Catholics, familiar with the Old Testament Book of Tobit, may be aware of the role St. Raphael the Archangel plays as an intercessor and companion for those suffering from physical ailments. In the story, Tobit, who is made blind after bird droppings fell into his eyes, is later healed through the angel’s counsel, and guidance, as well as the strategic application of fish liver (thank goodness for modern medicine!). What might be missed in reading this particular story, is the role Raphael also plays in healing the emotional and spiritual distress that all too often accompanies chronic illness and pain.
As the story goes, Tobit who has been blind now for several years sinks into a deep despair and prays for death;
“Then with much grief and anguish of heart I wept, and with groaning began to pray…command my spirit to be taken from me, so that I may be released from the face of the earth and become dust. For it is better for me to die than to live, because I have had to listen to undeserved insults, and great is the sorrow within me.” Tobit 3:1,6
Elsewhere in the story, Sarah, a distant relative of Tobit, also struggles with despair and hopelessness in the midst of overwhelming grief and loss. Having experienced the death of seven husbands on their wedding nights, in addition to the curses and accusations from those around her for the ways that she has lashed out in her grief, Sarah, much like Tobit, seeks to end her life;
“…she was grieved in spirit and wept. When she had gone up to her father’s upper room, she intended to hang herself. But she thought it over and said…It is better for me not to hang myself, but to pray the Lord that I may die and not listen to these reproaches anymore.” Tobit 3:10
In answer to these prayers of utter hopelessness, God sends Raphael the Archangel, whose name means “God heals” or “Remedy of God”. Entering the scene as a traveler in disguise, Raphael, does not just come to perform a miracle of healing or to cast out the demon who haunts poor Sarah. This divine healer comes first as a companion and guide to Tobit’s son who, as any family member can attest, is equally grieved and distressed by his father’s physical, spiritual, and mental health challenges.
In a powerfully touching scene near the end of the story, Raphael, who has now revealed himself to be an Archangel and “one of the seven who stand ready and enter before the glory of the Lord” (Tobit 12:15), describes the intercessory role he has undertaken to an awe-struck Tobit and his new daughter-in-law, Sarah saying;
“…it was I who brought and read the record of your prayer before the glory of the Lord, and likewise whenever you buried the dead…And at the same time, God sent me to heal you and Sarah your daughter-in-law.” (Tobit 12: 12, 14)
This pearl of great price hidden within the wisdom of the Book of Tobit highlights both the power of prayer in times of distress and the often unexpected ways God answers those deepest prayers of our broken and despairing hearts. Whether we are suffering through mental health challenges ourselves, or walking with loved ones in physical, mental, and emotional pain, it can seem as though God is distressingly silent towards our need. Raphael reminds us that God is always keenly aware of our need, and desires our help and healing and that of our loved ones, even more than we do.
We can hear in Raphael’s description of his role as divine intercessor, Jesus’ own assurances that the Father knows our need and answers our prayers;
“Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Matthew 7:7-8
At the same time, the story of Tobit and his family reminds us that these answered prayers often come in surprising, disguised ways. A coworker or friend, a bit of scripture or song heard at a time of great need, or, as with Raphael, a lonely traveler seeking employment; all may be secret encounters with the divine reaching out to give answer to the deep need of our hearts.
Above all, Raphael reminds us of the power of accompaniment and the need that the family members and loved ones of those who are suffering have for care and comfort. Tobit, a young man who finds himself on a journey to fulfill what he and his family believe is his despairing and dying father’s last wish, discovers divine accompaniment along the way. Raphael recognizes that the deepest need of Tobias and his family is not a mere healing of the body or casting out of devils, but friendship with one who is willing to be at their side in the midst of their suffering.
The story of the journey of Tobias and Raphael, and the subsequent healing, hope, and joy that is encountered in such surprising ways by Tobias, Sarah, and Tobit together, is a powerful reminder of God’s constant care and attention. It is also a story that reveals the great, healing balm to be found in simply sharing this life in all of its brokenness, sorrow, wonder, and joy together.
The book’s short, thirteen chapters are an exciting and uplifting quick read and are a great way to familiarize one’s self with the ways that God, and His angelic messengers, most often respond to our prayers in need.
St. Raphael Prayer for Healing
Glorious Archangel St. Raphael, Remedy of God, known for your wisdom, grace, and healing. You are the guide and guardian of those who travel by land, or sea, or air. You are consoler of the afflicted, and comfort of the despairing. I beg you, Angel of God, assist me in all my needs, and in the sufferings of this life, as once you helped the young Tobias on his travels. Medicine of God, I humbly pray you heal my infirmities of body, mind, and soul and ask your special favour for (mention your intention for yourself or others), and your great grace of comfort and peace for all who are in similar need this day. Amen.
Peace and God Bless,
Deacon Eric Gurash