Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time.
On this day, we hear the delightful story of a tax collector named Zacchaeus (Luke 19: 1-10). . When he heard that Jesus was coming to Jericho, Zacchaeus immediately climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus. If he had not done that, the crowds would have blocked his view, for he was a short man.
When Jesus came walking along the path, he suddenly stopped at the sycamore tree, looked up, and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.”
Zacchaeus must have been thrilled, for people of his time did not like tax collectors. In fact, they saw tax collectors as sinners. Therefore, for Jesus to invite himself to Zacchaeus’ house for dinner was an amazing event, especially since he did it in front of all of Zacchaeus’ neighbors. Many in the crowd were very jealous of Zacchaeus and said that Jesus had gone to the house of a sinner.
When Jesus arrived, Zacchaeus promised Jesus that he would give half his possessions to the poor, and if he discovered that he had extorted anything from anyone, he would repay them four times over. Jesus, very impressed with Zacchaeus, said, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”
There are a few themes in this passage such as conversion and making amends. The focus of this homily, though, is how kindness toward others can have amazing results. That is what we see in the life of a man named Michael Rua.
Michael Rua was born in a poverty-stricken neighborhood of Turin, Italy on June 9, 1837. He was the youngest of 9 children. His father, who was a supervisor in a weapons factory, died when Michael was just 8-years old.
As a child, Michael attended schools run by the Brothers of Christian Schools.
It was in this poor neighborhood that young Michael met an amazing priest named John Bosco. Fr. Bosco had a passion to help poor boys get a good schooling and good start on life. Eventually, Fr. Bosco founded a religious community, which he named after one of his heroes, St. Francis de Sales.
In 1845, Fr. Bosco enlisted Michael to help him set up his new religious congregation. Its members were called Salesians.
Michael Rua was a most amazing young man, and Fr. John Bosco recognized this. Fr. John showed Michael great kindness, and this made Michael want to follow him. More and more, Fr. John relied on Michael as his right-hand helper. Eventually, Michael Rua would come to be called “The Second Father of the Salesian Order.” In 1855, Michael made his religious vows in this new congregation.
In that same year, 1855, a great cholera epidemic swept the city of Turin, and Michael joined John Bosco in nursing the sick. Michael nursed the sick primarily in the slums of Turin. He also worked as a catechist in the city.
In 1860, Michael was ordained a priest, and from that time on, he was at Fr. John Bosco’s side all the time. In 1865, Fr. Michael became the vicar – or second in charge – of the Salesian Order.
Fr. Michael, in addition to his nursing and teaching duties, was a tremendous administrator. In fact, by the time Michael Rua died, the congregation had grown from 773 to 4,000 Salesians, from 57 to 345 communities, and was found in 33 nations of the world. Fr. Michael gained the nickname “the living rule” because of his great fidelity to St. John Bosco’s vision for the Order.
Fr. Michael Rua died in on April 6, 1910 at the age of 72 in Turin, Italy.
Pope Paul VI beatified him on October 29, 1972.
From the story of Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree, and Blessed Michael Rua, we can learn many things about the nature of kindness. Here are just three.
First, kindness toward others is very powerful. We often hear how we can catch more flies with a teaspoon of honey than with a barrelful of vinegar. That is what we see in the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. Notice that Jesus did not give Zacchaeus a lecture or scold him for being a tax collector. On the contrary, he showered Zacchaeus with kindness and, therefore, changed Zacchaeus’ spirit and way of life.
Second, kindness toward others is free; it only costs us energy. And this kind of energy is the renewable kind.
And third, when we’re kind to others, it benefits us as much, or more, that the person we directed it to. We see this very clearly in the story of St. John Bosco and Blessed Michael Rua. Not only did John’s kindness capture the mind and heart of Michael, but it made him such a great disciple of John, that Michael became known as the “second founder of the Salesian Order.” With Michael at his side, the burden of leadership was greatly reduced for John.
Today, as we continue our life journeys, it would be a good idea to reflect on kindness toward others. How do we show kindness? How do our acts of kindness benefit ourselves? How do we grow spiritually from kindness toward others?
And that is the good news I have for you on this Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2016.
Story source: “Blessed Michael Rua,” by Fr. Robert J. Kus, Saintly Men of Nursing: An Introduction, in process.