Learning to Weep

I can still remember the day—it was pouring rain. Water was dripping from my hood and the guy I was speaking with, who was equally soaked, moved with me under a roof overhang.  I had just met this student on a university campus where he revealed profound suffering: he had been sodomized as a child, was so poor that he and his single mother had lived on food stamps, and he struggled with suicidal tendencies.  I remember at one point in the conversation, as I prayed for inspiration for the right words to say, all I could do was weep.  And as I let the tears pour down my cheeks, the rain continued to fall from the sky as if the Heavens were also weeping at his pain.

That encounter came to mind when I heard about Pope Francis’ recent visit to the Philippines when he was asked by a 12-year-old, who had suffered great poverty and abuse, why God allows innocent children to suffer.  And Pope Francis echoed a sentiment then that he’s expressed several times throughout his pontificate: Let us learn how to weep.  When we do so, we seek to understand—we seek to acknowledge the painful journey of the other.

Let us learn how to weep.

It has been said, “Tears are words the heart can’t express,” and in the face of another’s wounds, it is often the best way to communicate sympathy.  I remember a team member coming to me on a university campus where I’d trained her to dialogue with students about abortion.  She had had a particularly tough encounter with a very angry young man who was a homeless student and spoke about horrible evils he’d experienced in life.  He had been threatening, had been yelling and swearing.  And she came to me in tears.  But her tears weren’t because she feared for her own safety.  They weren’t tears of feeling hurt by him.  They were tears of hurting for him.  She told me she felt his pain so deeply that she was overcome with sorrow.

Let us learn how to weep. 

Several years ago when I spoke at a camp for the National Evangelization Team (NET), training young Catholic missionaries in pro-life apologetics, I arrived an evening early and took part in their night of Mass, prayer, and praise and worship.  In the preceding days I had met many university students who had shared their stories of suffering with me, including the horror of rape.  During that night of prayer and song, I remember being overcome with tears as I thought about all the pain these young souls were carrying.

Let us learn how to weep.  When we do so, we maintain a softness to our spirit that allows us to be gentle with peoples’ fragility and sensitive to their suffering and needs.

In 2013, Pope Francis spoke in Lampedusa, a small island off the coast of Italy where migrants often travel there by sea from Africa, many of them losing their lives during the rough journey.  In remembering such tragedies there, Pope Francis said the following during his visit:

 “Who among us has wept for these things and things like this?  Who has wept for the deaths of these brothers and sisters?  Who has wept for the mothers carrying their babies?  For these men who wanted something to support their families?  We are a society that has forgotten the experience of weeping, of suffering with.” 

Let us learn how to weep.