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2018 and the gift of tears

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Nature abhors a vacuum — and so does 2018.

If the New Year still has you casting about in search of a theme, aspiration, or dare I say it, resolution, allow me to humbly propose one that my teenage daughter might even characterize as “epic.” This resolution operates at great depths, far, far below the flotsam which eddies along the scummy surface of the January magazine covers inviting you to develop your abs or shed 10 pounds.

This resolution is of an altogether different order: to pray for the gift of tears.

To begin, the “gift of tears” is not a pity party. Neither is it a Debbie-downer idea from a columnist of Swedish lineage (yes, a depressive people, I know), a Hallmark mush of sentiment, a TED-talk call to vulnerability or celebration of emotivism.

These it is not, I assure you. No, this gift is something else entirely.

To understand why this resolution may be the one which stakes out 2018 as a time truly new and bold and fresh in your life, let us ask what, why and where?

What? For over 2,000 years our Christian brothers and sisters have been reflecting on Jesus’ words like “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” and St. Paul’s call to “weep with those who weep.” They have brought these and other passages to prayer, study, and application. What has emerged is an endlessly rich vein of teaching on compunction, sorrow for sin, and repentance, which is sadly invisible to many today.

And maybe for good reason. Pearls should be safeguarded, and the gift of tears is a gift of the Holy Spirit, a pearl of great price. Spiritual gifts cannot be earned, bought, learned or “caught.” But don’t despair. We can pray for these gifts. We can cry out to the Lord and beg for them. We can fast and make acts of reparation.

The 4th century St. Ephrem the Syrian wrote a bulldozer of a prayer that points us to the core of this gift: “O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.”

In case you missed it, St. Ephrem reminds us that we often can’t even see our own transgressions. The gift of tears changes that. Powerfully so. St. Benedict went so far in his Rule as to instruct the monk to “daily confess in prayer” his “past sins with tears and sighs to God.”

Why? We need to pray for the gift of tears for three reasons. First, everything good and true and beautiful in our lives and in 2018 will begin only in the fertile soil of repentance. There is no time to waste. Without tears — again, if they are granted to us in God’s goodness — we arguably set about planting seeds in soil, which is brittle, hardened and infertile. St. Ephrem’s prayer breaks up the soil. Second, tears “prepare us to see Jesus” and “bring us close” to the “mystery of the cross,” as Pope Francis has reminded us. Third, our age of anxiety needs authentic and blessed witnesses who do not suppress pain, wounds, or mourning, but who rather allow these realities to be transformed by Christ, “a man of sorrow, acquainted with grief.”

Where? Pray for the gift of tears anywhere. Praying for the gift in gridlock traffic may yield immediate results, but consider praying in adoration before His Body at your parish.

And what if you actually receive the gift of tears? Don’t post on Facebook or share the experience at your next Bible study, and don’t analyze it. Instead, immediately thank God for the gift and repay Him with your grateful silence and redoubled prayer.

Nature abhors a vacuum. In 2018 we can vacuously resolve to do more and look better. But if the Lord allows you to experience the gift of tears, blessed are you. Feast in silence on your ever-deepening communion with Jesus Christ who wept for you and who weeps for you today even as He comes alongside you to carry your cross.

Johnson is associate director of the St. Thomas More Institute.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017