February 16, 2024 // Bishop

Staying Tender, Strong, and True in the Modern Workplace

The following is the text of Bishop Rhoades’ speech to the MBA Association and the St. Thomas More Society at the University of Notre Dame on Thursday, February 15.

I was very happy to accept the invitation from the MBA Association at Mendoza and from the St. Thomas More Society at the Law School to speak to you this evening on a topic inspired by the words of Notre Dame’s alma mater. The topic is “Staying Tender, Strong, and True in the Modern Workplace.” I imagine you all know the words of the alma mater, which is sung so often here at Notre Dame: “Notre Dame, our Mother, tender, strong, and true, proudly in the heavens gleams thy gold and blue.” I imagine that many, when they sing these words, think of the university as the mother they are addressing, which is true in a secondary way, but primarily the mother being addressed is Notre Dame, which in French means “Our Lady,” this university’s heavenly patroness, our Blessed Mother. The gold and blue gleaming in the heavens is not primarily the golden dome on top of the Main Building. Gold symbolizes Christian victory over death in Christ, and the blue symbolizes peace. Mary assumed into heaven shares in her Son’s victory, and she is the Queen of Peace. So, yes, proudly in the heavens gleams her gold and blue. And, yes, golden is her fame. As she herself said in the Magnificat, “all generations will call me blessed.”

With this background, I will talk about staying tender, strong, and true in the modern workplace, starting from what those adjectives describing Notre Dame, Our Lady, our Mother, mean in relation to her – the tender, strong, and true Mary of Nazareth, the one chosen by God to be the Mother of his Son, the one Jesus then gave to us as our spiritual Mother. Mary, like her Son, teaches us what it means to be tender, strong, and true. She was her Son’s first and greatest disciple, and we can learn from her what it means to be tender, strong, and true – virtues of authentic Christian discipleship. And not only can we learn from her, we can be helped by her – by her maternal intercession for us in heaven, where her Son’s glory cloaks her. As we sing to her in the alma mater, “Glory’s mantle cloaks thee, golden is thy fame, and our hearts forever praise thee, Notre Dame.”

The alma mater was written at a time of adversity here at Notre Dame, when the community was devastated by the death of their beloved football coach, Knute Rockne, in a plane crash in 1931. The community came together to support one another and to ask for Notre Dame, our Mother’s, strength and consolation. And so the alma mater was written, words that honor not only the university but, more importantly, honor our Mother in faith, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Like the ND community back then, we turn to Our Lady, who was truly “tender, strong, and true” to help us to stay tender, strong, and true, especially in times of trouble, temptations, and hardships – to be faithful like she was faithful to her Son and to her vocation and mission.

Notre Dame, our Mother, is tender. Her motherly tenderness has been beautifully expressed in Christian art through the ages. Her loving tenderness has captured the hearts of Christians, especially Catholics and Orthodox, through the centuries. In Eastern Christian art, there is a beautiful icon of Mary that is called the “Eleousa” or “Tenderness” icon. It shows the Christ Child’s cheek resting on His Mother’s cheek. You can almost feel the warmth of Mary’s love for her Son. Our hearts are naturally drawn to Mary as our mother because we are drawn to her tender love. We turn to her for her help and intercession because we believe in her love for us. We experience being embraced in her tender arms, like Juan Diego and so many other saints were. We believe that Mary our Mother welcomes us and cares about us as her beloved sons and daughters, like she welcomed and cared for her Son, Jesus. We trust in her love. Tenderness is the warmth of love, a love that is close and real. We naturally turn to Mary for consolation in our suffering. One of her many titles is Our Mother of Consolation.

Many of you might be thinking, well, the tenderness of Mary’s motherly love is certainly a great model for women and mothers, but for men and fathers? And what about for lawyers and businesspeople? We need to look more closely at Mary’s tenderness. It is not disconnected from strength and courage. In fact, Mary, who held her Son tenderly in His arms following His bitter crucifixion, first stood courageously at the foot of the cross. Tenderness is a virtue for both men and women, in complementary ways.

