All week at Mass we have been treated to readings from the Book of Tobit, one of my favorite books, which I have called “instructive and under-utilized”. I have used passages from this book both while helping to prepare liturgies for marriages and also for funerals. It has made me very appreciative, as well, of the Archangel, Raphael.
Because it is a book so full of strong family relationships, it seems perfect that its cycle in the readings comes up in the Year of the Family. A couple of years ago, I wrote an appreciation on that score, over at First Things:
In her excellent book How the West Really Lost God, Mary Eberstadt argues that the sharp decline in religious belief (and the waning influence of the churches) in the Western world is related directly to the decline of the traditional family.
The Christian story itself is a story told through the prism of the family. Take away the prism, and the story makes less sense. We men and women, whether inside the churches or not, are only at the beginning of understanding how the fracturing of the natural family has in turn helped to fracture Christianity.
Citing a study conducted with over 1,400 children of divorced parents, Eberstadt excerpts an interview in which a young man, asked if God is like a parent, mush-mouths his way through a puzzled response and then gives up, admitting, “I’m drawing a blank. I’m just drawing a blank.”
Family illiteracy, Eberstadt says, “breeds religious illiteracy.”
[The Book of Tobit is] as fundamental as “family literacy” gets and perhaps for some, an easier ideal to comprehend than the deep mystery of the Holy Family. In Tobit we see parents giving freely to their children; a husband charged to provide and to never make his wife unhappy; a wife encouraged to hold out her arms to new family and newer family”because the arms of women welcome family, enfold and nurture family, and finally send family forth. We see human people loving, sharing, blending two families into a cohesive whole that intends to keep on growing and keep on living, with the help of heaven. It begins with death, and burial, and both male and female characters wishing for death, but Tobit is an argument for life.
You can read the whole thing, here.
As I noted in the first link, Tobit is a useful book, full of humanity, faith, miracles and hope. If you’re not catching daily mass, you participate in the daily readings, here. But really — read the whole brief book
when you get a chance.
As the Archangel might say, “it’s good for what ails you!”
Also, I love this Orthodox angle.