25. The Angel Raphael
Were the story of the Angel Raphael and Tobias, as recorded in Holy Writ, a mere bit of beautiful fiction it would still delight and charm us as few other stories are capable of doing. The singular uprightness of the elder Tobias, his never-failing patience and heroic constancy, enlist at once our affection and sympathy, while the fretfullness of his wife serves as a foil to throw his virtue into a strong and pleasing relief.
On the contrary, the transparent candour and simplicity of the younger Tobias, a reflection of his own thoroughly virtuous soul, make him worthy of association with the heavenly spirits, and thus dispose our minds for the extraordinary familiarity which he enjoys with one of their number during a protracted period of several weeks, as it would seem, and for the miraculous intervention of the angel in his own and his father’s behalf.
The preternatural, which exercises so great a spell over the human mind and which is so eagerly sought after, whether by lawful or unlawful means, is here present at every step, and the being around whom it centres is withal of so attractive a personality and so singularly human, that we are at once sweetly and powerfully drawn to listen to the lessons of virtue which he inculcates, if so perchance we too may one day share the blessed companionship of the angels.
Tobias was of the number of the Israelites whom the Assyrian King Salmanasar led captive out of Galilee to Ninive, capital of Assyria, some seven centuries before the coming of Our Lord. From his boyhood he had given to his countrymen the example of a most edifying life, and had refused to be drawn with them into the sin of idolatry, remaining ever faithful to the law of his fathers and the worship of the true God.
And God recompensed his fidelity by granting him to find favour with Salmanasar, the king, who allowed him to go wherever he would among his fellow captives and to do as he desired. In this way he was able to render great services to his people in the hour of their trial, and especially to give them many wholesome admonitions.
This he continued to do, even at the imminent risk of his life, during the reign of Sennacherib, son and successor of Salmanasar, who was filled with hatred towards the Israelites and slew many of them, especially after his inglorious retreat from Judea, where an angel of the Lord destroyed his whole army of a hundred and eighty-five thousand in a single night.
Tobias did all he could to relieve his fellow-countrymen in their sore distress, visiting them, consoling them and supplying their needs. But is was particularly by his zeal and charity in burying their dead, that he roused the ire of the King, and it was on a certain day when he had come home wearied out with labour of the kind and had thrown himself down to sleep by the wall of the house, the hot dung falling into his eyes from a swallow’s nest, deprived him of his sight.
It was a trial of his patience permitted by God, like the trials of holy Job, and Tobias proved himself similarly faithful in spite of the mockery he had to put up with from his kinsmen. Nevertheless he prayed God, if it were pleasing to Him, to deliver him by taking him out of this world, and confident that God had heard his prayer, he prepared to send his son to the distant city of Rages to collect a big debt that was owed him by a man of this tribe, named Gabelus.
At the very same time, a virtuous young woman on the name of Sara, a near relative of Tobias, had just been grossly and wantonly insulted by one of her father’s servant maids, and she was pouring forth her prayer in the bitterness of her soul to Him who comforts the afflicted and is ever disposed to succour those who seek His aid in a spirit of humble trustfulness.
And the holy angel of the Lord, Raphael, was sent to heal them both, whose prayers at one time were released in the sight of the Lord. (Tobit 3:25)
Scarcely then had the younger Tobias crossed the threshold of his father’s house, in search of some one who could conduct him to Rages where Gabelus dwelt, when the Angel Raphael, disguised as a youth of attractive appearance and clad as for a journey, presented himself and offered to be his guide to the city of Medes, with which, he said, he was thoroughly familiar. Tobias, who was overjoyed at his good fortune, after hastily consulting his father, introduced to him the youth, who wished him joy, assured him of his speedy cure and promised him to conduct his son safely on his journey to and fro. Then to relieve the father’s anxiety as to the family to which he belonged, he described himself as “Azarias, the son the great Ananias,” and with a prayer from Tobas that God might be with them in their way and that His angel might accompany them, he and the younger Tobias departed. It was this confidence that his son was under the protection of an angel that reconciled Tobias to his absence and enabled him to quiet the misgivings and murmuring of his wife.
The very first night, the angel delivered his youthful comrade from a monstrous fish which came to devour him, and bade him set aside certain parts of its entrails as useful remedies. The smoke from a bit of the heart broiled over the coals was to be used to humble the pride of the demon, whom the angel was bind, and the gall was to anoint the eyes of the elder Tobias and to restore to him his sight.
At night, the two travellers lodged at the house of Raguel, father of Sara, and upon the advice of the angel, Tobias asked and received the maiden’s hand, the angel assuring Raguel that he might safely give her to him, as God had destined her to be his wife, for which reason also it had fared so ill with all her previous suitors. And so the marriage was celebrated with great joy and gladness, Raguel inviting all his friends and neighbors to the wedding-feast.
