Well, sure, we all do.
Especially teachers or professors who changed our lives.
Or bosses we were privileged to work for.
And, of course, those rare friendships lost through a move, or a divorce, or some kind of disagreement which could not be resolved.
But I had never heard of thinking about people from your past as “good spritual practice” until listening to Fr. Alphonse Guilder‘s homily for Wednesday’s daily mass.
Fr. Alphonse was speaking of the reading from Tobit: the one detailing Angel Raphael’s restoration of Tobit’s sight and exorcism of Sarah’s demon so that she can finally consummate her marriage.
Please forgive a brief aside about the Book of Tobit. When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German, he grouped seven books together and classified them as “Apochrypha.” Luther descibed them as “books which are not held equal to the Sacred Scriptures and yet are useful and good for reading.” Sometime later during the Reformation, Luther’s last eight words were dropped by the Protestants, thus depriving them of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and I & II Maccabees. In my mind, a significant loss. In case you would like to read the seven page book of Tobit, here it is.
But jam-packed with large dollops of wisdom, ergo Fr. Alphonse’s homily. While I have written before about my love of the Old Testament, the book of Tobit stretches me. Especially when reading that the loss of Tobit’s sight was due to bird droppings.
But that was Tuesday’s reading, Wednesday’s details the miraculous healing by the Angel Raphael of these two righteous people: Tobit and young Sarah. We know the cause of Tobit’s blindness and learn that young Sarah is childless because she is possessed by the demon Asmodeus. The demon has murdered each of Sarah’s seven husbands before they have intercourse.
Like I said, maybe even weird.
But Fr. Alphonse’s point was the angel sent by God to aid His two suffering servants. And the fact that angels sent by God may appear in human form. Ergo, ever think about people from your past?
“IT’S A BURDEN BUT also a blessing to walk away from the faith of your childhood and family. You are one of the rare few who will one day find a faith which is your own, not the religion of others but uniquely yours… more important than any other thing in life, perhaps one you would be willing to die for.”
The speaker taught Freshman English to night-school students at Hunter College in New York City, where I worked nights full-time and attended college part-time. I do not remember his name. He wrote poetry under a pseudonym for the New York Times, stood on the top of his desk while portraying Falstaff and saved my life one night after class.
I have no idea what impelled my twenty-one-year-old chaotic self to ask my English teacher for help. Or what prevented him from begging off to go home to his undoubtedly waiting family at nine-thirty that April evening after a very long day of teaching. But he did not do that. Rather, he led me into his office, sat down behind his desk and peered kindly at me. Before I could get more than a few words out, the deluge of tears prevented any coherent conversation for five minutes, at least so it seems in my memory.
We sat in his tiny colorless basement office while I collected myself enough to be able to explain why I was there, crying my heart out, in front of a virtual stranger. Patiently, he listened to a tale of a young woman from a small Massachusetts town who had moved to New York City to work nights in a cardiac ICU while in pursuit of ‘wisdom’ at college. Who no longer believed in Jesus. Or religion. Who could no longer call herself a Christian. Who had failed in multiple attempts to explain the awful day she sat in a pew at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine Episcopal Church on Easter Sunday with friends. Hung over, barely able to focus on walking, never mind prayer…
But faith is like any habit. It must be exercised and must grow through prayer, study and a personal relationship with Christ. I knew nothing about any of these things. Yet, stupidly, I had never reckoned for this abyss.
My confusion, loneliness, and devastation were profound. I felt like I was going crazy. Until I heard these words. Heard him- this college professor- say that he too had left the faith of his childhood. That he had been Jewish but stopped believing and, like me, could no longer attend synagogue because it was hypocrisy, he could not bear the pretense….Finding the Narrow Path
Just in case the invitation to read the PDF of the Book of Tobit did not entice, here are a few more points about the wisdom contained in this brief book. The angel Raphael appears to Tobit and his son as a man. Because he has done so much for them, they want to pay him for all that he has done.
How does Raphael reply?
…“I will now tell you the whole truth;
I will conceal nothing at all from you.
I have already said to you,
‘A king’s secret it is prudent to keep,
but the works of God are to be made known with due honor.’
I can now tell you that when you, Tobit, and Sarah prayed,
it was I who presented and read the record of your prayer
before the Glory of the Lord;
and I did the same thing when you used to bury the dead.
When you did not hesitate to get up
and leave your dinner in order to go and bury the dead,
I was sent to put you to the test.
At the same time, however,
God commissioned me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah.
I am Raphael, one of the seven angels
who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord.”
“So now get up from the ground and praise God.The Book of Tobit
Behold, I am about to ascend to him who sent me;
write down all these things that have happened to you.”