“Take God for your bridegroom and friend and walk with him continually…” (Dark Night of…
For as long as I can remember, I have always been a cryer. I remember being in middle school and crying at the Kodak commercials; in high school, sobbing in the theater when I went to see the movie, E.T. The Extraterrestrial; in college, weeping at the realization that the NASA space shuttle had just exploded and killed all those inside. These memories are just a small sampling of the tears I have shed in my 55 years on this earth. Growing up with what I referred to as a curse, I found myself so susceptible to tears that I would sometimes remove myself physically from the situation to avoid crying or if that wasn’t possible, I would force myself not to look or think about the situation which was causing that knot in my throat and that burning sensation in my eyes. There I go again with the waterworks!
If I really think about it, my tears have come at all different times… good times, sad times, frustrating times, painful times, beautiful times, exciting times. They would really just appear at ANY time. I came to consider my tears as a nuisance. I could never trust myself not to cry when it wasn’t “appropriate,” like at funerals or weddings. I have been told that my tears made me look weak; that my tears made me too much of a girl; that my tears made me seem sad, vulnerable, and unhappy. I’ve been convinced that wearing my emotions on my sleeve made me anything but the strong, faithful, confident and beloved daughter that I have come to know that I am. With no solution and no way to know when the tears would come, I simply resorted to keeping tissues on hand at all times, just in case. My tears were just something that I would learn to deal with and come to handle. My family just got used to the tears. Sometimes, I think it embarrassed them.
Fast forward to 2013, I was blessed to take a beautiful trip with my family to Italy. With my husband and four kids, we landed in Rome, rented a car, queued up “Breakfast in America” and drove all over the country. We had a very loose plan and no real time frame other than we were to meet our tour group in 6 days back in Rome. We were a traveling pack of Catholic wonder-seekers as we drove all over Italy. We visited Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo, drove up the mountain to the Cave of Saint Michael the Archangel, headed to Orvieto to see the Eucharistic miracle of the Blood the Christ, viewed the incorrupt body of St. Rita of Cascia, gazed upon the Face of Christ in Manoppello, venerated the finger of St. Thomas the Apostle in Ortona and marveled that one country could contain so much Catholic beauty.
Along our travels, we also stopped in Siena to meet St. Catherine, a Dominican laywoman who lived from 1347-1380. At the age of 21, she experienced a mystical marriage with Christ and describes the experience of Jesus replacing her heart with His own heart. The head of Catherine resides in a reliquary above the altar in the Church dedicated in her name, while her body lies in Rome. She was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970, because of her beautiful and impactful spiritual writings. During our 2-week adventure, we discovered many Churches, saints we had never heard about before, relics, sacred bones and Catholic devotions for everything from playing the lottery to carrying blessed rose petals. Seeing this Church and the relic of St. Catherine, at first, seemed like just another Italian Catholic site, but then I saw it… a sign outside of the Church. This sign proceeded to explain St. Catherine and all the gifts and blessings she had received from Christ and what she had shared with the people of God during her short time here on the earth. What caught my eye was this:
“Another trait connected with Catherine’s spirituality is the gift of tears.” WHAT? There is such a thing as a GIFT of tears? This was a revelation to my heart and mind. I continued to read… “Tears express an exquisite, profound sensitivity, a capacity for tenderness and emotion. A great many Saints have had the gift of tears, renewing the emotion expressed by Jesus Himself, who did not hold back or hide His weeping at the tomb of His friend Lazarus and the grief of Martha and Mary, or at the sight of Jerusalem during His last days on the earth. According to Catherine, the tears of Saints mix together with the Blood of Christ, about Whom she spoke in vibrant tones and with highly effective symbolic images: ‘Keep the memory of Christ crucified, God and man… Take Christ crucified as your goal, hide yourself in the wounds of Christ crucified, drown yourselves in the Blood of Christ crucified.’”
You can probably guess what happened as I was reading that. Yup, I was crying! This cry, however, was very different; cathartic, somehow. This cry was not being stifled. It was not being hidden with my head down. This cry was allowed to flow and boy, did those tears flow! My husband and children were concerned that I was injured or in pain or had had some sort of an episode, but I simply pointed to those beautiful words, “gift of tears.” It was like the scales had been removed from my eyes and I was seeing clearly for the first time. I suddenly had a new and sacred connection to my Bridegroom and the tears that I now cried were tears of thanksgiving, tears of awareness and tears of joy at the kiss from Heaven that I had just received. These tears washed away all those years of tears shed in shame and the lies I had believed about the unfounded emotions which others had attributed to those tears.
That moment in Siena, Italy is forever ingrained in my heart. It was the catalyst to the opening of the floodgates of my authentic tears. These were the tears which revealed and will continue to reveal my connection to Christ, my Bridegroom. The feelings I always had about being a sensitive and compassionate soul had been confirmed by this beautiful saint. From one Bride of Christ to another, I am thankful to St. Catherine for her witness to what it means to be His Bride. She exemplified with such loveliness what it means to witness to Christ. She taught me the value in my tears and the grace with which I can allow them to flow as they are mixed with the Blood of my Savior for the salvation of souls and the consolation of His Sacred Heart. Now, whenever I cry at the beauty of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, or the incredible gift of the Mass, or while receiving Christ in the Eucharist, or when I view a gorgeous sunset, or hold a newborn baby, I know that on the outside it still seems the same, but on the inside, where the Bridegroom dwells in my heart, I know that my tears have immense value and a purpose known only to Heaven.
Painting: Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Siena by Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia