September 29 is the feast of the three archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. It is one of my favorite feast days mostly because it is also my name day: my name derives from Michael which means "Who is like God?" The very name is praise for God and I feel honored to share it. I also love this feast because it moves me to know that God loves His people so much that He created the angels to be His intermediaries, showering us with His love and with protection. The angels are God's messengers. These three in particular, the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, have had the some of the most important duties in salvation history. I find that awe inspiring and down-right thrilling!
Michael is well known as the angel who leads the heavenly hosts. He is the protector who battles to keep the Kingdom growing and to keep us safe from evil. He is a powerful friend and appears in both the Old and New Testament. Gabriel, equally well known as Michael, is the angel who bears important news. He is the angel who announced to Mary that she was to be the mother of the Savior of the world. On the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary I read this: "Our salvation begins when an archangel speaks the name of Mary." (September Magnificat) That archangel was none other than Gabriel. I know angels have free will and intelligence, so I imagine that the honor of bringing that message must have made Gabriel blush with the humility and love it must have taken to address one so pure with such news.
The archangel I would like to highlight, however, is Raphael, who is often overlooked, but is no less important or powerful than the other two. Raphael means "Healer of God" which refers to his role as the one who brings healing to those in need. Some translations say his name means "God is my Health" which I also like because without the gifts which come from God and enable our spiritual health, we are lost. Raphael's most famous appearance in Scripture is in the Book of Tobit which is as much about Raphael as it is about Tobit and his family. No other angel has an entire book which features him. Some sources say he is also the angel who moved the waters of the pool at Bethesda when Jesus worked a miracle in John 5:1-4.
In the Book of Tobit, Raphael was sent by God to heal two people with very dire problems, in very desperate situations. The first was a very righteous, holy man named Tobit who lived as a captive in Assyria and had taken it upon himself to disobey the law by burying the dead when a Jewish person was killed by the Assyrians. He risked his life to keep the dead from being dishonored, which was very much part of Jewish culture and law. He was arrested for this, and even after being punished, persisted in his courageous acts, only to be made fun of by all who knew him. In his sorrow he went to his courtyard to try to catch a cool breeze, and while sitting by a wall - (I kid you not) - bird droppings fell into his eyes and blinded him. He then prayed for death, knowing he could no longer take care of his family.
Meanwhile, a young woman named Sarah had a huge problem also. She was a pious woman who loved God, but was attacked by a demon that was infatuated with her: she (actually the demon) would kill her new husband on their wedding night before they could consummate the marriage. She had gone through seven husbands; in despair, she prayed for death. As the simultaneous prayers of these two courageous and good people arose to Heaven, God sent Raphael in disguise as a man to answer both prayers. Soon he appeared at the home of Tobit and offered a solution to his problem, which was to have Tobit's son, Tobiah, retrieve a family fortune which was being held by a relative. Tobiah met Sarah on his trip, they fell in love, and Raphael came up with an ingenious way to heal both Sarah of her demon and Tobit of his blindness. Read the book for all the “juicy” details! It is indeed a wonderful book.
What is most important about the Book of Tobit, and therefore the archangel Raphael, is that we learn that God is more than just interested in our physical and spiritual health: He desires that we are our best selves such that we find happiness as we grow closer to Him. What is most important is that we find happiness in true love, which is not just reserved for the realm of romance. God wants us to know the truest of loves, which is His great love for us. He wants us to know the true love of family and friends, which is part of His gift of love to us. He wants us to know that all the gifts we have are gifts of His love to us. In the Book of Tobit, Sarah and Tobias find happiness in marriage which means they will be fruitful and multiply. Tobit finds happiness in being able to serve God by obeying the laws which glorify God, but also by loving his family. Raphael was sent not just to heal them of their wounds, but to bring them the freedom to love and be loved to a greater depth. The healing he brings them from God is meant to help them have a fullness which they were unable to achieve on their own.
Raphael's role is to help all of us to grow in spiritual health and to be protected on our inner journey. That which we do to love and serve the Lord, which thereby brings us happiness, is what He wants to help us accomplish. He cares about our well-being, and he attests to God's care for us as well. We never leave God's sight, and it is the archangel Raphael who makes sure that the healings we need are brought to us. Indeed Raphael is a very powerful archangel. He is more than the angel who heals the blindness of a man in ancient Israel. He helps us heal from whatever keeps us blinded, whether it is a blindness to how loved we are, a blindness toward another person, or a blindness to the actions of God within and around us. And as he freed Sarah, he helps us have the greater freedom we need from the obstacles in our spiritual journey.
Raphael is not the one who decides what kind of healing we receive; he is a messenger of God. Sometimes we pray for physical healing for a loved one or for ourselves and mysteriously it does not take place. But this does not mean we have been forsaken. It means that perhaps the healing we are to receive is to forgive someone, or to grow in some emotional or spiritual way. Perhaps the healing is to accept suffering and diminishment so as to glorify God and help others who suffer by being a sign of courage. Perhaps the healing is the final healing of death. Whatever it is, we are not alone. We are accompanied by the angels. I can imagine that Raphael will be one of those who will accompany us as we cross from this life to the place where we meet God when our lives are over. It would be an honor to be accompanied by one such as him when we die.
I believe that God makes use of the angels in order to care for our every need. The archangels are reminders that we are never alone. They dispatch other angels to help in their work, and no doubt make sure each of us have a guardian angel who is in their employ, so to speak, as they serve the Most High God. Healing is something we all need continually, but we also need to maintain good spiritual health. Perhaps including prayers to these regal angels would be good for us to remember. We should pray to our guardian angels asking for their protection and intercession. We should pray to the three archangels by name when we need their special help. And we should pray in gratitude to God for giving us these, His messengers, for safety, health, and strength.
May the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael be ever present to us! May we pray for the intercession of the archangels when we are in need, confident in their care for us! May we be protected and guided in our efforts to love, serve, and glorify the Lord! May our prayers be led by the angels to the throne of God! And may we be inspired to grow in holiness through the freedom to love more deeply through the aid of the angels and archangels! Let us meet in the Heart of Jesus, accompanied by Michael, Gabriel and Raphael! Peace!
The image at the top is a painting by Kenn Ashe called Archangel Raphael - Healer of God. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in his work or to purchase one of his originals.
The photos are mine from a recent trip to Sicily. The statues are in the city park/botanical garden in Taormina. The bottom photo is of archangels from the cupola in San Giovanni in Palermo.
Heart Speaks to Heart