Those of us who cry easily are blessed. A good cry can mend the heart and heal wounds. Scientists even tell us that crying rids the body of toxins.
Nevertheless, crying leaves us exhausted.
It was afternoon when it hit me. The weary feeling, that grainy nagging in my eyes, the desire for a nap. Why am I so tired? I wondered. Ah, yes, I had been to a funeral that morning and the tears had come freely.
Tears may drain you of toxins. But in a good, cleansing way, they also simply drain you. The Jesuit pastor of my parish died after years of struggling with leukemia and the aftermath of treatments. He simply wore out.
He was a kind, gentle man who seemed younger than his 55 years. He had a heart for the poor, serving in the Peace Corps as a young man and in foreign missions as a Jesuit. He volunteered at ground zero after 9/11. He was about as universally loved as anyone I’ve known.
The church was full. Tears, spontaneous and unbidden, came to many.
It struck me that tears are very complicated visitors, arriving stealthily, beyond our control. They touch something deep, areas we can’t express or explain.
We cry for the dead, for the abruptness of this end. Yet our faith assures us that for Father Pat, life is not over.
Sometimes, funeral tears reflect regret for a life left unfinished or poorly lived. But that bore no reflection of our tears for Father Pat.
Some tears are shed because we miss the dead, for the pain the absence brings into our life. I didn’t know Father Pat very well personally. I admired his homilies, his liturgies, his demeanor, the stories I’d heard about him.
But the absence I felt was far more abstract than the absence one would feel at the dinner table where a vacant seat proclaims a searing loss.
No, I think that at funerals such as Father Pat’s, often we are crying for ourselves and for the overwhelming juxtaposition of the reality of death as our life’s companion, and the depth of the faith which sustains us through it.
We cried because Father Pat’s life, and the liturgy that so beautifully honored it, strengthens us and brings us hope, and yet calls us into an unfathomable mystery. It’s the Holy Spirit, interceding for us through our tears.
The founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius of Loyola, believed tears could be a “gift,” especially when, in prayer, we cry, not out of sadness, but because we have touched on something profound. St. Ignatius would have appreciated the tears that accompanied Father Pat’s funeral liturgy.
At the end of the service, many Jesuits gathered around Father Pat’s coffin, and a version of St. Ignatius’ prayer, “Suscipe,” was sung. This prayer is a beautiful one to hear, and a difficult one to pray. “Take, Lord, and receive, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess; you have given it all to me, I now give it back to you, O Lord. All of it is yours now, dispose of it according to your will; give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.”
A reception in the Jesuit gardens featured lemonade and cookies and the inevitable realization that for those left behind, life moves on.
Afterward, I slipped back into church to use the restroom and left by the front door. There, at the foot of the stairs, was the hearse with Father Pat’s body. I walked by, almost alone on the empty sidewalk, said goodbye and asked Father Pat to pray for me.
In the end, the Lord receives it all, and returns love and grace. The tears are an added gift.