Often when we are walking the labyrinth here in Angers, a small red ladybird appears on the circuit and seems to want to do the path with us. This tiny creature invariably causes a stir of amazement and gives rise to strong feelings of tenderness in us. We want to nurture it. Everybody wants to avoid walking on it and we are tempted to pick it up and stroke it. We continue letting it be the lovely ladybird it is and allowing it go at its own pace. It somehow becomes our ‘nature – companion" and keeps us reminded that the earth and nature are also on the journey seeking to give expression to the tender heart of God. "The heart that desires to nurture all of life is a heart of tenderness."
We were intrigued to learn that in the Middle Ages the "ladybird" was known as "Our Lady’s beetle" who in early religious paintings was often shown wearing a red cloak. Farmers invoked her for help with their crops. Then ladybugs arrived and helped the farmers by eating crop-
One of the most popular images of Our Lady, especially in the Eastern Church is that of Our Lady of Vladimir which is also known as the Mother of Tenderness. In this icon, the Christ child is seen nestling close to his mother and his gaze is focused on her. Mary is intimately connected with her Son and at the same time is looking out at the people.
From all her intense reading of the Gospels, St. Mary Euphrasia had a deep conviction concerning the tender mercy of Jesus the Good Shepherd towards each of us. She was on fire with the loving tenderness of God, taking to heart the words of Paul: "The tenderness and love of God our Saviour has dawned in our lives; he saved us not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy."(Titus 3:4-
St. Mary Euphrasia resembled Mary in her manner of relating to people. From the inner ground of her being and her deep union with Christ in prayer, she reached out to others and evoked feelings of tenderness in them. She used to say "We ought to be kind, extremely kind."
It is comforting to know that St. Mary Euphrasia had to work progressively on this aspect of her relationships. She admits that when she was initially working with a group of girls, she adopted a rather severe approach. It was her confessor who pointed out to her that she needed to let go of this severity. Each of us can reflect on a similar journey from severity to tenderness.
What do we mean by tenderness?
The easiest way to discover this is to look into your own experience.
Remember some encounter where you experienced "a moment of tenderness". Go back to that situation. Who was with you? What were your feelings?
What are some situations that evoked tenderness in you? What were your feelings?
You might like to take an image of St. Mary Euphrasia & St. John Eudes. Remember some stories of how they nurtured life through tenderness.
The dictionary says tenderness is sensitivity to emotions, to the feelings of others. It can also be understood as "the relaxedness that comes from knowing that you are totally and thoroughly loved". God has declared Godself unreservedly in our regard: "Can a mother forget (reject) her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget (reject) you" (Is.49:15)
Can I accept God’s tenderness?
How can I celebrate this tenderness today?
"Although externally very severe and serious, St. John Eudes was very kind and caring." We know that he was known to be very tender with people who came to confession to him. It was said of him that he was like a lion in the pulpit and a lamb in the confessional. He encouraged his priests to be extremely tender in the confessional. For two and a half months, indifferent to danger, he lived in a barrel in the middle of the fields, so as not to spread the infection from the plague victims for whom he was caring. And in his treatment of the plague victims who came to him, he was said to show great tenderness.
A guiding principle of St. Mary Euphrasia's life was her great tenderness and love for the wounded girls and women who came to the houses of Good Shepherd. She advised the sisters to «make use in the first place, of kindness, and take care not to contradict a person in distress. If they are determined not to do certain things, do not insist; if they speak rudely to you, be calm." In an era when emphasis was placed on authoritarianism and punitive measures for those who did not conform, Mary Euphrasia dared to love tenderly. She treated people with kindness and firmness. "Do not treat them with rigour nor with a high hand... remember it is kindness that wins hearts."
Tenderness is blocked by hardness of heart and by rigidity. This hardness or rigidity often stems from fear, immoderation and a false sense of God. These need to be counterbalanced by discipline, courage and contemplation.
Tenderness involves discipline, even bodily discipline: discipline of the eyes and of the heart. Tenderness involves courage, the courage to take small steps, to make small affective gestures ( a smile, a word, a good wish, an expression of thanks, a greeting, a phrase...) There is wisdom in these small gestures which constitute the web of our daily existence.
Tenderness is risky. Tenderness demands contemplation, that silence which brings us into experiences of respect for God, for others, for nature, for things. Tenderness is nourished through such contemplation.
Talk to God about ways in which we can increase a climate of tenderness and reduce rigidity as we live and work together on this planet.
If you wish, you can go into Supplementary Tools to deepen your reflection with photos, videos etc.