The Gift of Tears
In this second installation on Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines, I reflect on the gift of tears and its relationship to the gift of presence. In my previous post, I mentioned how tears were the response of many to the Pope’s gift of presence; of how our tears fell as we felt so loved and felt like we mattered so much to this Pope. Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle explained this phenomenon as spiritual tears, saying, “In the Christian tradition there is a thing called the gift of tears.” He added that people who experience the divine and profound express the moment by shedding tears, and this is what the Pope’s presence was for many. However, during his visit in the Philippines the Pope himself focused on another aspect of the gift of tears, of tears as the appropriate response to the immense suffering we find in the world today.
A day after Pope Francis’ visit to Tacloban, he met with the youth back in Manila. During that meeting, there were two former street children who came to him and recounted their stories. One of them, Jun Chura, 14, told the Pope of how he fed himself with whatever he could find in the garbage, and that he slept in the sidewalks. Another child, Glyzelle Palomar, 12, used to beg for food. In her audience with the Pope, she began to cry as she told him, “there are many children neglected by their own parents. There are also many who became victims and many terrible things happened to them like drugs or prostitution. Why is God allowing such things to happen, even if it is not the fault of the children? And why are there only very few people helping us?” (See the video in Filipino of Jun and Glyzelle’s testimony here)
After the testimony of Jun and Glyzelle, the Pope embraced both of them. Once again, instead of giving an explanation for why suffering happens, especially the suffering of children, he spoke about tears as the response to suffering. “Glyzelle is the only one who has put a question to which there is no answer and she wasn’t able to express it in words, only in tears.”
He then continues, “Why do children suffer so much? Why do children suffer? When the heart is able to ask itself and weep, then we can understand something…. Those who are discarded are crying. But we don’t understand much about these people in need. Certain realities of life we only see through eyes cleansed by our tears. I invite each one here to ask yourself: have I learned how to weep? Have I learned how to weep for the emarginated or for a street child who has a drug problem or for an abused child?” (For full text including video of the homily, click here)
With these words, Pope Francis taught us how to hold the problem of theodicy – of the evil and suffering that should not be – not through an abstract or detached lens but by moving closer, even putting oneself in the shoes of the suffering of the other, so that we may come closer to the truth of their suffering. It is only when we learn to cry with those who are suffering that we can begin to understand them and to love them, Pope Francis explained.
Here, we see his epistemological starting point as one of compassion – compassion as the attitude through which we can know the truth of those who suffer. It is a felt knowledge, not the knowledge of the neutral or detached observer, but the choice to be with, to “suffer with” the other that leads us to truth, and it is the kind of knowledge that compels one to loving action. To me, this stance is reminiscent of the Second Week of Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises where one is asked to imagine the Trinity gazing down at the world which leads to the Incarnation and the work of salvation as a response to the “groaning of all creation.”
This compassionate gaze becomes even more necessary given what Pope Francis calls the “globalization of indifference” where our hearts have grown cold such that we are unconcerned about the problems and injustice that others suffer. Pope Francis, in his response to Glyzelle, pointed to the example of Jesus and the way he ministered to his people. He said that Jesus did not meet people’s needs with a worldly compassion, only stopping for a few moments to hand out money or material things. Rather, Jesus took time to listen and to sympathize with the people. “Jesus in the Gospel, he cried. He cried for his dead friend, he cried in his heart for the family that had lost its child, he cried when he saw the poor widow burying her son, he was moved to tears, to compassion, when he saw the crowds without a shepherd.” It is from the place of tears, from the place of compassion, that one is moved to act in solidarity with the suffering of the other.
The gift of tears is not only our response to immense suffering, but, as hinted at the beginning of this post, it is also the response to the gift of wonder and a profound experience of love and acceptance, of our ability to still be “surprised by joy” in the midst of suffering. Such tears of joy are truly a gift – the fact that we are still able to be moved by wonder, goodness and beauty in the midst of the brokenness of this world, to not be ground down by despair at the immensity of suffering all around us – reminds us of hope and light in the midst of darkness.
At the end of the Pope’s homily where he responded to Glyzelle’s question, he implored everyone to “learn how to weep, as Glyzelle has shown us today. Let us not forget this lesson.” He also said that “if we don’t learn how to cry, we cannot be good Christians.” But more than that, the gift of tears remind us not only about being good Christians but about being human. Tears as a response to suffering remind us that we are still human in a sometimes inhumane world and that we can still be moved by such suffering; that we are not indifferent to it reminds us of our humanity. It is a call for us to move beyond indifference and to pay attention to the cries of suffering in the world today.
And so, let us weep both tears of sorrow and joy, for ourselves, for our Church and for our world: tears of sorrow for our own limitations and that of our church and the world that has led to so much suffering in the world today, and tears of joy and hope that goodness and humanity still grace us, that the Spirit is still moving within and through us, breathing new life in us. And in weeping, may we experience the fullness of our humanity again, and may those tears cleanse us and renew us, that we may see with clarity, with love and with hope the reality of our world today.
And may the Pope’s visit to the U.S. brings its own gifts to this nation and to the world.
 Pope Francis talked about the “globalization of indifference” in 2013 during a homily in Lampedusa regarding the situation of migrants (see full text here). He mentions it again in his Lenten message last January 2015 (see full text here).
 This reminds me of Jon Sobrino’s distinction between “works of mercy” and the “principle of mercy.” The latter, he writes, consists in “making someone else’s pain our very own and allowing that pain to move us.” See, The Principle of Mercy: Taking the Crucified People from the Cross, 10.