Tender moments - Madonna Magazine

Tender moments

Chris Gleeson SJ 10 March 2017

Our lives are full of tender moments. Recently, I was listening to our Province Treasurer and long-time school friend, Father Des Dwyer—better known as ‘Dialogue Des’—and I asked him about the health of one of our mutual school companions. He told me that Pat needed to have surgery to amputate most of his right arm, and that when he went home before the operation to break the news of his impending loss, his wife responded simply, ‘I will now be your right arm.’ Their marriage, my first as a celebrant after ordination in December 1975, has clearly been an outstanding success.

Another tender moment. Melbourne people, and perhaps readers of the Fairfax press more generally, would remember a very fine piece in The Age written by Geoffrey King sj in early April 2013. Google will recover it for you very quickly. Geoff wrote there about the challenges of his motor neurone disease saying in part:

‘For me, life is a gift from God. So far it has been an extraordinarily generous gift. I have been able to do things, and to experience things, and to go to places (places of the heart as well as geographical places) that I would never have conceived of when I was, say, 20. I have had a wonderful life, and for this I am immensely grateful. I have now entered into much darker places, but even here I find new life: there is a sense of adventure, for example, in finding how to do even simple things from the constraints of an electric wheelchair.’


Nearly two years on and Geoff is very much more incapacitated. Just recently, our provincial invited him to speak to a group of Melbourne heads of ministry and council chairs about his recollections of governance in General Congregations 33 and 34.

Strapped into his electric chair and with starkly minimal movement of any limbs, Geoff enthralled and inspired us for nearly an hour. Not a note did he use. The same lucidity of mind and crispness of word usage that has characterised his first class scholarship and teaching over the years were very much in evidence. One could only admire his courage and, at least for this writer, wonder whether I could muster the same spirit in such circumstances. It was a very tender moment.

As a frequent traveller through the skies, I often have the chance to listen to music or watch a film in flight. On one particular day earlier this year I tuned into the Samoan trio Solo Mio singing a beautiful song from the musical The Civil War. It is titled ‘Tell My Father’ and is the story of a young dying soldier wanting his friend to tell his father that they will meet again ‘where the angels learn to fly’.

Where angels learn to fly—a very simple way of describing our meeting place in heaven. Ancient wisdom says that all of us, at any given time, might be ‘entertaining angels unawares’. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews says exactly the same thing in chapter 13. Our Catholic tradition has angels, like grace, lurking everywhere. Indeed, it is also written in the Talmud that ‘every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers “grow, grow”.’

I can remember Brendan Kelly sj, when Principal of Loyola College, Mt Druitt, writing movingly in one of his newsletters:

‘When is the last time you were surprised by an angel? They visit us all the time, angels. The world is full of God’s messengers. You know them. They are the people and events who come out of nowhere, cross our path and point us in a direction that we hadn’t thought of, or say that word that makes the difference or leaves us feeling amazed or full of wonder. Wonderful beings, angels!’

Angels, I am sure, fly into our lives with those tender moments. Tender moments are, of course, moments of grace—a sign of God’s love at work in the world around us. Ronald Rolheiser reminds us in Forgotten Among the Lilies that ‘we need to pray by picking up the tender moment and letting its grace soften us. What constitutes the tender moment? Anything in life that helps make us aware of our deep connectedness with each other, of our common struggle, our common wound, our common sin, and our common need for help …’

When rewinding and reviewing your day—a very Ignatian exercise that we call ‘the Examen’—you would do well to reflect on those tender moments that touched your heart. Ronald Rolheiser is absolutely right when he says that ‘to have a tender moment is to pray’. Such times are probably our most important prayer moments each day. Savour those tender moments now, those sacramental moments, and let them massage your soul to make it more mellow and grateful.


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