"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

St John The Beloved: Apostle of Tenderness (Homily delivered for the Jesuit Vocation Workshop 2022 at Sacred Heart Novitiate)

have three points for our theme on tenderness. The first point, I would like to talk about the last teaching of Jesus to his disciples. It was during the last supper when Jesus washed their feet, he taught them the power of tenderness. It was the last action with long lasting effect. It is an action of lowering oneself to the ground, bending, kissing not the forehead, not the cheeks, not the lips, not the hands but the feet. You cannot go any humbler than that. He did not preach about tenderness, like what I am doing to you now. Jesus put it into action through deeds of bending, kneeling, bowing and stooping down. There is no real tenderness if we will not bend or reach out physically. If we will not open our car windows to extend a helping hand. There is no nearness if we cannot be felt physically. There is no presence if we cannot be visible physically to another person. The world of social media and technology has made these gestures to become almost extinct. William Shakespeare said: “they do not love who do not show their love.” Tenderness is Pope Francis's favorite word. He never tires of inviting the whole Church to the “revolution of tenderness” which he wrote about in his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (EG 88). In his 2022 Christmas Mass homily he said, "In order to rediscover the meaning of Christmas, we need to look to the manger. Yet why is the manger so important? Because it is the sign, and not by chance, of Christ’s coming into this world. It is how he announces his coming. It is the way God is born in history, so that history itself can be reborn. What, then, does the Lord tell us? Through the manger, three things, at least: closeness, poverty and concreteness."

Try remembering "manger" moments when you received tenderness from your parents or from other people outside your family. Out of these tender acts we learned how to make our first baby steps and how to sustain loving relationship with others as grown ups. Thank God we have been schooled the way of tenderness. If we are not tender I doubt if people would like to be with us. Worst, we would not welcome Jesus's tenderness—a God who makes himself close to us, Emmanuel. Our first reading from the first letter of John talks about physical closeness with the Word: "What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life." Evangelist John writes in his gospel the words of Jesus, I quote, "A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). I think everything will be forgotten in a person's life except his or her tenderness. That is also the reason why we always remember God through his acts of being merciful and forgiving to us, through acts of bending and touching and kissing—tender, loving actions.

For my second point, I would like to talk about one of my lasting memories before I decided to enter the religious life. I remembered the tenderness of people, the Voc prom team during our time. It was the tenderness of those Jesuits that ushered me into the Society of jesus. In Jesuit parlance, tenderness is "Cura Personalis." I was still a college student in Baguio City in 1997, exactly 25 years ago. I wrote to the Vocations director Fr Joe Quilongquilong SJ about my desire to enter Jesuit life. I still keep a memorabilia of that letter until today. I did not expect Fr Joe would immediately send Fr Rogel Abais SJ who was not yet ordained at that time. That tender gesture of somebody travelling all the way from Manila to search for me led me to pay serious attention to my vocation. Indeed, tenderness can soften even the hardest of hearts, it is the way of the strongest among us. In a Video Message Pope Francis said, "tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women. Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility." Most of all it is the way of God to come close to us. In your personal prayer while you are in Sacred Heart Novitiate—aka Schola Affectus "The School of the Heart," "The School of Tenderness," you will be taught the Examen by retracing your steps. How did you decide to join this workshop? I have to say it was God's tenderness that brought you here. You felt his tender invitation in one way or another. You were given a taste and you came here for more. Hopefully through this workshop it would be clarified whether or not God is calling or attracting you to the religious life. I cannot forget my vocation workshop experience, all those tender memories together with my fellow participants, the companionship, conversations, hospitality, belongingness, among others. I can still vividly remember the tenderness of my angel, Fr Xavier Olin SJ. When I made my examen after those initial experiences I realized that indeed God was calling me to this life. Not by force but by his tenderness.

For my third and last point, I would like to talk about the beloved disciple John. John is an apostle of tenderness, that is why he is called John the beloved. He emerges as a close, personal friend of the Lord. His position at the table during the Last Supper reflected not only honor but also closeness. As one of the four evangelists, his symbol is an eagle (for far-sightedness, or vision). The sharp eagle look is likened to the long loving look that people do when they contemplate Jesus. John was close to Jesus because of love. He was the one who first recognized him by the Sea of Tiberias, It speaks of the time when the Risen Christ appeared to his disciples and told them where to cast their nets. Then the Beloved Disciple recognized him and said, Dominus est, “It is the Lord!” Let me end with two quotes from Hans Urs von Balthasar, “Contemplation must not get stuck in the intellect (SpEx 3) for ‘gnosis [or knowledge] puffs up, but love builds up’ (1 Cor 8:1). All the seeing and hearing must result in a ‘touching’ (1 Jn 1:1) (SpEx 125), a ‘getting [near]’ to God (SpEx 20); the one praying must be totally taken up with what the divine Persons are ‘doing’ (SpEx 108). Normally, of course, the flame of love will burst from the fuel of knowledge… But this is no excuse for staying so long at the intellectual level that love suffers…” “[T]he inner reality of love can be recognised only by love…” Amen. Fr JM Manzano SJ


  1. Very touching reflection Fr. JM! It invites me to be tender loving and be present with every person I encounter. Being there, silent and physically present is enough for a person who mourns for his beloved. Though sad within but still the eyes can glow and smile to someone who gives time to be with him in his saddest moment. No words, only presence with the look of tenderness is enough. It was a consoling moment to stay and be there!

    Happy Feast Day of St. John!
    With sincerest gratitude and continuous prayers for you and your Jesuits brothers, thank you and God bless us!

    1. Thank you very much for your sharing and I join you in praying for God's consoling tenderness at this time of mourning. GBU!


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