It’s been a long while since I wrote about a saint on his/her feast day. St. Raphael had been lumped together with the other Archangels on the day that used to be called Michaelmas, celebrating St. Michael. On the old calendar, though, he would be remembered today.
He is different than the other saints I’d written about in that he’s an angel, not a human. I talked about him here and there on this blog, particularly in his demonic enemy, Asmodeus, in the entry about this evil thing’s growing presence in the world today. He came into being before humanity with the rest of the angels, had witnessed the fall of 1/3 of his brothers when Lucifer rebelled, and fought in that first battle. He’s older and wiser than any of us humans could be, and so his story, most of which is a mystery, is not like any of ours.
It does concern us, though, certainly concerns me. As it is, next to my little crucifix, I wear a blessed medal honoring St. Raphael. It’s rare anyone knows who he is, often mistaking him for St. Michael, or St. Gabriel, as the scene in the medal resembles the Annunciation (hint: there’s a fish next to the kneeling figure, who is also not wearing a veil).
Sometimes, I’d consider swapping St. Raphael for something like the latter; it seems negligent of me to not wear something Marian on my person, though she shows up in multiple places in my little home.
Then I’d remember his story, and what it meant to me. The regret soon leaves me when I do.
St. Raphael is mostly talked about in the Book of Tobit, which is a favorite, if not the favorite, book of the Bible (the Apocrypha to my non-Catholic readers <3). His name means “Cure of God” or “God Heals”. He was sent as an answer to a prayer from two people: the old man, Tobit, and the young lady, Sarah. What’s interesting about this is that the prayer Tobit and Sarah asked for was for death.
Tobit was a very faithful and righteous man whose life got hard as he practiced his faith in giving proper burials to people who were executed. He still did it despite the persecution, hiding their bodies in his house during the day and burying them at night. It only got harder for him and his family when he lost his vision after a bird decided to use his eyes as a toilet one day when he was resting; as he went to many doctors in an attempt to fix this problem, it only got worse until he was completely blind.
Meanwhile, he and his wife were getting on in years, and the increasingly bad circumstances brought the tension up in the house. One of those problems was money, and Tobit got in a fight with his wife over a goat he thought he heard in the house, though of course couldn’t see wasn’t there. She made a pretty nasty remark as an attack on his character in her hurt, even attributing his blindness to their misfortune. Not long after, Tobit prayed to God in his distress that his life would be taken from him.
Around the same time as Tobit is praying for his suffering to end in death, Sarah prays for that exact thing. In her case, Asmodeus the demon had been oppressing her since before her first wedding, killing her new husband before they could consummate the marriage. By the time she was praying for death, this has happened seven times, and she had just had a fight with a maid who made a very cruel remark, accusing her of seducing and killing her husbands. After this distressing confrontation, she went to the attic and thought to hang herself, but changed her mind, thinking of the disgrace it would do to her father. I always imagine her sobbing out the window to God, asking that He would do her the mercy of ending her life.
Reading both of these prayers always struck a deep chord with me, though the latter especially so. In many ways, I see Sarah as an victim of a kind of sexual abuse, with Asmodeus slaughtering her husbands before they could share with her the marital embrace. That cruel maid’s comment just sparked the memory of all the times I’d been accused of promiscuity, of wanting the abuse, and/or was blamed for being “too beautiful” or something stupid like that. I’d been where Sarah was, praying for death to end her life upon realizing that she can’t in good conscience end it herself.
My doctor said that when people pray for death or consider suicide, it’s more often than not a wish for their suffering to end. Death is seen as an end, and therefore an end to the suffering that feels never-ending. God saw what my doctor saw, in that they both were asking for their pain to end, and so sent St. Raphael to help them both.
What’s interesting is that he didn’t just send the angel to these two people to zap their problems away. Instead, he sent him in the guise of a human, calling himself Azariah, a relative of Tobit’s. This was for their benefit, as Tobit has already established himself as having a very damaged sense of trust at this point. As it was, he had made plans to send his son, Tobias (in earlier translations, he was named Tobit after his father, but modern translations give him his own, albeit similar-sounding name), to his relative Raguel for help. Tobias, a young man about Sarah’s age, was walking around town, looking for someone trustworthy to go with him on this journey.
That’s where he bumped into “Azariah”, disguised as a very handsome young man dressed for travel. He befriended the young man, and when he got Tobit’s blessing, set out with Tobias towards Raguel’s house. It was a long journey, and not one without danger; there was a point where Tobias was attacked by an enormous fish before he was rescued by Raphael, who made swift work of the fish. He told him to keep the fish for later, that its innards could be used for medicine.
