The Archangel Raphael
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
We shall concentrate on this meditation on one book of the Old Testament, the book of Tobias, also called the Book of Tobit. Unfortunately as we know, this book is missing in both the Jewish and the Protestant Old Testaments. Jews, after Christianity was established, dropped this book because it was not originally written in Hebrew. And the Protestants dropped the same book saying, “Who better than the Jews know what belongs in the Old Testament.” It is however, one of the inspired writings of the Catholic Church.
We will take this meditation in steps, first to see and say something about the history of Tobias, who was identified as the father, and Tobias identified as the son. Then a reflection on one chapter of this inspired book in which the Archangel Raphael speaks at length. The longest recorded speech of an angel is in this chapter twelve in the book of Tobias. Then we will make some applications for our own spiritual life drawing on both the experience of Tobias and his family, and especially on what the archangel told Tobias and through him is telling all of us.
First then the book of Tobias itself. This book first of all, describes the Jewish people who were taken over by the Ninivites. And among the Jewish people, enslaved by this pagan nation, was Tobias. A captive, we might call him, but a very generous man who practiced extraordinary charity. In his old age he became blind. He sent his son, Tobias, on a long journey to retrieve a long, unpaid debt. Then Tobias’ companion on this journey was what seemed to be, spoke like, and was thought to be a man. But, who was the archangel Raphael in human form. He was the companion of Tobias.
Raphael rescued the family, especially Sarah, from the powers of the devil. Raphael helped to recover the long, unpaid debt. Raphael prescribed just what should be done for Tobit’s blindness and he was healed. Before this book closes we have a wonderful and I repeat, unduplicated talk – call it speech or inspired declaration by the angel. All this while, Tobias, Tobit and the family, thought he was a man. They had planned to reward this very kind human being, by giving him one half of all their possessions. But this archangel, in disguise, said Thank You, and just before the end of the chapter, this generous companion and great helper of the family identified himself as an angel of the Lord. He gives one more short statement to the family and then leaves.
I am calling it the speech of Raphael. It is the most extensive, most detailed, and for us the most practical declaration of an angel of God in the whole of the Bible.
Father and son, Tobias, and Tobit, had just finished offering their generous companion one half of all their possession. Then the angel, appearing to them as a man, says to them secretly. Remember Raphael has not identified himself as an angel. He tells Tobias, Tobit, and the family:
Bless the God in Heaven. Give glory to Him in the sight of all the world because He has shown his mercy to you. For it is good to hide the secret of a king but it is honorable to reveal and proclaim the works of God. There is good in fasting, alms more than to lay up treasures of gold. For I delivered one from death and the same is that which absolves from sins. Alms provided for finding mercy and the life-everlasting. Those that commit sin and iniquity are enemies are of their own souls. I reveal the truth to you. I will not hide the secret from you. When you pray with tears, and you bury the dead, when you left your meal and without to pick up the dead and keep them in your house during the day and bury them at night, you offer your prayer to the Lord. Because you were acceptable to God it was is necessary that temptation should prove you. Now the Lord sent me to heal you. I delivered Sarah, your son’s wife from the devil. For I am the angel Raphael. One of the seven who stand before God.
The moment Raphael identifies himself as the angel of God, Tobit and Tobias fell to the ground in dreadful fear, realizing the one speaking to them was an angel of the Lord. Raphael then went on: “Peace be to you. Do not fear for when I was with you I was there by the will of God. Bless Him and sing praises to Him. I seemed to eat and drink with you, but it was an invisible meat and drink. It is time that I return to Him who sent me. But bless God and published all His wondrous deeds.” Having said this Raphael disappeared. I repeat this is the longest prologue, detail of any angels found in Sacred Scripture.
Needless to say it was given to Tobit and Tobias who are two men to us. What then are some of the implications of the message of Raphael in our own lives of meditation and devotion?
First, Raphael tells us that God sends His angels to help us in our needs. This is the teaching of the Church and the deeper and more grave our needs, the more sure we can be that God is providing us with angelic assistance. In other words, the more serious the need the more sure we can be that an angel is there to help us. This is not angelic poetry, this is our faith. Raphael tells us Tobit and his son and is telling us “Bless God.”
What does “Bless God” mean? To bless God means to speak to God, and as we have seen we begin to pray when we first think of God. We are told that we are to share God, show Him our appreciation of what He has done for us. Talk to God and tell Him how much you need Him and love Him. The more you pray to Him, the more you reap. That is why Raphael replies, “That is why God sends us trials.” We all have grace to remind us to pray to God and to speak to God. In another word to pray.
