In today’s Gospel reading, there is an interesting line about King Herod; it says that “he (Herod) kept trying to see him (Jesus).” Why would it be so difficult for King Herod to see Jesus? OK, Herod probably did not hang out in the fields and on lake shores with the fishermen like Jesus did, but surely as king, Herod could have commanded to have Jesus brought to him. I think the question is less about Herod not being able to physically see Jesus, and more an issue of Herod not recognizing who Jesus really was. Herod lacked the eyes of faith to see the supernatural reality of who Jesus is.
This was not a problem that just Herod had. The Gospel tells us that many were saying that Jesus was John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the other prophets come back. When Jesus asked His apostles who people said He was, they gave the same answer.
What kept people, like Herod, from recognizing Jesus? From seeing Him for who He is? The author of the Book of Ecclesiastes gives us an answer in our first reading today when he cries out, “vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” Herod, like many people, put too much importance on material possessions, thinking that they would bring real happiness. But it was not only material possessions; it also included things like pride, respect, honor, prestige, and privilege. All these vanities also prevented King Herod from seeing Jesus.
Today the Church honors a person who gives an outstanding example and witness to how the vanities of this world keep us from recognizing Christ. St. Vincent de Paul was born in France in 1581. As a young man he worked caring for his father’s pigs. That gave him an appreciation for the working person and the poor. Responding to God’s call to become a priest, shortly after his ordination was captured by corsairs and taken as a slave to the Barbary Coast. Despite being a slave, his witness to Christ’s love was strong, so strong that he converted his master and they both returned to France. St. Vincent was made the chaplain to the gallows, where he showed great compassion to the prisoners. In their poverty, striped of all of the world’s vanities, St. Vincent recognized Jesus in each person he ministered to. His compassion was not limited to just the prisoners to whom he was assigned. After completely his duties to those in the gallows, he went out into the streets caring for the poor, especially children abandoned in the streets to die because their families were too poor to feed them. St. Vincent started a home for these foundlings. Yet St. Vincent’s compassion and desire to recognize Christ was not limited to the poor. He saw that the wealthy also needed to look beyond the vanities of the world to see Christ in those around them, and at this he was also very successful. Not only did he get the wealthy to open up their purses to fund the various charitable institutions he started, but he got them to truly open up their hearts to recognize Christ in the poor, the sick and the abandoned.
St. Vincent de Paul lovingly challenges each of us to look at the vanities in our lives that keep us from recognizing Christ. Jesus promised that He would be with us until the end of time, so if we do not see Him, something must be blinding us. We need to pray to be set free from our vanities, and recognize Christ Jesus in each person we encounter and all the situations of our lives.