The readings for daily Mass this week have been taken from the Book of Tobit, one of the most colorful and interesting books of the Bible. (And by the way, that’s Tobit, not Tobin!)
According to the introduction to the book found in the New American Bible: “The Book of Tobit, named after its principal character, combines Jewish piety and morality with folklore in a fascinating story. Prayer, psalms, and words of wisdom, as well as the skillfully constructed story itself, provide valuable insights into the faith and the religious milieu of its unknown author. The inspired author of the book used the literary form of religious novel for the purpose of instruction and edification.”
In its compact fourteen chapters, the drama includes a serious health crisis, domestic arguments worthy of Archie and Edith Bunker, several mysterious deaths, the intervention of heavenly spirits, and, ultimately, a happy ending. In other words, the Book of Tobit has all the makings of a contemporary soap opera.
One of the high points of Tobit’s story (or perhaps, low points) occurred while he was sleeping outdoors in his courtyard next to the wall, and, well, I’ll let him take it from there: “Because of the heat, I left my face uncovered. I did not know there were birds perched on the wall above me, till their warm droppings settled in my eyes, causing cataracts.” (2: 9:10)
Now that’s a pretty bizarre turn of events – warm bird droppings falling into poor Tobit’s eyes, causing cataracts. Tobit’s blindness and its consequences form a major theme of the rest of the narrative.
As unusual as the particular event was, however, it seems to me that there are some significant lessons for us here, the first being – if you decide to sleep outside, keep your head covered!
But the truth is, we all have some “Tobit moments” in our lives, those moments when we’re convinced that someone has unceremoniously dumped on us. These are the times when we feel that the world has turned against us, that someone is treating us unfairly, that we’re the innocent victims of a “vast right wing conspiracy,” or something.
Perhaps these moments come from the onset of an unusual illness; or when I’ve lost my job because of a vindictive boss; or when the incompetent bishop has given me the worst assignment in the diocese; or when my valuable contributions to an important project aren’t recognized; or when I’m randomly selected for an income tax audit. You get the idea.
Anytime I find myself in a situation that causes me to ask “why me?” and then start to feel sorry for myself – that’s a Tobit moment. And the way that we respond to these situations tells a lot about our character. Three points to consider . . .
First is to remember that regardless of the bad things that come our way, we still have many wonderful blessings, and we should think about other people who are dealing with more serious, life-changing problems.
My dad, God rest him, was one of the most tranquil people I’ve ever known. More than once I heard him say: “I’m happy with what I have because I know there are always some people in the world who have more, and some people in the world who have less.” Homespun wisdom to be sure, and a secret to happiness.
Second is to remember the passing nature of earthly events.
One of the bishops for whom I used to work, in the midst of an especially troubling diocesan crisis, calmed my anxiety by saying, simply, “this too shall pass.” And of course it did. As trite as the saying might be, it’s absolutely true. Almost every mini-crisis we find ourselves in won’t be a crisis next week, next month, or next year. Think about the problems you worried about last year. They’ve been resolved and have disappeared, haven’t they?
And third is to be strong in faith and to remember the primacy and providence of God.
I sometimes think that God, from his lofty perspective in heaven, must look down upon us and our daily activities, shake his head and wonder why we’re scurrying about like a bunch of frenzied ants. “Why are my children so anxious about trivial pursuits and ignore the things that are important to me?” God must ask himself.
I recall another beleaguered figure of the Old Testament, Job, who, in the midst of his enormous suffering was able to say: “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall go back again. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1: 21)
It’s all about faith and trust in our Heavenly Father. God created us. He loves us. He’s a lot smarter than we are, and he knows how to take care of us.
I mentioned earlier that Tobit’s story had a happy ending, and indeed it did. At the end of his life, when all the drama was over, he lifted-up a wonderful hymn of praise: “Blessed be God who lives forever . . . Consider what he has done for you and praise him with full voice . . . As for me, I exalt in my God, and my spirit rejoices in the King of heaven.” (Cf: 13: 1-18)
So, dear reader, when you encounter some “Tobit moments” in your life, just take a deep breath, step back, renew your faith, and give thanks and praise to God.