Vol. VII, Feb. 2001


The Angel's 3rd Instruction, III:
Keep Secrets, Praise God's Works (cf. Tob 12:7.11)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

St. Raphael, after repeated invitations to praise God, further instructs Tobit and his son in a general way: "A king's secret it is prudent to keep, but the works of God are to be declared and made known. Praise them with due honor" (Tob 12:7 and 11). Does he say this only to underline the importance of praise? What is the angel's intention when, speaking of praise, he sets up the opposition between a king and God, secrets and works, guarding and proclaiming?

1. a) First of all, it is fitting to realize that the imperative to praise God and his goodness is repeated like a principle or general law. That is to say, it did not issue from the angel's mouth in a spontaneous and blind outburst of enthusiasm, as it may happen with us men. In the view of the angels, it is a duty which should be a fundamental part of (human) life, quite independent of one's immediate personal motives, or of one's subjective experience; it ought to be based on the living faith in God himself, in his unlimited power or omnipotence, in his infinite love and immense, immeasurable goodness.

b) The immediate context of Raphael's exhortation in the life of Tobit sheds some light upon this opposition between guarding the "king's secret" and proclaiming "God's work". Even while Tobit lived in exile, he was in the service of the royal house of Nineveh, having found favor with the king Shalmaneser (cf. 1:12-13). "When Shalmaneser died, Sennacherib his son reigned in his place" (v. 15). "If Sennacherib the king put to death any who came fleeing from Judea, I buried them secretly" (v. 18). The king heard that Tobit had been burying them secretly, and so he planned secretly to put Tobit to death. Thus, Tobit found himself placed between an earthly king and God, "the King of Heaven". When he had discovered the secret, he was still able to flee. "Not fifty days passed before two of Sennacherib's sons killed him; and ... Esarhaddon, his son, reigned in his place" with whom Tobit found again favor (v. 21-22).

c) It is against this background that we have to understand the angel's words which set up an opposition between a human king and God. The historical context of the life of Tobit shows that human plans are very fragile. Even a king is weak, and to realize his ideas he needs to keep them secret, be it that he can ponder them with enough calm, or be it that no one who is against him can hinder their realization. Tobit, for example, knew about the secret plan of the king, and so could save his life. Man has a much greater chance of success in the measure that he is able to keep his plans secret. Therefore, it is prudent to do so.

The question arises though: is the Angel Raphael merely referring to a king on earth, or should we apply this first phrase also to God?

2. In the New Testament, Jesus revealed the Father to us. He took advantage of the solitude and silence. He often hid himself; he went up the mountains and prayed in the hiddeness of the night. There he praised his Father; but we also find palpable "secrets" in his life.

a) He knows about a secret of his Father; he said: "But of the day and hour (of the end of time) no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, not the Son, but the Father only" (Mt 24:36). Then, we are told how the Father shares secrets with him, which he may share if he wants (cf. Mt 11:27). On different occasions he asked individuals to keep secret what he was telling them or, for various reasons, to hide what he was doing.

First, he required silence with regard to some secrets of God, which he, nevertheless, chose to share with only certain persons. This he did, for example, with the secrets of the kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 13:11), on Tabor, with his divinity, which he manifested to only a few apostles (cf. Mt 17:9), and with the manifestation of his humanity in agony, in the garden of Gethsemane, where he wanted close to himself just three of all the twelve apostles (cf. Mt 26:36f.).

In his public life, it soon became evident why it was most prudent to keep his plans a secret. When he cured a leper he said to him: "See that you say nothing to anyone; but ... to the priest ..."-- but he went out and began to talk freely about it, and spread the news. Was this not a desirable effect we may ask? The Evangelist, however, states, "Jesus could no longer openly enter a town" (Mk 1:44-45). Similarly, the unclean spirits did not hide themselves simply, but cried out what they knew, revealing his plan thus trying to make it fail by untimely revelation: "Have you come to destroy us?" Jesus defended himself by reducing them to silence: "Be silent!" or in other words: keep it secret! (Mk 1:24-25).

