Saturday, October 24, 2015

St. Raphael, Protector of Holy Marriage

(Jan Steen)
Today’s feast is that of St. Raphael, “one of the seven who stand before the Lord” (Tob. 12). His name means “God has healed”; in the book of Tobit he heals the elder Tobias of his blindness, and also heals the marriage of the younger Tobias and Sara of its demonic infestation. The purification of their marriage prompts Tobias to pray at length with his new bride:
Then Tobias exhorted the virgin, and said to her: “Sara, arise, and let us pray to God to day, and to morrow, and the next day: because for these three nights we are joined to God: and when the third night is over, we will be in our own wedlock. For we are the children of saints, and we must not be joined together like heathens that know not God.” 
So they both arose, and prayed earnestly both together that health might be given them. And Tobias said: “Lord God of our father, may the heavens and the earth, and the sea, and the fountains, and the rivers, and all thy creatures that are in them, bless thee. Thou madest Adam of the slime of the earth, and gavest him Eve for a helper. And now, Lord, thou knowest, that not for fleshly lust do I take my sister to wife, but only for the love of posterity, in which thy name may be blessed for ever and ever.” 
Sara also said: “Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us, and let us grow old both together in health.” (Tob. 8)
These three nights of abstaining from lawful pleasures stems from the earlier advice of the angel:
“Hear me, and I will shew thee who they are, over whom the devil can prevail. For they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves, and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule, which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power.

“But thou when thou shalt take her, go into the chamber, and for three days keep thyself continent from her, and give thyself to nothing else but to prayers with her. And on that night lay the liver of the fish on the fire, and the devil shall be driven away.

“But the second night thou shalt be admitted into the society of the holy Patriarchs.

“And the third night thou shalt obtain a blessing that sound children may be born of you.

“And when the third night is past, thou shalt take the virgin with the fear of the Lord, moved rather for love of children than for lust, that in the seed of Abraham thou mayst obtain a blessing in children.” (Tob. 6)
St. Raphael reminds Tobias that end of marriage is posterity, not the indulgence of lust. Those who approach the Sacrament with a desire for luxury are allowing the devil into their midst.

The parents of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus dedicated the first year of their marriage to God by abstinence, in the hopes of bearing holy children. It was a common custom in the recent past for newly-married Catholic couples to abstain on their first night (called “St. Joseph’s Night”), in remembrance of the advice given to Holy Tobias. This practice is even alluded to in the first novel of Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy, with the description of Gervase and Hermione Crouchback’s honeymoon.

But the book of Tobit is not all about diminishing the pleasures of life. The return of Tobias to his father’s house with a new wife in tow is seasoned with this charming description:
Then the dog, which had been with them in the way, ran before, and coming as if he had brought the news, shewed his joy by his fawning and wagging his tail. (Tob. 11)

(Peter Rittig)

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