A Revolution of Tenderness

By Archbishop Eamon Martin

Pope Francis has spoken about the need for a ‘revolution of tenderness’ to melt the ‘hardness of heart’ that is so prevalent in today’s world.  The ‘revolution of tenderness’ challenges us to show real sensitivity and active concern for everyone and everything, and protect the wonder of life in our common home. 

As Pope Francis puts it: ‘everything is connected’. This includes the way we care for the environment; how we care for one another; how we welcome and accept those with different needs and abilities, refugees, the elderly, the unborn, the forgotten and the abandoned; how we acknowledge the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities (see Laudato si’ 117).

The memory of some special moments lasts a lifetime – I’m thinking, for example, of the intimacy of the relationship between a mother and the child in her womb, or the tenderness of that moment when a mother and father first cuddle a newborn child in their arms. Moments like these leave an indelible mark which never really goes away no matter what happens as the years go on, and the child grows older, and the family goes through challenges and sufferings of every kind.  When I contemplate the pieta scene of Mary holding the lifeless body of her son Jesus taken down from the wood of the cross, I imagine her remembering the days thirty three years earlier when she lifted the infant Jesus up from the wood of the manger and, with Joseph, cuddled him in her arms.

In a world which is often unforgiving and vengeful, it is difficult nowadays to sustain the virtue of tenderness. But where it is allowed to grow and shine forth tenderness can transform society and life because it brings to life an aspect of the identity of God.

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast?’ the prophet Isaiah wrote
(Isaiah 49:15), ‘and have no compassion on the child she has borne? But even though she may forget, I will not forget you, says the Lord’. The tender loving kindness that is at the heart of God is there for us no matter what, despite our mistakes and sinfulness.

To preserve the dignity and sanctity of human life in all its stages and conditions, is an affirmation of our human capacity for tenderness and love.  So too is our empathy for mothers and fathers who experience profound anguish when faced with a crisis in pregnancy.  Tenderness compels us to reach out to them, and to invite those who have had abortions to embrace God’s mercy in their lives.

Pope St John Paul II once said that one of the definitive icons of God’s love is the image of the Father running out to embrace the Prodigal Son, because that embrace sums up all the best characteristics of fatherhood and motherhood.  It is also a picture of the revolutionary tenderness of God, whose loving kindness and mercy knows no bounds.

We are all called to be revolutionaries of tenderness, holding in fragile equilibrium the precious lives of all mothers and their unborn babies, speaking tender and merciful words of life and love in a world of many ‘hardened hearts’, and gently leading those who have lost their way back to the arms of the Father.