What is he telling us? What Raphael told father and son and is telling us in this language. To publicize what God has done for us. As we have seen before the retreat is over, more than once, the angels will help those who they hear the lines to use. Make known what God has done for you. Proclaim God’s goodness to all. Do not keep God’s gifts to you in secret. Share, communicate what God has given to you.
Prayer and charity
We continue. Raphael insists on prayer as an imperative “Pray, pray, pray.” Talk to God, talk with God. It is all part of our faith—God is always speaking to us. He wants us to engage Him in conversation in prayer. Raphael at length, praises the father for His great charity telling us therefore to practice charity.
Practice charity, see the needs of others before they can tell you what they need. The deepest needs of people, they do not expect. Charity begins in the mind. When the mind sees someone in need the heart goes out to that one in need. Finding the need and filling it. Whatever verb we use, help others, assist others, give to others. The deepest need anyone has is our love for them.
No matter what we can give them materially, what the human heart most wants is love. Raphael goes on, how this needs to be underlined and memorized.
Says Raphael: “God tries those who love Him.” What a statement. This is God’s way of enabling us to grow in our love for Him. Love is in the will. The main reason we have a free will is to love God. But how this needs to be understood, the more demanding, the more difficult, the more reluctant we are to do something, and yet we do it, the more our will is used to do what our conscience tells us is the will of God.
Thank God for the trials in your lives. Express your gratitude for the hardships and trials He gives us. Quoting the archangel Raphael, God sometimes enables us who love Him to love Him more through trials. How we need to hear this. God’s graces can be pleasant and enjoyable, but the graces can also be difficult and painful. Never deceive yourself that what is pleasing to us is displeasing to God. Raphael talked to Tobias’ son and is teaching us this.
Finally, Raphael told father and son to be at peace. As we have seen on Christmas morning, again not just one angel, but a host of angels tell us “Peace on earth to men of Good will”. Whatever else we should learn but from not only Raphael, but from God speaking through His angels, is that we should not just be at peace but cultivate peace in our minds and in our hearts. What is peace of mind? Peace of mind is the experience of knowing the truth. Behind that statement stands years of experience. One allegedly developed country after another has tried everything that this world can offer, but are not at peace. Why not? Because we are only as much at peace in our minds as our minds possess the truth. That is why when God became man, He identified Himself as, “I am the truth.”
What is truth?
What is the truth? Truth is our minds corresponding with reality. Yet, millions are living in a dream world of unreality. They do not posses the truth, and the truth, I repeat, is the agreement of the mind with reality. I keep telling one audience after another, statisticians tells us that ninety percent of reading American read is fiction. How we need to guard our minds from reading bewitched by the untruth.
How do we acquire the truth? We acquire it, of course, from God’s revelation. But it is one thing to say posses the truth-such as there are three persons in one God, or I know that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ, the living God-man is present here on earth in the Holy Eucharist. But if we are to grow in this peace of mind, we are to grow in our understanding of the truth that God has revealed.
That is the main purpose of meditation. By prayerfully reflecting on God’s revealed truth we grow in our grasp and understanding of what God has revealed. And our minds grow in this blessed gift of peace of mind. But, as Raphael told father and son and is telling us, we are to have also peace of heart. A synonym for peace of heart is peace of will.
What is peace of heart? Peace of heart is the experience of doing God’s will. And that is the only true source and foundation of joy in this valley of tears. We shall have peace of heart only in the measure that we are doing God’s will. Ah, what an examination of conscience we must all make. How faithful to God’s will am I? How ready am I to accept the cross He sends me? How willing am I to share with others what God has so generously given me? How much attention do I give to prayer in my life? So the litany goes on. Peace of heart is the experience of doing the will of God, and that experience is the happiness of spirit. Know God’s will with the mind and doing it with the will.
As Christ later on will tell us, we are to be peace makers. We shall bring peace to others only if we are at peace ourselves. We will bring peace to others by sharing with them the truth which we believe. We shall bring peace to others only in the degree that we ourselves are generous, loyal and doing the will of God. All of this and far more is locked up in the most detailed and deepest revelation of an angel sent by God to teach us how we are to live our lives here on earth in anticipation of joining the choirs of angels in a heavenly eternity.
Lord of the angels, we thank you for providing for our needs by sending your angels to help us. Your angel Raphael’s name means “God heals,” send us your angels to heal us from such bodily infirmity as you wish us to have removed. But, dear Lord, heal us especially in our spirit from the sickness of soul so that healthy in mind and body we may bless you, the Lord of the angels, and that we may grow in our love for you, healed by you through your angels here on earth and that we may reach you and join you for all eternity.