Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.Matthew 5:11
I think we all know how it feels to be misunderstood. No matter the reason why, knowing that those around us don’t understand us makes us feel frustrated, disheartened, and most of all, alone. People can easily judge or condemn us when they don’t really know us. When we’ve only heard a fraction of someone’s story, it’s impossible to fully understand who that person is.
St, Vitalis of Gaza was extremely misunderstood during his time. If I told you that St. Vitalis of Gaza was a monk who spent every night with a different prostitute, you probably wouldn’t believe me. Either that, or you would think of a different narrative than what had actually happened. The truth is, St. Vitalis imitated Christ in a profound way that was only publicly revealed after his death.
St. Vitalis of Gaza’s Life
St. Vitalis lived in Gaza in the 600s. As an elderly hermit, he often hired himself out as a day laborer in Alexandria. At the end of the day, he used his earnings to hire a different prostitute each night. He spent his time with these women talking and praying with them. He reminded them of their worth and dignity. Because of St. Vitalis, numerous women gave up their lives as prostitutes and became holy wives and mothers. He helped them to understand authentic love and forsake use and lust.
Of course, St. Vitalis’ ministry caused his reputation to suffer. Other people only saw that a holy man was paying for women, and didn’t see the good that he did behind closed doors. Naturally, people grew suspicious. When St. Vitalis eventually died, all of the women who he impacted came to his funeral and testified that he had changed their lives. The once misunderstood Saint became more widely beloved.
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Jesus warns us that by following Him and doing His will, not everyone will see or understand the good that we’re trying to do. Surprisingly, this can be a good thing! We don’t have to be understood or praised for our work in this life, and we shouldn’t strive for that anyway. Our sights should always be on Heaven because our reward is there, not on this earth. Besides, Jesus was misunderstood and even hated during this life for what He did. If we’re treated the same way, then we’re all the more like Christ.
Jesus encountered prostitutes and other sinners during His earthly ministry. By encountering Him, they repented and followed Him. As His followers, we’re called to do the same. St. Vitalis of Gaza probably took this example to heart as he spent his life reaching the souls who need Jesus the most. He inspires us to risk our reputation for something more important, an eternal soul. Let’s look to St. Vitalis of Gaza as he reminds us to encounter our brothers and sisters and bring Christ’s light in the darkest places.
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