Thursday, July 06, 2006

Angels in Our Midst

There are lots of edifying stories out there about the presence and intervention of the holy angels in peoples lives, often saving them from dangers (or warning about them beforehand), but often enough simply testifying in one way or another to the reality of God and his loving providence in our lives.

I’m not going to recount any of these here but will rather look to the Bible (as you have come to expect me to do) for a story of a powerful archangel in our midst. Not long ago I re-read the delightful Book of Tobit, a story of love and fidelity, of miracles and praise. It is the only biblical source of our knowledge of the holy Archangel Raphael.

Raphael was sent as a protector and mentor to young Tobias, as a healer to his father Tobit (“Raphael” means “medicine of God”), and as a warrior to save a damsel in distress—Tobias’ bride-to-be Sarah, whose seven husbands were all killed by a wicked demon on their wedding nights.

I’ll let you read the story for yourself, but there are a couple points I’d like to focus on here, having to do with the angel. First, it is a good example of what the author of the Letter to the Hebrews meant when he wrote: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (13:2). It wasn’t until the very end of the story that the angel revealed his true identity.

This revelation is one of the most dramatic moments in the story, and its effect is powerful. Just when we think that nothing new can happen, or when we start to drift from a lively faith in God and the whole spiritual world, we read this: “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One.” They all fell on their faces in fear (as I think I would, too), but he said: “Do not be afraid; you will be safe. But praise God forever. For I did not come as a favor on my part, but by the will of our God. Therefore praise him forever” (12:15-18). Angels are always so focused! They don’t utter a superfluous word; they always turn everyone’s attention to God, for they know, they know! When John, overwhelmed by all that was revealed to him, fell down to worship the Angel of Revelation, the angel simply said: “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you… Worship God” (Rev. 19:10). So Raphael said, twice, to Tobit and his son: Praise God forever.

Finally, the angel was there in their midst, even before he appeared in human form to help them in their needs, for as he said, he brings their prayers to God. “When you and your daughter-in-law Sarah prayed, I brought a reminder of your prayer before the Holy One; and when you buried the dead, I was likewise present with you… your good deed was not hidden from me, but I was with you” (12:12-13).

It would be good to remind ourselves, at least from time to time, that there are angels in our midst. Our guardian angels are constantly with us—do you ask their assistance, call them by name, rely on their attentive presence to help in your many needs? We also have the great archangels to help us in spiritual warfare—St Michael is really good at that!—and don’t forget to call on “Medicine of God” when you are in need of healing. The angels bring our prayers to God (see Rev. 8:4). Let them turn your attention to the living God; ask them to help you become more focused on Him. They will be happy to oblige. And then praise Him forever, like Tobit:

“Blessed is God who lives forever, and blessed is his kingdom… because he is our Lord and God, he is our Father forever… If you turn to him with all your heart and with all your soul, to do what is true before him, then he will turn to you and will not hide his face from you. But see what he will do with you; give thanks to him with your full voice. Praise the Lord of righteousness, and exalt the King of the ages… I exalt my God; my soul exalts the King of heaven and will rejoice in his majesty…” (13:1-7).