Then, of course, Jesus also had secrets, whose revelation was pending on time and circumstances. So, for example, to the three apostles who had just witnessed his Transfiguration, he commanded: "Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead" (Mt 17:9). Generally he foretold to the apostles: "Nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops" (Mt 10:26f.).

b) What do we learn in the New Testament about the words of the angel? Even Jesus acts in the sense of the angel's instruction. He knows about divine secrets, which are not even known to him as man, and about others he knows and about which he is allowed to talk; and speaking about such to someone, he distinguishes according to the persons and according the circumstances and time. All is subordinated to a law of growth: with man, an idea has to mature and so become clear to the individual; persons have to grow and mature before they may grasp an idea in its real sense and dimension; circumstances are sometimes favorable, or sometimes contrary to an idea.

Yet, when the time is ripe, all will be realized and worked out, all will be made public and become openly known facts, "works of God". Works are supposed to come forth from matured ideas; they speak for themselves, although they are finally just revelations of God's thoughts. For man, it is part of humility to recognize what is true or what exists, and part of this is what the angel said: "The works of God are to be declared and made known", to be praised "with due honor" (Tob 12:7) as this honor is referred ultimately to God himself.

3. St. Raphael's instruction is great. Silence is an essential element in life. Persons have the right to have secrets (today we speak of "privacy"). They can share their secrets with whom they want or with whom it is fitting. Persons who receive secrets may not do with them what they want, but should conduct themselves according the conditions (personal or professional) under which they were received.

Silence is to the entrusted secret what the earth is for the seed or the oven is for the bread. In silence the transformation and changes occur in the soul, which are conducive for growth, like night is for plants. In silence emotions calm down and the intellect starts to grasp ideas. Silence requires self-discipline and the capacity to wait. Soon man understands the old saying: "Talking is silver, silence is gold!" Words issue from silence; day rises from the night; everything that now is real was once in potency. In this we can see just how necessary it is for silence to be first. Words are as ponderous as they were pondered in silence. Is not the "Magnificat" of Our Lady a proof of it? Its echo down through the centuries reveals the depth of her silent ponderation (cf. Mt 1:18-19; Lk 2:19.51).

What a deep meaning will be revealed to us in silence: "Deep calls to deep at the thunder of thy cataracts", or according the Neo-Vulgata, "Abyssus abyssum invocat" (Ps 42:7). That is to say, the infinite depth of God can be understood and seen in the little less splendor and beauty of the "works of God" only if silence builds in between. "How rich are the depths of God - how deep his wisdom and knowledge - and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods!" (Rom 11:33). Here silence is necessary. It appears almost like a defense mechanism, however, whoever considers it long enough recognizes its quiet invitation to draw near and even to enter by way of silence, and so begin to really 'see' and 'hear' the works of God, and so come to share in the angel's unending hymn of praise for God.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood! What St. Raphael taught Tobit and Tobias, he also practiced in reality; when the work was accomplished, he started to declare and make it known: "I will now tell you the whole truth" (12:11). St. Raphael confirmed the call to "Bless God now and forever" (12,17) and deepened his lesson. With Tobit and Tobias we have to thank God for the trust he puts in us; we have to care that we administrate the secrets well!

Our praise shall not come from a blind enthusiasm nor be motivated by mere and spontaneous passion. Man's speech and action should mature in discretion and silence.

The angel teaches us that it is prudent to keep a king's secret, and he goes on to say, that it is an obligation to make known the works of God. The one is good and the other also. Therefore, man has to ponder what will be the right comportment in the present moment!

There is no universal rule, but the solution lies in the concrete matter. Taking in the whole picture, the right thing, on one occasion is to keep silence; on another occasion it is to praise the Lord. The angel will show himself also to be for each one of us a true educator; he will lead us to the true order and beauty, which belongs already to some of the most beautiful manifestations of the perfection of God that we can witness about us. Many people today are sensitive to the value of "privacy", and can easily be taught to apply this to the silence, which St. Raphael teaches and helps to put in practice.

Fr.Titus Kieninger, ORC

"I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from the old,
We will not hide them from their children,
But tell to the coming generation
The glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
And the wonders which he has wrought. ...
So that they should set their hope in God,
And not forget the works of God" (Ps 78:2-4.7).