CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic online): Our Gospel text from St. Luke is short but important because of its application for daily life: Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was greatly perplexed because some were saying, "John has been raised from the dead"; others were saying, "Elijah has appeared"; still others, "One of the ancient prophets has arisen." But Herod said, "John I beheaded. Who then is this about whom I hear such things?" And he kept trying to see him. (Luke 9:7-9)
What a sad character King Herod Antipas was. On June 24 we commemorated the beheading of John the Baptizer at the hands of this corrupt ruler who had unlawfully married his own brother's wife. (Mk. 6:17-29) John confronted Herod over the matter, calling him to account. A true prophet of God, John did not fear the powerful. He cared enough about their souls that he called them to repentance when they exercised their power in a corrupt manner. Herod did not heed the warning.
Even after Herod had John imprisoned, he still wanted to listen to him, but he could not hear his message. The Gospel tells us, "Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him." Herod liked to listen to him. But, he listened with impaired hearing because of his own sin. He was unable to hear the call to repentance and true freedom.
Herod could also have met the Lord Jesus Christ, whom he longed to see, in person. His circumstances could have been different. However, he gave himself over to a life of immorality and disordered passions. As a result of making those wrong choices, which is the essence of sin, he lost his capacity to see the truth - and then to choose to follow the path to His own salvation. St Luke tells us that when news about Jesus reached this King - "he kept trying to see Him." Sadly, he was unable to see Him because of impaired vision.
In the Catholic tradition there is a body of beautiful reflection on what are called the spiritual senses. These senses, in a way, parallel our physical senses.
Through prayer and intimate communion with the Lord we can cultivate ears to hear the Lord speak to us in the recesses of our heart. Through living faith we can receive the eyes to see Him revealed in the very human and real events of our daily lives.
Sadly, Herod had neither of these two spiritual senses.Instead, he manifested the kind of obstinacy for which the Lord lambasted the Pharisees: "With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: 'You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.' (Mt. 13:14, 15)
Contrast this spiritual blindness with the gift of spiritual vision given to the Apostles. The Lord told them in the very next verse. "But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear." (Mt. 13:16)
Learning to 'see the Lord' calls for our free cooperation with grace. We need to acknowledge our sin, admit our weakness and invite the Lord into our lives as Savior. Jesus is always revealing Himself to the humble, to those who truly want to see Him. One of my favorite characters in the New Testament is the tax collector named Zacheus who climbed a Sycamore tree to see the Lord. (Luke 19:1ff) He teaches us about this kind of response to the Lord.
Jesus went to Jericho that day seeking to save the lost. He knew Zacheus - just as He knows each one of us. The crowds around Zacheus may have thought he was unworthy of the encounter that was about to occur - but God Incarnate did not see him this way. Jesus saw Zacheus' heart - and he drew him to Himself. Zacheus was forever changed through the encounter.
Jesus wants you and me to see Him. He is not hidden. He is seen by those who have eyes which are opened by living faith. He is showing Himself all around us. He has taken up residence within us. He is revealed to us in the face of our neighbor and, in a special way, in the face of the poor. he is revealed in His living word and communicates His divine life to us through the Sacraments.
We are invited today to be the people who always want to see Jesus. That desire should draw us ever more deeply into a life of prayer and communion. It is there, in the intimacy fueled by living faith, that we receive the light we need to see the Lord. There, our eyes are opened, just like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. (See, Luke 24:13-35)
St. Augustine once warned of what can happen when we turn away from that light: "Love for the shadows ends up making the eyes of the soul weaker and weaker. The eyes become unable to see the face of God. Therefore, the more a man gives into his weakness, the more he slips into darkness." Let us ask the Lord for the grace we need to persevere in the faith.
As we prepare our hearts to receive the Lord Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, let us take some time for silent prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to open the ears of our hearts and help us learn to how to see the Lord with new eyes of living faith.