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The lessons of Tobit

05-25-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear  Friends,

After firing its chief editor (Jill Abramson) the publisher of the NY Times shot down the reports that they had done so because she had demanded a salary equal to her male predecessor, which meant they were paying her less than a man for doing the same job. Imagine that, the NY Times angry with the mainstream media for coming up with a narrative that did not fit the facts! How rich is that? After all the NY Times is the master of setting a narrative that tells the story they want to tell whether or not it has any relationship to reality. I confess I took almost perverse pleasure in watching the owner of the NY Times come undone over the reporting by his colleagues in the media. I guess sooner or later what goes around comes around.

The irony here is that the NY Times has strongly shouted the narrative about the “war on women” and that women receive less pay than men for the same work. And now they, the champion of the narrative of women’s inequality are being accused of treating a woman employee in an unequal manner to men. You can understand why the publishers became a bit apoplectic over the reporting.

There is a spiritual lesson in there: the thing that we most pride ourselves on can be the thing that humiliates us. All of us have a soft-underbelly that is vulnerable to attack. Just think of the Church: the Church’s teaching on human sexuality is clear, concise and well defined. Unlike other churches we have not wavered on it even in the face of great opposition and calls for change and cultural shifts. And where was the Church the most humiliated recently: with the sexual abuse scandals by priests. The lesson is quite clear: humiliation will come in that area you are often strongest in. Which means pay attention so that does not happen.

This was one of the lessons in the Book of Tobit in the Old Testament. Tobit was described as a pious Jew who took particular care to make sure that the dead received proper burial. Everyone knew that he would make sure the indigent and family-less would be buried according to Jewish custom. This however did not always thrill his wife who was often inconvenienced by her husband’s righteousness. More still Tobit often could not celebrate the Sabbath with his family because he was busy burying corpses and thus made himself temporarily ritually impure preventing his participation in Sabbath dinner. You could imagine why his wife, who took great pains to prepare the Sabbath dinner, would be a little less than thrilled.

And so it was that after one such episode, Tobit had to sit out the Sabbath meal and while he was resting under a tree in his garden bird droppings got in his eyes and blinded him. At that point his wife and others mocked him saying, “If you were not so busy burying strangers you could have participated in the Sabbath meal and would not have been in the position to get bird droppings in your eyes. So went Tobit’s humiliation.
Now it wasn’t that Tobit was doing anything wrong but that evil when it comes at you will seek to exploit that one trait, that one characteristic that you hold dear and turn it against you. Tobit did not change his values because of his suffering, nor should we. But we should take care that we don’t allow any chinks in our armor for evil to get in and humiliate us.

Now sometimes what we are doing is not so righteous, like the NY Times. And sooner or later our source of pride will become our undoing or embarrassment. The challenge is to know which is which, when we are suffering for doing the right thing and when we are humiliated by having arrogant pride. One discernment tool is to make sure that wherever our righteousness it is marked by beauty, truth and goodness and rooted in the teachings of the Bible and our faith.

It is in the Book of Tobit that we meet the Archangel Raphael, the healing angel. He helped Tobit regain his sight and return to his work of burying the dead. The Archangel Raphael is one we can turn to if like Tobit we too are accused of using our righteousness for prideful purposes and thwarted in our efforts to carry out the work God has entrusted to us.

St. Raphael, the Archangel stir up the healing waters once again for all who suffer for the sake of righteousness.

Love, Fr. John B.

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