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What is the “Gift of Tears”?

Dear Father John, Would you please explain the “gift of tears”? I know some people who say they have the “gift of tears” because they cry at the drop of a hat. But, I have a feeling this is not what the saints and mystics are talking about when they write about this gift. What is it exactly? And, how does one know if someone has it? Thank you. God bless you in your ministry.

The Gift of Tears per se is not mentioned in the Bible, nor in the Catechism. It is a phenomenon mentioned in spiritual writers since very early in the Church, and it refers to an intense personal experience of God that overflows in abundant tears. It is the overflow of a spiritual experience in an emotional/physiological expression that creates deep comfort in one’s soul, and deep encouragement for the person who receives the gift, as well as (sometimes) for others who happen to witness it.

LasLagrimasDeSanPedro(TearsOfStPeter)DiegoVelazquezWhat This Gift Doesn’t Mean
Like all gifts of this sort (generally referred to as “charismatic” gifts, from the Greek, New Testament word for “gift”), it is freely given by the Holy Spirit in accordance with God’s wisdom. It can be given once or multiple times, or it can even recur throughout one’s life, though it certainly doesn’t have to. In itself, it is not an indication that someone has achieved a high level of holiness, nor does it directly create a higher degree of union with God. Rather, it is meant to encourage the person who receives it and those who witness it. In this sense, it can be a powerful stimulant to greater fidelity to God and God’s will in one’s life, a confirmation of good decisions already made, and shield against future temptations. If someone receives this gift, they should accept it gratefully and humbly, but not build their lives around it.

Supernatural vs. Natural Tears
This gift of tears differs from normal tears both in what triggers it (it is triggered by an experience of God, not by natural pain or sorrow or joy, for example), as well as in how it occurs physiologically – generally, these tears are abundant and are not accompanied by the usual kind of sobbing or the distortion of the facial muscles. So you can see that your instinct was right. Someone who has a particularly sensitive nature may often be moved to natural tears by beautiful spiritual realities. This can be a very good thing, but it may not be, strictly speaking, the same as the gift of tears. Likewise, someone may go through periods or moments when their natural sensitivity is heightened (by stress or exhaustion, for instance), and this could make them more susceptible to shed tears in response to normal emotional stimulation – perception of beauty, sorrow at sin, etc. This type of crying can be emotionally renewing and of great benefit for the person (crying releases many hormones and toxins that are known to reduce stress levels), even though it may not, strictly speaking, be the gift of tears.

I hope this helps. God bless you! Fr. John

 

Art: Las lágrimas de San Pedro (The Tears of Saint Peter), Diego Velázquez (1599-1660), unknown date, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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  • Jeanette

    I’d often wondered if it was the gift of tears when I experienced a person crying easily during religious events or even tearing up when they would describe a spiritual experience. More often than not, they are a very sensitive person. It is interesting that the gift of tears consists of abundant tears without sobbing or facial distortion.Thank you for this clarification Father.

    • LizEst

      So true! I never knew about “no sobbing or facial distortion.”

      • Jeanette

        I have to admit that I’m one of those ‘sensitive’ types!