Pope Francis has preached a lot about tenderness and has called for a “revolution of tenderness” in the Church and in the world. I think the Holy Father has spoken even more about the tenderness of St. Joseph than he has spoken about the tenderness of Mary. Tenderness is sweet, yes, but it is also strong. It involves strength in the heart. “Notre Dame, our Mother, tender, strong, and true.” Mary’s strength of spirit, her courageous resolve in saying yes to be the Mother of God, is connected to her maternal tenderness. Women may be more drawn to look to Mary as an example of tenderness, and men may be more drawn to look at Joseph as an example of tenderness. In both Mary and Joseph, we encounter a tenderness that is strength, not weakness. Tenderness, Pope Francis says, is a virtue of the strong, not the weak. Perhaps it is best for us to recognize that the tenderness of Mary and of Joseph are both icons of the tenderness of God, who is infinite tenderness. It’s the tenderness expressed in the Hebrew word hesed, which means “loving kindness,” and is often translated in Scripture as “mercy.” St. John famously wrote that “God is love.” God’s love and mercy was revealed in various ways in the Old Testament and then fully revealed in the life of His Son, the Word Incarnate. The cross of Jesus, Pope Francis has taught, is the seal of divine tenderness. Why don’t we just speak of this virtue as love or mercy rather than as tenderness? Because the divine love and divine mercy can too often be seen as abstract principles. God’s love is not merely an abstract principle. It is personal and concrete. To be tender is to pour forth love. It’s not sentimentalism. One who is tender gets close to others, is compassionate, and seeks to do the works of mercy. Jesus was infinitely tender in His love – it was real. It was concrete. He healed. He expelled demons. He forgave sinners. He fed the hungry. He gave us His very life. He suffered and died for us.

There was great tenderness in the hearts of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Their love was real, not an abstraction. We are all called to take up this posture of tenderness. Christian legal and business professionals are also called to take up this posture. One who is tender is disposed to reach out to love others and especially to care for those most in need, like Jesus did. Like Mary reached out to her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, and helped her in her pregnancy. And like Mary reached out with tender love to her Son during His Passion. And like Mary has reached out to countless others, her spiritual sons and daughters through the ages, like Juan Diego, Bernadette, and the children of Fatima. And she reaches out with her tender love to us, who have not seen her but believe in her love for us. We see this posture of tenderness also in Joseph who, in a complementary way, with love, guarded and protected Mary and Jesus, and through the ages guards and protects the Church.

You, as future lawyers and businesspeople who are disciples of Jesus Christ, are called to extend Christ’s tenderness, His love and goodness, in your professions. For example, really caring about your clients, helping them, especially those in most need. Showing loving kindness in the worlds of business and law may seem like a tall task, but it basically means being a faithful disciple of Jesus in the workplace, treating others with respect, kindness, and compassion. It means witnessing to Christ and His goodness at work, as well as at home. It may include things like leading and organizing among co-workers charitable projects and outreach and doing some pro-bono work for the less fortunate. This helps to bring about the revolution of tenderness that our Holy Father is calling for.

Tender, strong, and true. I’ve talked about being tender. Christian discipleship is also about being strong. I’ve already mentioned how Mary’s tenderness did not mean being weak. True tenderness requires a strength of spirit. Mary was strong in faith. She faithfully did what God asked her to do and courageously followed her Son on the way of the cross. She had the strength of faith to stay the course, even when there was great opposition to her Son and His Gospel. Filled with God’s grace, Mary never sinned. That takes strength! She always stayed open to the grace of the Holy Spirit. She had the virtue of fortitude, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit we all receive in baptism and confirmation. She did not succumb to fear, discouragement, or cowardice.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is our pillar of faith. She helps us to be strong in faith, to persevere when things get tough, to carry out our duties at work without compromising our commitment to the Lord and His Church. It takes increasing strength and courage and fortitude to be faithful disciples of Jesus in our culture today, and this includes in the cultural world of business and law. I encourage you to be strong in your faith and to bear witness to your faith in the workplace, especially by your example of goodness. You may be one of few practicing Christians in your places of work and may even be criticized for your faith and moral convictions. These days, we all need to call upon the Holy Spirit for His gift of fortitude. We need fortitude to live our faith authentically in the world today, like the early Christians needed fortitude in the midst of a culture where they were criticized and even persecuted for their faith and moral convictions. When difficulties arise, it is good to call upon Mary, our pillar of faith, to ask her to give us strength. Think of those famous words of St. Paul to the Philippians: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” We can learn from Our Lady, Notre Dame, our Mother, to be strong – not to give in to laziness or sloth when it comes to our faith; not to give in to discouragement, and, as St. Paul taught, to endure hardships for the sake of the Gospel.

