Two months ago, as my mother was dying, I shared her last Eucharist – I touched the sacred host to her lips and placed a tiny drop of the precious blood on her tongue. The Body of Christ. The Blood of Christ. For me it was a privileged moment of intimacy and tenderness. Looking back now, I believe my mother and I were linked in a deep communion with all those other moments of tenderness between us down the years.
Last week, at the grotto in Lourdes, I reflected on the tenderness between Mary and Jesus – how she carried him in her womb to visit her cousin Elizabeth; the way she cuddled him as a baby at Bethlehem; the sadness when their tear-filled eyes met on the road to Calvary; and that heartbreaking pieta moment at the foot of the cross when she received his lifeless body in her arms.
Could there be anything more tender and beautiful than the intimate love between a mother and her child?
Hardness of heart: we see it in so much violence, anger, greed, destruction of property, defamation of character, vengeance and hatred
The prophet Isaiah asked: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast, and have no compassion on the child she has borne? But even though she may forget, I will not forget you, says the Lord.”
We are so accustomed to describing God’s fatherly love for us that we sometimes forget that God’s tender loving kindness is also like that of a mother which is there for us – no matter what – despite our mistakes and sinfulness.
‘Revolution of tenderness’
Pope Francis has spoken about the need for a "revolution of tenderness" to melt the "hardness of heart" that is so prevalent nowadays. Hardness of heart: we see it in so much violence, anger, greed, destruction of property, defamation of character, vengeance and hatred.
The “revolution of tenderness” challenges us instead to show sensitivity and concern for everyone and everything, and especially to protect the wonder of life in our common home. As Pope Francis puts it, “everything is connected”.
This includes the way we care for the environment; how we care for one another; how we welcome and accept those with different needs and abilities, refugees, the elderly, the unborn, the forgotten and the abandoned; how we acknowledge the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities (see Laudato si' 117).
For me the Eighth Amendment is a declaration of tenderness at the heart of the Constitution of Ireland. It declares the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child, and holds these equal rights in a tender, fragile balance.
It places as the very foundations and substructure of our laws a clear conviction that all human life is worth cherishing.
Despite what some people say, to be against abortion is not simply “a Catholic thing”. People of all faiths and none value the protection of innocent human life because it is a value rooted in reason as well as in faith. To preserve the dignity of human life in all its stages and conditions is an affirmation of our human capacity for tenderness and love.
Crisis in pregnancy
So too is our recognition that some mothers and fathers experience profound anguish when faced with a crisis in pregnancy. Tenderness also compels us to reach out to support them. Furthermore, it invites those who have had abortions to find peace by turning back to embrace God’s mercy in their lives.
In a world which is often unforgiving and vengeful, it is difficult nowadays to sustain the virtue of tenderness
Pope St John Paul II described the image of the father running out to embrace the Prodigal Son as one of the “definitive icons” of God’s love. That embrace sums up the best characteristics of fatherhood and motherhood. It captures the revolutionary tenderness of God, whose loving kindness and mercy knows no bounds.
In a world which is often unforgiving and vengeful, it is difficult nowadays to sustain the virtue of tenderness. But where it is allowed to grow it can transform society because it brings to life an aspect of the identity of God.
To choose life for a mother and her unborn child involves more than simply marking an X on a ballot paper. It calls for a shared commitment to tenderness from the Irish people, and tangible changes to ensure that this country will always provide the best possible care and support for all women and their unborn children.
Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Catholic Primate of All Ireland