  • Kathleen Costello

    I believe God gives us gifts and afflictions so that we can witness to others and give Him glory. I began a personal relationship with Jesus about five years ago. I first experienced tears when praying alone in adoration during a CRHP weekend. I felt love coming from the eucharist and surrounding me as I prayed. The next time it happened was on Palm Sunday when we also celebrated Good Friday. It was too much for me that Jesus was welcomed with so much love and then condemned to death within 15 minutes of each other. I had so many tears I could not see the remainder of the Mass. Tears started to come when I read the Divine Office. The next year I cried all of Holy Week. Tears at the Stations of the Cross lead to tears at the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary twice a week. I began having tears when in confession when it was time to say the act of contrition and could not speak. Priests would ask me if I had forgotten the words, and I would have to somehow try to get the words of contrition from my lips while my heart was breaking. Next it happened on Christmas morning in celebration of Christ’s birth. I am almost always blessed with tears during a Mass in celebration of the Blessed Mother. A pilgrimage to the Holy Land was filled with tears day after day. I also have tears before receiving the Eucharist. God has also given me a gift of great compassion, but these tears are solely a movement of the Holy Spirit. Always they take me by surprise, and sometimes they well up in me like a fountain of water from my heart. I believe they are a gift from the Blessed Mother. Many times I pray the mysteries of the rosary from the Laudate app. The Fifth Glorious Mystery says “Ask Her for the gift of prayer, a prayer of the heart, said only for love, a love of Her and Jesus.” I believe the gift of tears came through Her heart. I do not believe I am any different from anyone else in terms of God’s blessings. We are all created to love Him. Jesus encourages us in that love by allowing us experiences of His love. All of us, not just mystics. I believe He strengthens our faith through these experiences of His love. We are GREATLY loved. If everyone knew how much they are loved, they would weep for joy. Jesus rewards those who seek Him. Seek Him. You may or may not be given the gift of tears, but He will reward you as He chooses. As a sovereign He is free to bestow His royal favors on those whom he will. He is faithful to His promises.

  • Sista T

    Thank you for the question and the answer,
    It helps in so many ways. I have not heard nor understood prior but always felt so. This is confirmation for me. I was just telling a person in in pain and who suffers from depresson some of these very statements this very day. But, I did not know about other comments regarding this question. I have been in Charsmatic events and experieinced moments of my own, and this helps me to better understand, what I would not otherwise. Again Thank you!

  • Tessye

    Funny how today I asked myself this question and saw this post. I guess I have had this “gift” for some time, but it can be very embarrassing during mass, I don’t like it, I feel it calls attention to myself, because my nose can get runny when my tears stream down for too long and then have to wipe/blow my nose so people may think I’m sick (usually happens during concentration, which follows the Our Father and then peace where I have to face people soon after…). I learned to have a sense of humor about it and call myself “Ms.Water Works” when this happens; I even ask God to not let me turn to MWW, but He don’t stop it. Thank You God for answering my question through this post, thank you whoever asked it and thank you Father for answering, because now I feel a little better about it.

    • Michael Lee Cornwell

      Tessye,

      Trust me when I say, the Lord sent you here. He has His Ways to answer your question!

      Peace,

      Michael
      The Prayer Warrior

  • Donna Ruth

    Interesting to read this column. I empathize with Tessye. Quiet tears spring up when I fully enter into contemplation of the words in parts of the Mass or in the Readings. I am touched by God’s goodness, greatness and beauty–and how much I need Him. I have looked upon the tears as an inconvenience, as I would not want to draw anyone’s attention away from the Mass. Of course, this has created a problem: so as to avoid the tears, I avoid entering into deeper contemplation at Mass. But, as Fr. Bartunek explained, these tearful moments are a comfort and consolation. I don’t know (or care) if these are the “gift of tears,” but it would be nice to work this out.

  • Bobbi Linskens

    It is so nice to read this article and all the responses to it. I had never heard of the gift of tears before. I’m also one of those sensitive people and I often cry at Mass honestly it happens anytime I talk/hear/see anything full of love or the Holy Spirit or anything remotely happy or sad and I have always hated this about myself and wished I could stop the tears are usually abundant unless I can catch myself and turn my thoughts to something else quickly enough but I never sob or have facial distortions honestly though this happens so often I’m not sure that they are the gift of tears even though they meet those 2 requirements but it makes me feel better to know that I’m not the only one that this happens to and it feels better that maybe sometimes it may be the gift of tears. For instance we had a parish mission recently and he had everyone hug the people sitting around them and tell them “I love you” so today as I and another Eucharistic Minister were cleaning up after Mass and we were talking about how inspirational the speaker (Paul Koleske) was so since I knew she had been there before I left I hugged her and told her that I love her and not only did I have abundant tears then but I also have them just from telling the story. It makes me not want to tell anyone else because I’ll be embarrassed when I cry.

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