I mentioned Mary’s strength at the Annunciation in her “yes” to God and her vocation. I mentioned her strength in enduring her own agony at the foot of the cross. I also wish to mention Mary’s strength at the wedding feast of Cana, the strength of her confidence in Jesus when she told her Son that “they had no wine.” Her tender love for the married couple moved her to intercede for them with her Son whom she believed could help them. Her strong confidence moved Jesus to perform His first miracle, thus beginning His public ministry. And with great strength of will, she boldly instructed the waiters to do whatever Jesus told them to do, and they did. Mary teaches us to have this same strong confidence in her Son and to obey Him. Her strength continues. We can rely on the strong intercession of our Blessed Mother for us. We can have confidence in her prayers for us and, through her, have confidence in her Son as our Savior.

The alma mater calls upon Notre Dame, our Mother, as tender, strong, and true. What does it mean to say that Mary is true? Certainly, Mary was truthful. To be true to someone is to be sincere, genuine, and authentic toward them. It can also mean to be loyal to them. The Blessed Mother was true to God. She sincerely said “yes” to His call. She was an authentic disciple of her Son. She was loyal to Him to the end. She was His most perfect disciple. She was true to her vocation and cooperated fully in her Son’s mission.

When thinking about what it means to be true to someone, I thought of the marriage vows at a Catholic wedding. The spouses promise each other: “I will be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” Similarly, in the baptismal promises, we promise to be true to God, to reject Satan and all his works and empty promises. We profess our faith in the Most Blessed Trinity and in the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. We promise to be true, genuine, and authentic disciples of the Lord all the days of our life. To be true disciples, not only with part of our lives, but with all of our lives, including in our work or professions. To be true to the Lord in the legal profession includes being faithful above all to His law – the eternal, divine law. It means pursuing and promoting true justice. Like for St. Thomas More, this requires courage and fortitude in the face of opposition or even persecution. Thomas More was a man of deep faith and a man of prayer. He looked to God as the ultimate source of truth and light. He lived an authentic life and refused to separate his professional life from his faith. He would not be disobedient to God and His law even though it meant martyrdom. He remained true, true to God. Though he was true to the king, the king’s loyal servant, as he said, he was God’s servant first.

What about being true in the business professions? Certainly, it means being honest in all business dealings. It means following Jesus’ counsel: “You cannot serve both God and mammon” and to obey His command to “avoid greed in all its forms.” As you may know, the patron saint of businessmen and women is St. Homobonus. He was a tailor and became a very successful cloth merchant in 12th-century Italy. He was a devout Catholic and looked at his employment as a gift from God. He was scrupulously honest, very hard-working and industrious, and enjoyed great commercial success. He was a great entrepreneur. His faith and his love for God led him to use his financial blessings in a socially responsible way. He donated the majority of his profits to the poor. The more his business grew and prospered, the more he gave his money away to the needy. It is said that he loved God through his job.

Another saint for our MBA students is St. Matthew, the patron saint of the financial profession, of bankers, accountants, money managers, etc. As you know, the apostle Matthew was a tax collector, serving the Roman occupiers who preyed on the Jewish people through their unjust taxation. Tax collectors also often cheated people and kept money for themselves. St. Matthew is patron saint of financial professions because he left behind his occupation as a tax collector to follow Jesus. To be true to Jesus and His teachings, he could not continue to participate in government-sanctioned larceny.

Business and law school students, I pray that, with the example and prayers of Notre Dame, our Mother, you will stay tender, strong, and true in your professional lives. Remember the teaching of the Second Vatican Council about the unique character of the lay vocation: “to seek the Kingdom of God engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God.” Be disciples of Christ in the workplace by living the Gospel and being good examples of the Christian virtues. You will be living and working “in the world,” but do not be “of the world.” I pray you will follow Jesus’ exhortation to His disciples to “seek first the Kingdom of God.” At the end of Mass, we are exhorted to go in peace, to glorify the Lord by our lives. You can glorify the Lord through your tenderness (i.e., your loving kindness), through your strength in witnessing to the faith, and through being true to your Christian vocation, in the workplace. Your example of faith, hope, and charity in the workplace is also a means of evangelization by witness. And it is a means for your own sanctification. Remember that this is your prime and fundamental vocation: the vocation to holiness. May our Blessed Mother, Mary most holy, intercede for you! May glory’s mantle that cloaks her one day cloak you, her spiritual sons and daughters!


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