A few years ago, I read an article about the gift of tears and was immediately intrigued. Most comments centered around people who said they weep freely at Mass when they never used to, or they perhaps became emotional unintentionally. I had to scratch my head in befuddlement, because it seemed there was more to this mysterious spiritual phenomenon than merely crying unexpectedly.
Father Bartunek explained in a concise and informative article that this gift is one that has been explained through tradition rather than official documentation in Scripture or the Catechism. He defines this spiritual grace as an unbidden gift from the Holy Spirit that is bestowed on someone through the healing flow of tears shed. The fruit of such tears leads both the recipient of this gift and others who witness it to joy and abiding peace. This definition supplants the mere notion that the gift of tears includes anyone who cries from a touching spiritual or emotional sentiment.
The gift of tears is considered a charismatic gift, a manifold of spiritual blessings to whomever the Holy Spirit grants it. People who receive this gift may experience it only once or perhaps multiple times, but the gift itself is not an indication of one’s level of holiness or the achievement of perfect union with God. Many saints declared the importance of accepting with gratitude an unexpected source of consolation or perhaps divine insight, but they warned against the distraction of loving the gift rather than the Giver. In other words, we should not focus our attention on any spiritual charism that happens to bless our lives but instead approach it with sincere and heartfelt thanksgiving while allowing it to become a fleeting memory.
Natural tears are often mistaken for this supernatural gift, especially when they occur during or after an intense spiritual experience. One must recognize one’s tendency toward weeping or the expression of deep emotions through tears in order to differentiate between the natural versus spiritual gift of tears. The best distinction of the spiritual gift is by the resulting fruit. Is the person filled with an abiding peace or greater love for God? Are the people around him or her moved by the tears in the same manner? We must always remember that by our fruits they will know us.
The reason this gift has captivated my attention is partially because there is little documentation about it, so it somewhat remains enshrouded in mystery. The second reason is that I have wondered how this gift might be manifested through different people. St. Teresa of Avila, who was well known for her spiritual ecstasies, likened the gift of tears to the state of contemplation. Contemplation, we know, is divergent from meditation in that one must be invited by God to enter into contemplation. In meditation, we can discipline ourselves to ponder a profound mystery of faith, but contemplation is an unheeded gift that comes as God wills. Very similarly are we granted the gift of tears—at a time or place we neither expect nor desire through our own will.
We may be caught off guard when the tears begin, but our hearts are elevated to a state of immense joy as we interiorly praise and honor God. The gift of tears is one way the Holy Spirit infuses Himself into a person’s soul through the action of crying or weeping. During the infusion of this gift, a person may be unable to articulate what is happening inside him or her. She may be aware that her heart has been captured by her Lover in an inexplicable way. She may also notice that she is in a state of prayer without words that is more of a subconscious offering of love—a wordless means of communicating with God.
The gift of tears may very well lead one to experience a taste of the unitive spiritual state, but as it quickly arrives, it almost always leaves just as rapidly. It is a transitory foreshadowing of eternal bliss, which is meant to encourage and inspire the recipient on his or her spiritual journey. In this way, perhaps God intends for all of us to persevere when He bestows any gift upon us at any time.
We must be careful not to seek particular experiences, such as raptures or ecstasies and other types of consolations or divine revelations. Even if they should happen to us, we must be cautious for two reasons. The first was mentioned in an earlier paragraph—so that we do not become attached to the gift itself but rather remain gazing upon the Giver. Authentic love cannot occur in a distracted and wandering heart, which is the temptation for one who has received an extraordinary spiritual charism. The second reason we must remain vigilant when we receive a spiritual gift is that the devil often uses these to lure us away from God through distraction and attachment. We cannot be absolutely certain that a spiritual gift, whether it is the gift of tears, contemplation, or something else, is derived from God. The ultimate tempter knows how to stealthily entice us even through such seemingly benevolent experiences, such as these.
If you believe you may have the gift of tears, it’s best to discuss your experience privately with your spiritual director and no one else. Like all unexplained, supernatural marvels, we must exhibit a holy indifference toward sensory spiritual delights. Then, and only then, will our love for God be refined and proven. When all else fades away and we are left with nothing but the desert in the heart, we know that our fidelity—despite the absence of supernatural wonders—is pleasing to God and shows Him how much we love Him for His sake rather than for what He gives us.