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The gift of a soft heart

I have a soft heart. And too often, I’m afraid to say so.
Forgetting that “Tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women.” As Pope Francis reminded us. And I take a deep breath and smile big.
On a flight this past week, I watched a movie and gratefully, let the tears flow. (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Tom Hanks plays Mr. Rogers and his relationship with Esquire writer Tom Junod.) More and more I’m grateful for every opportunity to remember that I need not be afraid of living with a soft heart. That empathy and compassion matter. And they spill to the world around us.
Mr. Rogers is one of my heroes. And I love to hear his reminder to children (and to the child in us), “let them know that each one of us is precious.”
These are not easy words to internalize in a hard world where we keep everything and everyone at bay.

This takes me to a scene in one of my very favorite books, The Shoes of the Fisherman. Morris West tells the story of Ukrainian Archbishop Kiril Lakota, who is set free after two decades as a political prisoner in Siberia. Kiril is sent to Rome, where the ailing Pope makes him a Cardinal. In the novel, the world (set in the 1980s) is in a state of crisis–a famine in China is exacerbated by US restrictions on Chinese trade and the ongoing Chinese-Soviet feud. When the Pontiff dies, Lakota–after several ballots–is elected Pope. In the book, the new Pope, Kiril I, is often plagued by self-doubt, by his years in prison, and by this strange world he knows so little about.
There is one telling conversation, between two of Kiril’s advisers. “What did His Holiness have to say about that?”
“He has a soft heart. The danger is that it may be too soft for the good of the church.”
“He has suffered more than we. Perhaps he has more right to trust his heart than we have.”
Yes. Tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women.
And I get it. Really. I do. But if we’re honest, this whole soft heart routine can give us plenty of headaches. Especially in a culture that associates soft with weak or frail or compromised or wimpy. It’s a “strength” that hides behind insecurity. And in that kind of world, we see only what we want to see, and we miss the profound truth: the connection between tenderness (soft heart) and courage.

But here’s the good news; this is not a project or assignment or test. A tender heart is a gift to embrace. And a gift to spill. A gift that changes the world.
When we live from tenderness, we see one another.
There’s a wonderful NPR story about how Stephanie Disney (audiologist at the Commission for Children with Special Health Care Needs) met her (then 2-and-a-half-year-old) daughter, Rudy. Disney recalls, “my heart recognized her immediately.” In the story, Disney says, “I am the whitest of white women, and my daughter is some indefinable combination of all that is beautiful from at least three races: curly dark hair, petite features, freckles, a golden tan skin tone, one blue eye and one brown. If her race had only one name, it would be perfection. I understand that everyone wants love and acceptance. And these are such rare gifts, that when people see them freely demonstrated, they are compelled to seek the source. Recently, Rudy surprised me when a white-haired lady, standing right beside us, asked if I was her mother. Rudy threw the lady a disbelieving glance and said, ‘Well, she helps me with multiplication, fixes my hair, kisses me and we both have freckles on our noses; who else could she be?'”

When my ego doesn’t need to be propped up, I don’t need to win any shouting match (which isn’t to say shouting doesn’t feel cathartic for wee bit).
Our well-being is grounded in grace. Let me repeat that… Our well-being is grounded in grace. And grace is a voice much bigger than all the other attachments where we may park value or significance. We see that dignity alive in the hearts and souls of those around us. Now, courage takes on a new meaning. Giving us the permission to say yes to choices that invite more soft hearts in a world that needs them.
When we see with our heart, we know that, regardless of our differences, we are on this journey together. A tender heart affirms the inherent value in others, and asks, “What’s next?”
You know, the question the Good Samaritan asked as he stopped for the man in ditch. Why? Because he knew what it was like to be wounded too. You see, once we are open…
…to having our stereotypes contradicted,
…to giving up our expectations and demands,
…to embracing our brokenness,
…we find “There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter.” (Mother Teresa)
When we see with our heart, we are grounded. We are conscious—present—no longer numbed. And tender hearts create sanctuaries for those left out. So, if ever there was a time for tender hearted, courageous men and women to step forward, it is now.

I write this on a flight from Toronto, Ontario to Regina, Saskatchewan. I’ll be spending time this week with the good people at Holy Family Catholic Schools and at Holy Trinity Catholic Schools.
Today I finished a retreat with a group of men in Parma, Ohio, very grateful for the connections we made there at the Jesuit Retreat Center. On my morning walks at the center, I took opportunity to talk with a new congregation, the resident deer on the property. One of them told me he knew about my homilies with the sheep. That did my heart good.

Quote for your week…
There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart. Jane Austen

BULLETIN BOARD

Today’s Photo Credit: A couple of the deer on my morning walk. Jesuit Retreat Center, Parma, OH. And thank you to all, I love your photos… please keep sending them… send to terryhershey.com 

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Letters that do my heart good…
–Terry, I loved that song, “There is a Balm in Gilead”, it was beautiful, so peaceful. Thank you for all of your great messages every day… love, love them. Peace, Lynne
–Just to say thanks for introducing me to Whitelist… it works for us Mac people. Pace e bene, Jack
–Hi Terry. A couple of your books made a profound impact on my life in my early to mid-twenties. What a delight to stumble upon your Facebook feed and see that you are still offering your thoughts and wisdom. Just wanted to say thank you and that I’m looking forward to following your posts. “Look! A penny!” Rhonda
–Hello dear friend. Thanks for today, especially the Hebrew lesson. Good stuff. Barbara and I will be delighting today as we head to a beat lake for two days in celebration of our 59th. Not up to Jimmy and Roslyn yet, but it’s a good beginning. Martin
–Thank you Terry for your Sabbath Moments. They always make me smile and contemplate in a good way. I just shared a delight with my husband and will continue to look for daily precious gifts from our Lord. Thank you and Enjoy your day. Karen
–Good morning Terry, I meant to send you a message the other day, letting you know that I am receiving your Sabbath moments again so very grateful! Thank you for all you do and keeping all of us grounded. Blessings, Rose.
–Hi Terry, Thank you for the instructions. Yes, I did receive SM this morning in my inbox. Thank you for the daily dose of inspiration.  It focuses my day, my week. Blessings! Sister Rosalie

POEMS AND PRAYERS

When I get out of the way of my own thinking, I am at peace.
When I get out of the way of my doing, I am enough.
When I get out of the way of my being, I become all I am;
the Divine expression of God’s amazing grace.
ML Gallagher  


God,
Love is born
With a dark and troubled face
When hope is dead
And in the most unlikely place
Love is born
Love is always born.
Amen.
M. Leunig

All-powerful God,
you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
Pope Francis

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