We need to imitate Christ’s trait that combines both tenderness and toughness. His tenderness can be shown when this passage from Scripture is applied to him: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.” (Mt 12,20) And his toughness can be gleaned from what St. Paul affirmed: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4,13)
Given the varied situations we can encounter in our life where we always have to contend with all sorts of trials and challenges and at the same time try to do all things with charity, we cannot help but try to develop these virtues that may appear at first glance to be contradicting each other.
To be sure, the contrast is only apparent, because if we are truly animated by Christ’s love, they actually are not only compatible but also are mutually supportive of each other.
To be truly tender requires certain toughness, and to be truly tough would always need the tenderness of love, affection and compassion. True tenderness is never a kind of spinelessness, a marshmallow kind of sweetness. And true toughness is never that of a brute or a monster.
Both these qualities were shown by Christ who, in the face of the greatest injustice inflicted on him by man, continued to be tender and nice with his offenders while being tough on himself. St. Peter described this point very well when he said:
“When they hurled their insults at him (Christ), he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him (God the Father) who judges justly.” (1 Pt 2,23)
Where there is charity, we would know how to be tough and strong and at the same time how to be nice, affectionate, compassionate, etc. But it should be a charity that is vital expression of the charity of Christ himself.
We need to be tender with one another because no matter how mature and developed a person may be, he always has his own share of weakness and is constantly beset with problems and tasked to tackle all sorts of challenges, trials and temptations. We need to nice with one another.
We also need to be tough and strong, first of all, because our life will always involve, if not, require nothing less than continuing effort and struggle. Christ himself said it clearly: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force.” (Mt 11,12)
This is because there are goals and challenges to reach. And they are not merely natural, social or human goals. They are spiritual and supernatural, that obviously need both grace and nothing less than our all-out effort.
Besides, given our wounded human condition, there obviously are problems and difficulties to face, temptations and consequences of our sins, mistakes and failures. There will always be issues that we need to resolve.
We need to sit down and try to find a way of how to combine these two apparently contrasting qualities. Obviously, we have to pray and ask for grace from God for this purpose. We also need to study closely the life and example of Christ and of the many saints who tried to follow Christ. And we need to constantly assess how we are progressing in this duty.*