Bless Us, O Lord

Even the Old Testament passages that at first appear to be tedious “filler” become beautiful when we understand them as types of Christ!

This article was originally published as part of Ad Cenam Agni, a 2023 virtual Lenten Retreat hosted by the Abbot's Circle.


Artwork: The Healing of Tobit by Domenico Fetti

Lectio: Tobit 2-3

A custom beloved in many monasteries is that of Table Reading. At St. Michael’s Abbey, we Norbertines take breakfast in silence—as is only civilized!—but through lunch and during part of supper we listen while one confrere reads aloud from some edifying book. Often this is a life of some saint, but especially during Lent we listen to Sacred Scripture. As our father, St. Augustine, prescribed in the holy Rule we profess, “Let not only your mouth take in food, but let your ears also hunger for the Word of God.” Hearing Divine Wisdom while gathered for that most human activity of mealtime greatly fosters charity among the confreres. The religious custom of table reading could even be adapted as a Lenten custom by families—perhaps at Friday dinners—rather easily given the modern accessibility of audio books.

The spiritual meaning of the Bible reveals itself to us more the more we are exposed to the Sacred Texts. Traditional Scripture scholars distinguish three different kinds of spiritual “senses” hidden within the literal meaning. The first of these is simply allegory—or analogy—by which we discern that something in one part of Scripture is a type of something elsewhere. Even the Old Testament passages that at first appear to be tedious “filler” become beautiful when we understand them as types of Christ! They “made the tabernacle with ten curtains; they were made of fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet stuff.” (Exodus 36.8). Why those colors? Because the tent of sacrifices was a type of Christ’s sacrifice to come, in which he would be bruised and bloodied for our sins!

Reflect on the tale of Tobit, already a delightful story just as literature. But notice how the holy couple who falls into quarreling is a type of Adam and Eve, who fell from grace. The maiden Sarah is a type of fallen humanity, oppressed by the devil. Tobias, son of Tobit, is a type of Christ, sent on a mission to bring salvation both to the sinful world and to his righteous ancestors. Tobias is accompanied on the quest both by his dog and by the angel Raphael; this is a type of Christ saving us by means of both a lower bodily nature and a higher heavenly nature. I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t read it, but see what other details you can find that God put there as types of the New Testament fulfillment. Reading Holy Scripture gave Tobit guidance in the midst of his family tragedies. All honor to the Word of God, who died and rose to bind our broken hearts in his.

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