The gift of tears

This morning I came upon a video of Frederick Buechner on tears.

This reminded me of an experience I had this past year.

This past February during my pilgrimage to Europe I was overwhelmed, unexpectedly, by tears several times – most notably in Assisi.

My first day there I visited the chapel of the Basilica of Saint Clare that has the famous cross that had been in the church of San Damiano. Before this cross, Saint Francis heard God calling him to “Go, repair my church, which – as you see – is falling into runs.”

I entered the chapel and knelt. I asked God, “What do you want me to do?”

Very clearly I discerned three phrases:

Love my people.
Love the poor.

And the tears flowed.

Leaving the basilica of St. Clare, I walked down to San Damiano, outside the city walls, and sat there in the small empty church. There was a great peace there – and tears again flowed. Why? I do not know. But the peace of God, witnessed by Clare and Francis, filled me.

The next day after a morning praying in the chapel and walking the grounds of the Carceri, the hermitage where Francis and his brothers prayed (and still pray), I went to the Porziuncula, also below Assisi.

There I prayed in the little church surrounded by a huge basilica. Afterwards I went seeking an English-speaking friar for confession. The friar from Bangla Desh was full of God’s mercy, even as he challenged me to live more faithfully.

He then asked me about Honduras. As I spoke about my concerns, I was on the verge of tears. My heart was aching for the people I love here in Honduras.

Tears can open us to God – reminding us of God’s love and calling us to conversion. But they also should open us to others, feeling in the depths of our being their joys and sorrows.

As Buechner concludes in the video:

[Tears] are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.

St. Ignatius of Loyola writes about tears in The Spiritual Exercises, most often connecting tears with recognition of our sinfulness. But he also sees tears as signs of God’s consolation:

It is likewise consolation when one sheds tears that move to the love of God, whether it be because of sorrow for sins, or because of the sufferings of Christ our Lord, or for any other reason that is immediately directed to the praise and service of God.

Today, I thank God for this gift and pray for my continuing conversion – and my openness to God’s love.



One response to “The gift of tears

  1. John, these are beauiful thoughts expressed in such a loving, passionate way. The epiphany that you experienced in Assisi made my tears flow, just imagining how you must have felt. I know, too, because I have had three epiphanies that have changed and re-directed my life. When I read about yours, I immediately thought of l Kings 19: 11-12 (Elijah hiding in the cave waiting to hear from God).

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