Pope Francis’ homily given at the Mass of his inauguration as Bishop of Rome and Holy Father of the Catholic Church was received with reverence, attentiveness and applause. Among the many beautiful statements, one message stands out in particular:
Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be “protectors” of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be “protectors”, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives! Being protectors, then, also means keeping watch over our emotions, over our hearts, because they are the seat of good and evil intentions: intentions that build up and tear down! We must not be afraid of goodness or even 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!| Pope Francis, Inauguration Mass Homily – Feast of St Joseph 19 March 2013
With power, influence or position comes responsibility. Part of this responsibility is in being merciful, showing tenderness, compassion and gentleness. Pope Francis uses the word ‘tenderness’, but its counterpart, ‘gentleness’ is an acceptable substitute. The pope’s message bears resemblance to Marie Madeleine’s own experience in 1817:
…I was on my way to St Acheul’s, going over in my mind the explanation of the mystery given the previous evening. Suddenly a voice was speaking to me: “You will have three companions who will be very dear to you and from whom you must never be separated even for one instant.” I waited to hear the names of the three persons: “Humility, Poverty and Obedience.” I then remembered what Father Sellier had once told me, namely, if I were offered three gifts, to ask for a fourth. I silently made the request and immediately came the response: “Gentleness.” | Marie Madeleine d’Höuet, Memoirs
- What might the relationship between tenderness or gentleness and responsibility entail?
- How have I, in the past twenty-four hours or so, shown tenderness in my dealings with other people, with myself and with creation?
- Might I be able to bring more gentleness into my life world in the coming day?
Contemplate the dynamic between responsibility, leadership and protection on one hand, and the gifts of gentleness, humility and kindness. Whatever my thoughts or insights are, may I hold them in God’s grace. Amen.