By Sister Constance Veit
TED is a media organization that posts online talks under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” Earlier this year Pope Francis surprised the world by digitally giving his own “TED Talk” at the organization’s annual conference in Vancouver. In his nearly 20 minute talk, our Holy Father challenged his listeners to ignite a much-needed revolution of tenderness in our world.
Tenderness, the Holy Father suggested, “is the love that comes close and becomes real. It is a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands. Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future. To listen also to the silent cry of our common home, of our sick and polluted earth. Tenderness means to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need.”
What better time could there be to launch a revolution of tenderness than during the Advent and Christmas season? After all, the heart of Christmas is the story of God’s coming among us as a helpless baby – this is the epitome of tenderness. As Pope Francis shared, “God himself descended into Jesus to be on our level. This is the path that Jesus himself took. He lowered himself, he lived his entire human existence practicing the real, concrete language of love. Tenderness is the path of solidarity, the path of humility.”
Imagine what Christmas would be like if we opted out of the commercialism of the season in favor of tenderness! If we didn’t have to be on the lookout for the next sale or the latest decorating ideas, we could better use our eyes to see the lonely and the misfit. If we chose silence over the 24-hour Christmas carol station once in a while, we would grow more attuned to the cry of the poor and the deepest hopes and fears of our children. And if our arms weren’t so full of packages, we could more easily reach out to others with the caress of God himself.
But we can choose tenderness over materialism and consumerism this Christmas! It’s a matter of slowing down, putting Christ at the center and prioritizing people over things. Reaching out to serve those on the peripheries and cherishing those who are close to us will bring us deeper fulfillment and more precious memories than all those material gifts we don’t really need. Tenderness is its own reward!
Meeting with a group of young people last Advent, Pope Francis invited them to welcome the joy of the season as a gift and to witness to it in their families, schools and parishes. He specifically encouraged them to share it with their grandparents by talking to them, asking them questions and learning from their memories and experiences. He also told grandparents that they should make an effort to understand their grandchildren, and to listen to their aspirations and hopes.
As a Little Sister of the Poor, I can think of no better way to launch the revolution of tenderness than for families to strengthen intergenerational bonds this Christmas. If you are young, reach out to your grandparents or elder aunts and uncles. And if you are older, shower the kids in your extended family with the unconditional love and attention that only elders know how to give.
I have one last suggestion this Christmas – and it springs directly from our Holy Father’s TED Talk. “Quite a few years of life have strengthened my conviction that each and everyone’s existence is deeply tied to that of others,” Francis told his audience. And then, incredibly, he asked for a little tenderness for himself: “We all need each other. And so, please, think of me as well with tenderness, so that I can fulfill the task I have been given for the good of the other, of each and every one, of all of you, of all of us.”
So, as you help ignite the revolution of tenderness this Christmas, don’t forget to say a little prayer for the man who inspired it!
(Sister Constance Veit is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.)