“Do Not Be Afraid of Tenderness.”

These were words Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio spoke during the homily at the Mass inaugurating his pontificate as Pope Francis. They echoed the first words of Pope John Paul II: “Do not be afraid,” spoken when the threat of Cold War still loomed. But they have a distinctive twist that catches my heart, and seems particularly relevant for today’s world.

How often, in the business of our daily lives, in our many interactions with neighbours, strangers, co-workers, friends and even family members, are we mindful of the need for tenderness? Is it not easier to be brusque, dismissive, too busy to care, too busy to listen when someone is longing to open up their heart?

And yet listening attentively, with tenderness and understanding, is a powerful gift which can change someone’s whole day, and perhaps much more. It makes the other feel valued, respected, and cherished.

It is a deep need of our souls to be received like this, to feel that we are journeying through life accompanied by friends and family who love us, and by fellow human beings who value us. I can’t express how much it means for me that people I love take the time, even over the phone, to listen to my joys and struggles, to encourage me and console me.

This kind of tenderness is a gift we can all give. It affirms the sacredness of the other, that they have value and are worth our time…worth dropping everything for a moment for. In our materialist “time is money” culture this tender listening is so needed. It is what deepens relationships and builds community. It is what binds us together no matter what our culture, finances or background, bringing unity in diversity.

I hope that we can extend this attentiveness to people beyond our immediate circle of friends. To the person waiting with you at the bus stop. To the grocery clerk or banker. To the homeless man you see every day. To the neighbour who needs a smile and a kind word. And to our spouse and children when we are tired and don’t feel like it. This is perhaps the hardest one.

It is difficult to be truly present to the little ones who tramp around all day demanding it. But it’s so important to have special moments together, even if they are brief. There is an add on the bus for helping troubled youth that says something like, “Tell kids they matter. They’ll believe you.” Listening to our children’s little stories, as well as those of other people we meet in our day, is a way of telling them they matter.

So in our busy, individualistic world, more concerned with productivity and money than relationships, don’t be afraid to take time for tenderness.

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