The prayer of Tobias and Sarah (Tobit 8:4-8)

In preparation for the Rome family synod 2015, the bishops of England and Wales have invited Catholics to reflect in lectio divina on a selection of biblical texts, and in the light of their reflections, to answer a set of questions about their experience of marriage and family life.

In the second of the selected texts, we read about the prayer of Tobias and Sarah before their marriage, in Tobit 8:4-8.

Jan Havicksz. Steen ca. 1626 – 1679 Tobias’ and Sara’s Wedding Night

In my application of lectio divina to this text, the two lines that particularly spoke to me, with the reasons,  were:

‘It is not good for the man to be alone;
    let us make him a helper like himself.’(v,6)

Indeed, it is not good for man to be alone. We all need a companion, a “helpmate” , to assist us in our daily tasks, to support us in times of difficulty, and to shore our joy in the good times. This line mirrors a similar line in the creation story of Genesis 2: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”  As John McNeill has pointed out (in “Sex as God Intended”),  the reference to “helper” is gender neutral: it could be a same -sex partner, and need not necessarily be construed as a wife. In this particular statement of the principle in Tobit, gay men will be interested to note that this is even more explicit – I will make him a partner like himself.

In my life, I experienced for many years the comfort, joy and support of such a companion “like myself”, a same – sex partner who  shared with the routines of attending to household tasks and resonsibilities, the care of children when they were with us, and we accompanied each other through several major life stages: deaths of parents and other relations, marriages of my two daughters, and crises in careers.

What was striking in this relationship was how much it was a genuine “partnership”, in a way that just did not apply to m

and

“grant that we may grow old together” (v.7)

Pope Benedict once noted,  when addressing Italian local government officials, that one of the values of marriage, is that it relieves government of many financial obligations – for example, that of caring for the aged. At its best, marriage ensures that instead of depending on the state for care, ageing couples can rely on each other and their children for that care, in the comforting situation of a family home.

It is iniquitous of the Church to expect gay men to be deprived of that family support when they need it most. We too, need companionship, love and family support as we grow old.

The questions suggested by the English bishops for further discussion .  with my responses to some, were:

  • How might Sarah and Tobias have felt on their wedding night, knowing Sarah’s history?
  • How do you think Sarah’s parents felt leaving their daughter in the bridal chamber again? Can you describe a time when you felt something similar?
  • What does it mean to walk in trust with the Lord?
  • When have you and/or your family had an experience of God’s mercy?
  • What part does prayer play in your daily life?
  • How has prayer helped you and/or your family?

The key questions to draw the conversation together might be:

  • How does this story ‘speak’ to us about our ‘call’ to be a family?
  • How does it speak to our ‘journey’?
  • How does it speak to us about our ‘purpose’ or ‘mission’ as a family?
  • What support do we need from the Church?
  • What is already available? What needs to be developed?
  • From our family life experience, what do we offer that could enrich the life of the Church?
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