The Power of Tenderness

The Power of Tenderness

On Saturday and Sunday, I participated in the Search Retreat conducted by the Newman Center in Laramie. I joined Fr. Rob Spaulding, Lillie Romeiser and 48 college students. It was a wonderful experience. The homily for the Mass is below.

“You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Eph. 5:8).  How can we be “light in the Lord”? St. Paul does not merely tell us to be light, but to be “light in the Lord.”  As humans, we cannot create light.  We can only receive it and let it shine through us.  Jesus alone could say, “I am the light of the world.”  (Jn. 9:5) Have you learned how to receive the LIGHT of Christ so that you become “light in the Lord”?

In this gospel scene for this Sunday (John 8:1-11), the woman caught in adultery and the scribes and Pharisees are exposed to the Light of Christ.  Let’s look at how Jesus shines his light on both parties, the accusing scribes and the adulterous woman.  Then we will know better how to live as children of light. 

Can you imagine what it was like for the woman when the Pharisees and scribes made her “stand in the MIDDLE [of the crowd]and hear them tell Jesus, “This woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery” (Jn. 8:4).  Can you imagine the public embarrassment? This is one of the most humiliating and embarrassing experiences imaginable.

The scribes and Pharisees focused everyone’s attention on this woman.  The spotlight was on her.  But Jesus turned the tables.  He focused his light on those who accused her.  He said, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (Jn. 8:7).  He reminds them and us that in God’s light, we are all sinners.  The focus shifted from her sinfulness to everyone’s struggle with sin.  Christ invites us to see each other as broken brothers and sisters.  Do I see myself as better than others?  Am I self-righteous?  Or do I see myself as a fellow sinner? Then I am humble and grateful for God’s constant mercy toward me.

In Jesus’ Light, we are all sinners who have been rescued by his mercy.  Imagine what it was like for the woman to hear Jesus say, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin so more” (Jn. 8:11). 

St. Augustine says of this scene, “Only two were left, misery and mercy.”  A woman in misery and Christ overflowing with mercy.  She came before Jesus in such misery.  She left filled with his mercy.  Can you image what went on in her heart?  It was filled with the soft Light of his mercy.

Several years ago, in a small community I met with a young girl who was much like the woman caught in adultery.  Sally (not her real name) was pregnant as a junior in high school.  She came to Mass every Sunday with her family, but now she felt so judged when she came to Church.  She felt horrible.

I told her, “Sally, your sin is public.  Everybody in town knows your sin. Their sins are more private.  But they are sinners just like you.  In fact, many of them have the same sin.  It’s just that their sins are not as public as yours.”  I encouraged her to go forward with God’s forgiveness and to focus on God’s mercy.  In other words, she needed to walk inside of God’s merciful light, and ignore the public spotlight.

Have you let Christ’s mercy sink into your heart this lent?  Do you treat others with his mercy?  The two go hand-in-hand.  If you have not accepted God’s mercy, then you will not be able to show mercy.

We are more like the Pharisees than we like to think.  They were reluctant to accept the mercy Jesus offered to sinners.  So are we.  Have you ever said to yourself, “I know God can forgive me, but I can’t forgive myself.”?

Sometimes that attitude reveals a form of pride.  Why?  Because it is a way of saying, “I will determine what should be forgiven.  I will define forgiveness!” But that is God’s job. Our role is not to define forgiveness, but to accept it.  In this case, the way to forgiveness is to become like a little child who knows how to receive God’s love.  That is why Jesus said, “Unless you become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3). 

Other times, the reluctance to accept forgiveness might be the effect of sloth. Sometimes we have given up on God’s grace.  Kathleen Norris says in her book Acedia & Me (p.205), “When we are convinced that we are beyond the reach of grace, acedia [or sloth] has done its work.” John Climacus speaks of sloth as “a voice claiming that God has no mercy and no love for [us].” 

Sloth is not just laziness in the spiritual life.  It is giving up on myself and giving up on grace because a dark spirit whispers in my ear, “You’ll never change.”  The evil one says, “See how you keep saying that you will stop sinning or pray more faithfully, but you don’t do it….  You can’t do it…. Give up!”  In this instance, sloth leads us to give up on ourselves and on God’s loving mercy.

The secret to having a new start in our spiritual life is humility and perseverance. Humbly accepting the Light of God’s mercy day after day.  And persevering in prayer.  Never giving up on prayer and its power to transform me. Standing in the Light of God’s transforming love day after day.

Imagine the tender and humble mercy that the woman experienced as she was alone with Jesus and he said, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go, and sin no more.” Pope Francis said, “Jesus expects us . . . to enter into the reality of people’s lives and to know the power of tenderness.” (Amoris Laetitia, 308) I wonder if he had this gospel scene in mind when he wrote that.

Marvel at the power of tenderness that Jesus showed this woman.  Then bring the same power of tenderness to others.  “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light” (Eph. 5:8).  Let yourself be soothed by the Light of God’s mercy.  Receive it freely, humbly and gratefully.  Then invite others into the light.


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