By Francesca Merlo
The words “theology” and “tenderness” seem very distant, said Pope Francis to the participants at a conference in Rome this week.
The first word seems to recall a world of academics, the second, interpersonal relations. “In reality,” said Pope Francis “our faith ties them together inextricably. Theology is called upon to communicate the concreteness of the God of love. And tenderness translates, to the present day, the affection that God nurtures for us.”
This is the first of three reflections Pope Francis voiced on the expression “the theology of tenderness”.
The Pope said, “Nowadays, everything begins with what one feels”. He said theology is called upon to accompany existential research. It cannot be reduced to a feeling but we must recognise that in many parts of the world, vital questions are approached through current emotions rather than social needs. This has not always been the case, and Pope Francis acknowledged that “one may not like it, but it is a matter of fact.”
To love and be loved
Pope Francis asked what a theology of tenderness might entail, bringing up two points: “the beauty of feeling loved by God” and “the beauty of feeling like loving in the name of God.”
Antidote to fear
“To feel loved” he said, “is a message that in recent times has reached us more powerfully”, from mercy, the essential characteristic of the Holy Trinity and of Christian life. “Tenderness can indicate precisely the manner in which we recognise the divine mercy.” He said that tenderness reveals to us, next to the paternal aspect, the maternal aspect of God, who loves us “more than a mother loves her child”.
He said tenderness is the “antidote to fear with regards to God” and that “trust beats fear”. “To feel loved therefore means to learn to trust in God, to tell Him, as He desires: ‘Jesus, I place my trust in you’”.
From stone to flesh
The Lord’s Passion “invites us to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, and to grow passionate about God. And about man, for the love of God.”
Tender God, tender man
Pope Francis said, “When we truly feel loved, we are led to reciprocate that love.” Reminding us that “If God is infinitely tender, we, who are made in the image of God, must also be capable of tenderness”.
He said that God’s tenderness brings us to the understanding that “love is the meaning of life”. We are called to pour the love we receive from the Lord back into the world – into the family, Church and society. “All this” said Pope Francis, “not out of duty, but for love”.
A contemporary Word
These points address a “moving theology”: one that is not narcissistic, but extends to services to the community, and one that does not settle with repeating past paradigms, but that reflects the Incarnate Word.
“Certainly not the silent Word of God”, he continued, the flesh that the Word is called to assume, that changes, from era to era.
Pope Francis concluded that there is much work to be done for theology and for its mission today. “To incarnate the Word of God, for the Church and for the person of the third millennium.”