The word tenderness seems to be in the air lately. It's clearly a favorite of our new Pope's. He used it in some of his earliest remarks as Pope. "Do not be afraid of tenderness." He mentioned it again several times today, in reflections on the First Letter of St. John and the sacrament of confession.
"The Lord is tender towards those who fear, to those who come to Him "and with tenderness," He always understands us”. He wants to gift us the peace that only He gives. " "This is what happens in the Sacrament of Reconciliation" even though "many times we think that going to confession is like going to the dry cleaner" to clean the dirt from our clothes...
It came up, too, in the last two lectures of Jules' Person class, when he spoke of von Hildebrand's treatment of the heart, and affectivity.
Most of us in the west have been taught to think of our emotions as subrational and belonging to our "animal part"—needing to be firmly "controlled" by Reason and Will. Von HIldebrand shows that, on the contrary, "tender affectivity" is, in truth, the very height and center of man's spiritual life.
It is in the affective sphere, in the heart, that the treasures of man's most intimate life are stored. It is in the heart that the secret of the person is to be found; it is here that the most intimate word is spoken.
Not all affectivity, but specifically "tender affectivity."
Tender affectivity manifests itself in love in all its categories: filial and parental love, friendship, brotherly and sisterly love, conjugal love and love of neighbor. It displays itself in "being moved," in enthusiasm, in deep authentic sorrow, in gratitude, in tears of grateful joy, or in contrition. It is the type of affectivity which includes the capacity for a noble surrender, affectivity in which the heart is involved.
Tender affectivity is a specifically personal affectivity. And it is specifically relational, involving an openness and responsiveness toward value—an another person perhaps, or a beautiful piece of music.
This capacity to be moved, to be touched, to be affected by another in our inmost being is something we naturally fear and dread, because it means making ourselves vulnerable to that other, and opening ourselves to the possibity of being hurt. But, if fear causes us to close our hearts, we cut ourselves off from the real heights and depths of personal existence. Listening to a truly outstanding you tube talk by Jean Vanier the other day, I heard the word again. He said [at 7:30 in the video] he asked a psychaitrist friend one day how he would define human maturity. The psychiatrist replied with one word, "Tenderness."