On September 29, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the three Archangels who have been venerated throughout the history of the Church:
- Michael (from the Hebrew Who Is Like God?), who defends the friends of God against Satan and all his evil angels;
- Gabriel (the Power of God), chosen by the Creator to announce to Mary the mystery of the Incarnation; and
- Raphael (the Medicine of God or God Heals), the archangel who, in the book of Tobit, takes care of Tobias on his journey.
These archangels, all of whom play cameo roles in the Scriptures, have been venerated since the early days of the Church–but it’s Raphael I want to talk about today. Raphael has been called the Patron of Healing. Raphael is also the patron of the blind, of happy meetings, of nurses, of physicians, and of travelers.
ST. RAPHAEL IN THE SCRIPTURES
The Old Testament book of Tobit tells the story of how Tobit, a devout Jew in exile in Assyria, and his son Tobias (sometimes called Tobiah) were rewarded for their piety and good deeds.
Two fervent prayers for help
Against the orders of the evil king Sennaherib, Tobit—who respected the Jewish burial customs—buried the bodies of Jews who had been executed by Sennaherib in Nineveh. Because of this, the king ordered Tobit to be captured and killed. Tobit fled and hid among his kinsmen. One day, Tobit was looking toward the sky when some bird droppings landed in his eyes and blinded him. No longer able to work because of his blindness, Tobit did not curse God, but instead prayed for God to end his life.
As Tobit was praying for release from this life, a young widow named Sarah also prayed to God to end her misery. Sarah had had seven husbands, but each of them had been killed by a demon on their wedding night. Sarah feared that she was cursed and could never have a husband and family of her own.
In answer to these prayers, God sent the Archangel Raphael to Earth to help them.
Tobias embarks on his mission
Tobit, unable to work because of his blindness, sent his son to the town of Media to request repayment on a loan. Tobit instructed Tobias to hire a guide to accompany him on the journey; so Tobias enlisted the assistance of Azariah, who was really the archangel Raphael in disguise.
But why is he portrayed with a fish?
When the two companions reached the Tigris River, Tobias stopped to wash. As he knelt on the bank, a great fish leapt out of the water and frightened him. Raphael instructed Tobias to seize the fish by the fins, kill it, and remove its heart, liver and gallbladder. He revealed to Tobias that burning the heart and liver would drive away evil spirits, and that the gallbladder could cure blindness. So Tobias salted the organs to preserve them, and wrapped them safely for their journey.
Azariah (Raphael) and Tobias then traveled together toward Media. Along the way, Raphael told Tobias about Sarah and encouraged him to take her as his bride, since he was her only eligible kinsman. Tobias was afraid to marry her, fearing that he would die like Sarah’s seven other husbands; but Raphael assured him that the fish’s heart and liver would protect him.
Tobias agreed, and he and Sarah were married. After the ceremony Sarah’s father—saddened because he believed Tobias would suffer the same fate as Sarah’s seven other husbands—dug a new grave beside their house, beside the seven other graves. But when Tobias and his new wife Sarah went to their bedroom that night, Tobias unwrapped the fish’s heart and liver and laid them upon the hot coals in the fireplace. The evil spirit appeared, as he had seven times before; but Tobias fanned the bitter smoke toward him and the spirit ran shrieking from the room.
The next morning, the newly married couple emerged whole and smiling from their room. Sarah’s parents, filled with joy, celebrated with them for fourteen days. Sarah’s father gave the newlyweds half of his property, with a promise that they would inherit the other half upon his death. Then the couple started home toward Nineveh.
A joyful homecoming
As they approached Tobit’s house, Tobias saw his blind old father stumbling toward them in the road. Tobias ran forward and anointed his father’s eyes with the fish’s gall, and Tobit regained his sight. He embraced his son and his new bride and welcomed them joyously into his home.
When Tobias told his father how Azariah (Raphael) had helped him on his journey and had cured Tobit’s blindness, Tobit sent for the guide to reward him. But when Raphael stood before Tobit, Raphael revealed to them who he really was and then suddenly vanished from sight.
Prayer to St. Raphael, the Archangel
Blessed Saint Raphael, Archangel,
we beseech you to help us in all our needs and trials of this life,
as you, through the power of God, restored Tobit’s sight
and gave guidance to young Tobiah.
We humbly seek your aid and intercession,
that our souls may be healed,
our bodies protected from all ills,
and that through divine grace we may become fit to dwell
in the eternal Glory of God in Heaven.