It is at this point that an incident occurred, which reveals the wonderful condescension of the Angel Raphael. Raguel was insistent with Tobias that he should spend two weeks with him before departing for his home. Tobias, to comply with his earnest wish without increasing the anxiety of his parents at his absence, made bold to ask his devoted friend to go himself to Rages and restore the note of hand to Gabelus and secure from him the money which he owed. And although Tobias would have gasped at his own temerity, had he realized the full significance of his request, the angel readily agreed to the proposal, and set out with four servants for the city of Medes, where he received all the money from Gabelus, and made him come with him to the wedding.
When the marriage-feast had been celebrated with great rejoicing, and with the fear of the Lord, Tobias and his wife, with all their household and the rich possessions which Raguel had given as Sara’s dowry, set out on their way to Ninive, the angel still accompanying them. But after some days the latter suggested that he and Tobias should go on before, leaving Sara and the rest to follow leisurely behind, and he bade Tobias bring with him a portion of the gall of the fish, which he had laid aside in the early part of his journey, as it would be needed on their return.
It is truly pathetic to see the mother of Tobias sitting day after day by the roadside at the top of a hill which accorded a commanding view, and watching for the coming of her son, until at last she spies him from afar, and runs to bring the good tidings to her husband; and then to see the latter rise quickly and with the aid of a servant, hasten stumbling to meet his son. There is a touch of nature, too, in the account of the dog, which had accompanied his young master, and which now ran on before, as if bringing the news, and showing his joy by fawning and wagging his tail.
With touching modesty, the angel remains in the background, as if not to intrude upon the tender intimacies of the meeting between parents and son, nor is it he who anoints their father’s eyes with the gall of the fish and restores to him sight. When the eyes of the elder Tobias once more behold the light, they shall rest first on his own dearly loved son.
And now for several days the veil is drawn, and we know nothing of what passed between the angel and the happy family that was so blessed with his company. Again when Sara and all the household have arrived in safety, still another seven days are spent in feasting and great joy, and during all this time there is no suspicion on the part of Tobias and the rest that their so signal benefactor is anything more than a virtuous, nobly-bred, discreet, and most delightful human friend.
But as last the time had come when they must part, and father and son agreed that nothing that they could offer him would be a satisfactory compensation for all that he had done for them. Nevertheless, they called him aside, and begged him to accept for himself the half of all the wealth that had been brought. Then it was that angel, if not with radiant features, at least with voice enkindled, and with words that burned with a celestial fire, broke forth in praise of prayer and fasting and alms-deeds, and told the wondering Tobias how when he had prayed with tears, and had left his dinner untouched, and had concealed the dead by day in his house, and had buried them at night, he, the Angel Raphael, had offered his prayer to the Lord.
He would not accept of any earthly recompense. For first, if was not he to whom Tobias was indebted, but to the Lord who had sent him, and besides the presence of God’s majesty made him rich enough. “For,” said he, “I am the Angel Raphael, one of the seven who stand before the throne.” (Tobit 12:15)
No wonder that Tobias and his son were seized with fear at these words, and that “they fell upon the ground on their face.” To think that they had hired an angel of the Lord to wait upon them, and had ventured to appraise his services as though he had been but a human workman! But the angel reassured them. While he was with them, he had been there by the will of God. They should therefore bless Him and sing His praises. He had seemed to eat and drink with them, but in reality, his food and drink were of a kind that could not be seen by men. And now it was time for him to return to the Lord who had sent him, while their duty would be to bless Him forever, and to publish all His wonderful works.
Then the angel disappeared, and for three hours Tobias and his son lay prostrate on the ground, blessing God, after which they arose and made known His merciful dealings with them.
It is clear from the marvellous story, of which the above is an abridgement, why the Angel Raphael is the protector of travellers and pilgrims, and as such is specially invoked in the “Itinerary” of the clergy.
It is also evident why he is regarded as the particular patron of the sick, and hence of hospitals and similar institutions. His name itself, which signifies the “medicine of God” and expresses, no doubt, the special gift he has received from God, or the special mission confided to him by God, would seem clearly to designate him for that office. And then there is the cure of Tobias’ blindness which shows that hte name of the angel is no meaningless one, but that he is in reality a heavenly physician, ready to use his healing power for the advantage of mankind. How appropriate it would be, if Catholic physicians should take him for the patron of their art, and instead of this or that heathen design, would select a statue or other representation of the Angel Raphael as a fitting adornment of their homes.
The Angel Raphael is also the angel of thanksgiving. He insisted with Tobias and his son upon the duty of praising and blessing God for His great mercies, and of publishing His wonderful works. He would not accept as due to himself even the recompense of thanks, and bade them refer all to God, of whom he was only the agent. That spirit of loving thankfulness is one of the particular graces which he obtains for his devoted clients, nor is it of slight advantage to us, as through it we are sure to grow in the love of God and in intimate union with Him.