Today the Catholic Church celebrates the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.
I must admit that I have some problems with Saint Michael. His presentation is too militaristic for me and besides the images of him often have him, a white-skinned muscled male, sticking his lance into a Satan who is portrayed as a man of color. I did love my visit in 1973 to Mont Saint-Michel, a place of beauty.
For me Gabriel will always be connected with the annunciation. He is God’s messenger announcing the coming of the Word made Flesh in the womb of Mary. He brings a challenging message of great joy. Fra Angelico’s images of the annunciation, especially the one in the convent of San Marcos in Florence, shape my understanding of his role. In most of the paintings, he enters Mary’s presence with arms crossed, humbling bearing a message of hope.
Yet the Archangel Raphael has a special place in my heart.
I was baptized in the church of Saint Raphael in the Meadows section of west Philadelphia. The church is no longer there but I have memories of going back there for May processions and other events.
I also spent almost twenty-four years working in St. Thomas Aquinas parish in the Archdiocese of Dubuque, whose patron is Saint Raphael.
In addition, our pastor wants to name the parish coffee field, Finca San Rafael, since some parishioners who have helped there have experienced it as a place of healing.
Years ago I came across an icon of Saint Raphael, from Concepción Abbey Press, that touches me in its simplicity.
Raphael, whose name means “God heals,” only appears in the book of Tobit. He is the guide for Tobit’s son, Tobiah, who goes seeking some money his father left with a relative in a distant land and who is also seeking a wife.
He is an archangel who serves a guide on the journey of life, who reminds us of God’s loving care for us in our daily lives. He is also the archangel who heals Tobiah’s wife, Sarah, of the demon who killed all her previous husbands on the marriage night. He protects true love from the advances of those who would degrade the marriage bed. He also heals Tobit, the just man who cared for the poor and buried the dead, risking his own life in the process.
Raphael shows us a God who loves, who cares, who heals, who guides. Raphael helps us on the path of life.