Taken from the Catholic Universe 13 October 2013
Having shared my pregnancy news with Universe readers in order to advocate breaking the taboo and stigma of early pregnancy, I am now reaping the downside of being upfront following the discovery during a routine scan that our unborn child had died in utero, right at the end of the first trimester.
As we were unable to verify the sex of our baby, born on the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels, we therefore chose the name Raphael in honour of the Archangel, who in common with all angels is pure spirit and therefore neither male nor female in the earthly sense. Furthermore Raphael is also associated with the healing ministry of God.
When explaining the reason for our choice of name, I was taken aback by the amount of Christians who while aware of the name of the archangel, associated it more with the Renaissance artist and knew nothing of the Biblical connotations.
Raphael makes an appearance in the Book of Tobit, one of the books of the Apocrypha, in which he is sent by God to heal, protect and guide Tobit and his son and daughter-in-law Tobias and Sarah. The story of Tobit’s family is one of the hidden gems of the Bible, the message of which is that God is just. Tobit, Tobias and Sarah suffer many trials and difficulties but yet remain steadfast in faith during their time of testing and enjoy God’s blessings and mercy, with St Raphael being sent to them as answer to their prayers for deliverance and making the longest recorded speech of an angel in the entire Bible!
Like Tobit we are called to trust in God and live in accordance to his plan. Suffering is not a punishment but a test, it is not our struggles that define us, but our response to them – do we rail Job-like against God, or put our faith in him, trusting that though he has not willed terrible things to happen, he will work to bring good out of our pain.
The book of Tobit is a great guide to Catholic spirituality, presenting the sanctity of marriage, angelic intercession, a reward for good works as well as emphasising the importance of prayer, almsgiving and fasting in our daily lives.
Upon re-reading it this week and explaining its significance in the choice of our baby’s name, it once again struck me as what a tragedy it is that so many of us Catholics don’t seem to know our bible as well as we ought. Not only does this mean that we are often left floundering especially when in conversation with our evangelical brethren, but that our faith and knowledge can lack richness and depth. Christianity is a revealed religion, about what God has shown and told us, most of which can be found in scripture.
If our knowledge of the bible is sketchy, as well as hindering and impairing our faith, it also means that we are missing out on a wealth of cultural richness. As a former English literature student, I was frequently taken aback at how much my fellow students were missing out on, by having almost no knowledge of the basic Old and New Testament stories which were a staple of basic education only a few generations ago. Without a good grip on the bible, it is impossible to appreciate staples of the English canon such as Beowulf, Chaucer, Blake and DH Lawrence to name but a few.
This week the schools watchdog Ofsted have reported that more than half of England’s schools are failing pupils on religious education. A great deal of this has to do with the manner in which RE is now taught, in an impartial and objective fashion, laying out the tenets of different faiths from which children are taught to take a pick and mix approach, drawing out strands of truths from various religions, without being equipped with the basic knowledge to be able to make such critical decisions.
I was lucky enough to have old-fashioned scripture lessons at primary school, which was akin to a period of story-telling, music, art and drama. I remember the class sitting with rapt concentration to tales of King David, singing songs about the walls of Jericho tumbling and drawing vivid pictures of Elijah being taken up to heaven in a chariot, the memories of those lessons remaining with me today, almost thirty years later. Despite attending a Catholic secondary school, my knowledge of the Apocrypha was until quite recently, limited to being purely theoretical, even though it is a key part of our Catholic cultural inheritance.
If Religious Education teaching is lacking, it is time to reintroduce unashamed scripture lessons, which as my experience shows does not need to be an exercise in aridity, in order that all children are not denied the richness of their country’s spiritual heritage, regardless of whether or not they are adherents to what is still, our national religion.
We cannot be surprised or shocked by the current proposals that the Bible should be removed from courtrooms, how can we swear a serious oath of truth upon it, or how can grieving parents or those suffering with the burdens and trials of life, absorb the messages of consolation and hope from the Bible, if we don’t know what is contained therein?