Eventually, they made it to Raguel’s house, which happens to also be Sarah’s house, Raguel being her father. At this point, Raphael turned to Tobias, and told him that he should marry Sarah. Tobias hesitated, aware of the seven husbands’ mysterious deaths, to which Raphael explained was due to a demon. It’s written that Tobias was quickly set on marrying Sarah, though I personally like the idea of them having some more interaction beforehand, Tobias seeing her as who she is, what she’d gone through, and loving her because of it. Maybe he saw all that before interacting with her. That’d be extraordinary, though Tobias soon proves himself extraordinary.
Raguel expressed some caution for Tobias, but still he insisted. After the wedding, there was this really touching scene where Sarah is seated on the marital bed, weeping. Her mother comes over, wrapping her arms around her, and said, “Courage, daughter! May the Lord of Heaven turn your grief to joy.” (Tobit 7:16) I don’t see my mother, or anyone else, to be there for me before my wedding night (except my husband, I guess). Our reasons are different, but I fully expect myself to cry and be scared, too. That’s what Tobias’ next move so moving; he bids Sarah to pray with him.
He asks God to bless them, protect them. He cited Genesis, how Adam and Eve were made for one another to help one another, and from them came the human race. He calls Sarah his “sister” in the sense of being the girl he would protect her honor, uphold her virtue, and care for her with integrity and love, as he says he doesn’t take her in lust, but for a heartfelt purpose. He asks God to be kind to her, to him, and let them grow old together. Together they ended with “Amen”, and went to bed.
Tobias didn’t die anytime before they went to bed; where was Asmodeus? Well, before going to bed, Tobias took some measures under Raphael’s guidance; he burnt a piece of the fish that repelled Asmodeus, and said prayers for grace and protection for himself and his new wife. See, he had an added purpose to his prayer, apart from declaring his love for Sarah; he was making sure they be protected. And while the smell of fish isn’t really regarded as a demon repellant, it’s something material to be used in conjunction with this prayer, not unlike incense in Mass. Either way, it all sent Asmodeus packing; he ran out to the desert where Raphael pursued him, and there, the angel “shackled and strangled him forthwith” (Tobit 8:3).
Morning came, and Sarah’s parents were already digging a grave for Tobias, so sure that husband number 8 didn’t last any longer than the others. Imagine their joy and surprise when they found the newly weds peacefully sleeping in each other’s arms. And so, Raphael liberated Sarah from her agony through Tobias’ love.
What about Tobit? He and his wife were waiting for their son’s return, and were starting to lose hope of ever seeing him again. Then, not long after, Tobias and Sarah, with their inherited wealth from Raguel, came to Tobit’s home. Raphael brought the fish out again, and bid Tobias to apply it to his father’s eyes. Tobias did what he was told, warning his father of brief pain, and boom! Tobit could see again! With that, all prayers were answered, all wishes came true with some time, trust, and an angel.
Trouble was that they still saw that angel as the human “Azariah”. The time for that identity was just about up; as Tobit bid Tobias to offer him half of what he gained in this journey as thanks, Raphael took them both aside, and revealed himself as “the angel Raphael, one of seven, who stand before the Lord.” (Tobit 12:15) Of course, the two men flung themselves down in fear, and Raphael spoke those famous words, “Peace be to you. Fear not.” (Tobit 12:17) He told them how he was sent to answer Tobit and Sarah’s prayers, saw all the good the two of them had done, and so accompanied them all on their healing journey. After a few more words of encouragement, he went back to heaven, and the family lived happy, long lives.
St. Raphael is the patron saint to doctors, to those sick and/or hurt, to people considering marriage, and to travelers. This makes him very much the angelic patron of anyone who’s on a healing journey, and to those who’ve been abused, especially sexually. I’d also say, as he was sent in answer to prayers for death, that he’s close by anyone who’s contemplating suicide as that voice who’s telling them, who told me, “Don’t do it.”
It’s for these reasons that, apart from my own guardian angel, he’s the angel I feel closest to, the reason I wear his blessed medal at all times. If nothing else, it serves as a reminder when I think it look at it; when one wears something at all times, one often forgets it’s there. That’s too bad…I probably wouldn’t have done some of the desperate, despair-driven things I’d done if I remembered he was there with me, if my angel was there, if all of Heaven were right by my side.
The bizarre truth is that they are all there. That’s what my doctor and confessor say, and they’re people whose word I can trust. God wants us to heal, has one of His archangels devoted to seeing us safely to the end of our healing journeys, along with all these other holy people in Heaven, as well as here on earth, with us.
St. Raphael, pray for us.