St. Raphael, Archangel
Raphael is the protagonist of an entire book of the Bible. The archangel accompanies Tobias, the young son of Tobit and Anna, when Tobit asks Tobias to carry out a delicate mission that will require a long and dangerous journey.
Tobit’s great heart
The story recounted in the Book of Tobit takes place during the time of the revolt of the Maccabees. Tobit, the boy’s father, is a generous man who gives of himself to alleviate the suffering of his fellow Jews during the period of the deportation in Assyria. He shares his goods with the poor, gives alms prodigally, and punctually pays tithes on the income he receives from his land and his cattle. His piety goes so far as to lead him to bury the abandoned dead. In the twists and turns of life, Tobit loses all that he has, including – following an act of charity – his sight. At this point, Tobit asks his son for help.
Tobias’s father asks him to travel to a distant place to recover a large sum of money he had left in trust with a friend. The young man is willing to go, and at his father’s suggestion, he looks for a guide. The first person Tobias meets is a wayfarer who is familiar with the area; the man agrees to accompany him. As they camp by the Tigris river, a great fish attacks the boy, who at first is frightened. But the wayfarer – who is the archangel Raphael in disguise – tells him to capture the fish and to put aside its heart, liver and gall.
When they have almost reached their destination, the archangel urges Tobias to stop to visit some of his relatives, where his cousin Sarah lives. According to Mosaic law, Tobias is entitled to marry her. Sarah had been married to seven men in succession, all of whom had been killed by the demon Asmodeus on their wedding night. The young woman would have killed herself for shame, and refrained only so as not to cause yet more sorrow to her parents. She agrees to become Tobias’ wife. The wayfarer tells Tobias that he can overcome the demon by placing the fish’s heart and liver on burning incense, creating a smoke that will make the demon flee.
The secret unveiled
After the wedding, Tobias returns to his father, for now he knows how to heal Tobit’s blindness. Tobias anoints his father’s eyes with gall from the fish, and Tobit sees. Tobias would like to pay the wayfarer for all his help, but taking both father and son aside, the traveling companion reveals his true identity. He explains that God, who was moved by the prayers and charity of both father and son, sent him to heal and guide them. He says of himself, “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the Holy One.” This sacred story gave rise to a medieval practice: whenever an adolescent or youth left home for the first time, he carried with him a small image of himself in the place of Tobias, accompanied by the archangel.