He exclaimed, ‘I can see you, son, the light of my eyes!’" (10-15). Then he said: "’Blessed be God, and praised be his great name, and blessed be all his holy angels. May his holy name be praised throughout all the ages, because it was he who scourged me, and it is he who has had mercy on me...’

Tobias told his father that his journey had been a success; that he had brought back the money; and that he had married Raguel’s daughter, Sarah, who would be arriving shortly. ... Rejoicing and praising God, Tobit went out to the gate of Nineveh to meet his daughter-in-law" (15-17). Throughout this entire episode, Raphael is not mentioned once. 

2. From this, what are we supposed to learn about the angelic mission and service to man?

a) First, we observe that, once more, man and angel are walking together. That can be understood from a common basis in their nature as well as from the common goal.

Man has a certain similarity with the angels in virtue of his spiritual soul, even though in his composite nature as animal rationale, he has both a physical body as well as a spiritual soul. This enables him to communicate with the angels, who are pure spirits by nature. This is the reason that when the normal exchange between man and angels happens, it is an intellectual communication through images.

That they walk together indicates, also, their common goal. God calls man and angel to the same beatitude. He makes them blessed by means of the same grace. For both man and angel, GOD is the fulfillment of their lives, their happiness and joy, and their only satisfying peace. Therefore, they are "neighbors" to each other in the sense of the main commandment (cf. Mt 22:39), and they are called to love each other with the love of friendship, indeed, of brotherhood (cf. S. Thomas Aq., Summa Theologica, II-II, 25,10).

b) In their relationship with each other, the angel takes the initiative. He precedes man in all things, with the possible exception of grace, for God can bestow on man more graces than the angels themselves receive, as we see in the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Queen of the angels. Still, St. Gabriel lived in the beatific Vision, seeing God face to face, whereas, while still on earth, Mary walked in the obscurity of faith. Thus, Gabriel still guided her, although she was more full of grace.

Furthermore, the angel manifests much greater circumspection and has greater foresight than man is capable of; he can see much of what man cannot see or even consider. Raphael desired that Tobit be healed before his daughter-in-law arrived, so that the feast would not be saddened by any defect.

A third point to be observed is the attentive and kind care. As much as God lets him understand about the near future, Raphael, acting like a mother, prepares for eventualities which Tobias does not yet foresee. His solicitude is many sided: he brings order into the past, as with the cure of the father Tobit. He, no doubt, sustained the good spirits of Tobias’ parents with confidence in Divine Providence as they anxiously awaited the return of their son, notwithstanding his unexplained delay. After all, God had commissioned him to resolve Tobit’s difficulties (3:25). And he himself goes ahead with Tobias so as to prepare a fitting welcome for the newly married Sarah.

This is surely the paramount characteristic of the angels’ ministry on our behalf: to go before man and to bring him to the place that GOD has prepared for him (cf. Ex 23:20). This shows the love with which God assigns an angel for each one of us for our entire journey on this earth: The angel never leaves us alone but offers continually the help of such a might and loving friend. Who can consciously advert to this great gift without being moved to a still greater humility and gratitude and without being renewed in one’s zeal to collaborate even more with God and with this companion who walks with us through the journey of our life on earth?

c) Then we see his help in a double way: he orientates man’s mind and encourages man’s will.

St. Raphael enlightens Tobias’ mind. He taught him about the medical value of the fish gall. He gave him instructions on how to apply it and described its effect so that he might not be frightened nor disturbed by any doubts. Then he encouraged Tobias, who, despite the great joy over the success of his journey, might still have been anxious about his parents. Raphael assured him: "I give you my word that your father’s eyes will open" (11:7). Together with his promise and with words of orientation about what Tobias was to do, he awakened hope and animated him.

With the angels man should never become a pessimist because he always has God’s majesty and omnipotence as well as God’s love before his eyes. Tobias apparently had already learned from him, for he said to his father: "Take courage, father!" He obeyed the angel, and so, at the end, we find all praising God. This complements perfectly the beginning scene where we found Tobit and Sarah crying out and begging God for help. Tobias’ father, and all with him, blessed the Lord God!: "Welcome, my daughter! Blessed be your God for bringing you to us, daughter!" (11:17). 

3. What does this say about the angel himself? There are three points we might point out.

a) The angel’s initiative might be understood as a sign of the interior attitude of the angel toward the commandment of God. He said "yes!" to the call of God and to the mission he received at the side of man, so humble as it was for him. He made the love of God for Tobias his own and, humanly speaking, reflected and considered the needs of man, and sought the best for all. It is, what after Vatican II is called, a "responsible obedience," an obedience in which the person in holy submission tries to think of the best for the common good with the mind of the superior or according to his viewpoint.

b) Because the angel brought Tobias back to his parents, with further concrete counsels, right up to the door of the house, so to say, and then disappeared from the scene in the first moments after the family reunion and for the entire week of the marriage-feast (cf. 12:1), another beautiful side of the holiness of the angels is revealed: they serve and serve with interior participation, and yet they do not place themselves in the forefront but hide themselves. They might be called the "silent servants", in a certain similarity to the Holy Spirit, who never took on a human shape so that we might, in some way, be able to imagine Him.

c) Finally, we have to pay attention to the cure he arranged. Does the angel belong to those who want to say that God is against suffering and wants to free man of it at any cost? The angel knows certainly that God created man free from suffering, in order, harmony, and perfection, and that in heaven there will not be found any suffering. And he knows that suffering was introduced by sin as its destructive effect, just as the fallen angel caused the death of Sarah’s former husbands out of envy. Therefore, God is against suffering in itself; however, since sin caused such disorder and damage, God ordained the expiatory sufferings of his absolutely sinless Son in order to bring about man’s redemption. And calling individuals to be disciples of his Son, he may want the same from one or the other in the imitation of Christ so as to share more intimately in his redemptive work. 

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood, observing the assistance Raphael gave to Tobias, we can admire the help of the angels in such important human affairs and understand our priestly ministry also as a truly ‘angelic mission.’

How often do long journeys end up leaving individuals at a greater distance from one another? How often do financial matters, such as a question of inheritance, lead to fights, bickering, and separation? Here, however, we find the angel supporting the care of the parents for their children and the care of the children for the health of their elderly parents.

And as priests, we accompany souls on their way to God like Raphael accompanied Tobias to the goal of his journey.

Like Raphael, we take the blindness of the people through the light of truth and of mercy in confession and enlighten their way: we make them aware of the dangers, indicate the will of God, and remind them of their duties and rights. Like Raphael, we lift the souls up to God in prayer where everyone finds joy and peace of heart, and any fears dissolve like a mist before the noonday sun.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC