Strength and tenderness

Here I would add one more thing: caring, protecting, demands goodness, it calls for a certain tenderness. In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!

(From Pope Francis's homily at his inaugural Mass - full text here.)

Immediately after the inaugural Mass Facebook and Twitter were bursting with video clips, comments and extracts from the homily. So many commented on the pope's repeated use of the word "tenderness", adding how rarely they heard it, in general as well as specifically in Catholicism. I read all this with some surprise, because for me the word was not rare - far from it. It's a word we RSCJ often use when describing the love of the Heart of Jesus, and how we ourselves aim to love. It's in our Constitutions, in letters and conferences from our Superior General... it's definitely in this blog, and I realise I used it recently when writing a short article on the Sacred Heart. I have typed the word naturally, easily, aware of its power and meaning for me, but hitherto unaware of its rarity for others.

Tenderness is a word with layers of meaning. We usually use it to mean gentleness, compassion and delicacy; a softness of touch and, crucially, of attitude. But it is also linked with vulnerability: we speak of a child being at a tender age, meaning they are weak, powerless, in need of [tender] care and protection. And there's also pain: an especially sore, maybe recent bruise is often described as being tender to the touch, whilst we "tenderise" meat by pounding it mercilessly or piercing it.

As the Pope said, tenderness springs from strength and capacity, but I believe there is an extra quality and depth which can only come from a heart which has experienced its own vulnerability and pain. Our experience of being "tenderised" can strengthen us, and also help us become more tender in our loving. Our prime example in this is the Heart of Jesus; a Heart which has come through pain and powerlessness, and is supremely strong and tender in its loving. This is what we RSCJ have pledged to make known: as it says in our Constitutions In a world where so often love is exploited and devalued, and many human relationships are scarred by deep wounds, we seek to reveal the strength and tenderness of Jesus' love for each one. 

And may we all live what the Pope prayed for himself: to open [our] arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!


  1. Thank you for highlighting Pope Francis' use of the word 'tender'. It was one that resounded in me as I made the Exercises. The root from the French 'tendre' - to lean towards, to be moved, to care. So many prefixes can give the root direction - ex, con, at, dis, in. The lovely word 'tendril' comes from it too and Julian of Norwich dwelt on 'the tenderness of God'. Thank you for bringing it to mind again.

  2. Thank YOU for reminding me about tendrils - which beautifully combine strength with fragility...


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