John 20: 11-18
But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and what he told her.
This is the story of a woman in love with Jesus: she came with other women but when they all left, she stayed. She insists on remaining at the tomb e continues to hope against hope. The others see the factual evidence and leave. Mary Magdalene does not give in to what she sees, or does not see, with her senses. She remembers the words of the Lord regarding His return and even if she did not understand them then, and understands them even less now after His death, she continues to hope. She does not know well with her head in what she is hoping but her heart will not let her leave.
As if to reward her perseverance, Jesus arrives in person and begins to take an interest in her. For this very reason Mary should have suspected that it might be Jesus. A man that addresses her with a word of comfort and compassion: “Woman, why are you weeping?”
Let us close our eyes to hear Jesus ask this same question to each of us: “Janel, why are you weeping?” Let us imagine the delicate tone of his voice, his gaze, penetrating yet extremely respectful. “What is hurting you? Tell me. What do you have inside your heart? What makes you sad?” Jesus’s question is a sign of his presence and attention, but it is also very uncomfortable. To find the why of my tears means to focus on that which I have deep down in my heart. Even though objectively grave, I find it difficult to cry for the hundreds of refugees that die each day while I cry immediately for my grandmother who dies. I pour out my tears for that which is closest and most important to me: my family, my friendships, my disappointments. Just as he dialogues with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus asks a question that probes my heart: “Where is your treasure? What do you have deep down in your heart?”
Jesus repeats the question “Woman, why are you weeping?” immediately following with a new question as if to render the first more concrete: “Whom are you looking for?” Jesus knows well that there is always someone behind our tears. For who do I cry? Who is at the center of my heart? My child, my mom, my friend, myself? Yes, I can also cry for myself. How many times are my confessions more a dislike for not being able to maintain the ideal image that I have of myself rather than a dislike for having weakened my relationship with God? How many times do I cry for my wounded pride rather than for having wounded the Lord?
Tears appear often in the gospels: the sinful woman at the feet of Jesus (Lk 7: 36-50), Martha and Mary at the death of their brother Lazarus (Jn 11:1-44), and even Jesus himself on various occasions (Jn 11:35; Lk 19:41). Since then, throughout the history of Christianity, tears have been considered a grace to ask for. A grace? I don’t know about you, but I don’t like crying at all! I become red in the face and my eyes puff up. Then I have to blow my nose and maybe even begin to sob uncontrollably. Basically, I become ugly! And if someone sees me like that, even worse! To show our fragility is difficult for us. And yet it is exactly being aware of our need that transforms simple tears into one of the greatest graces.
Tears are a gift because they prepare the heart to receive Jesus. They soften our hardness, they crumble our illusions of self-realization e attempts to control, they unleash our humanity and our need for God. They remind us that we are small, that we can’t do it on our own, and, therefore, they open us to Another.
Soothe the tears
The hardness of our hearts,
Kindle the desire
For our blessed home.
(translation from an Italian hymn for morning prayer)
The gift of tears bestows on the soul the capacity to perceive more clearly the greatness and beauty of God and one’s own “little-ness”. These true and authentic tears are also regenerating: not only do they soften the heart and break up its hardness, but they irrigate the soul and render it fertile and able to love. The heart, flooded with tears, slowly “christifies”, that is, becomes ever more similar to the heart of Christ. The sentiments and emotions of Christ become our sentiments and emotions; his feelings, ours; his compassionate nature, our very own.
It’s obvious that the gift of tears is not to cry uncontrollably or to focus only on oneself and one’s own crosses, but it is instead the capacity to see God and every single thing in him.
Blessed the pure of heart for they will see God.
Many times, the road to purity of heart passes through a purification that renders our love more full and authentic. Mary Magdalene also experienced the pain of detachment in the death of Jesus and not only then. She experienced this detachment when unable to find the body of Jesus, and even once Jesus manifests himself before her, he says: “Stop holding on to me.” Jesus progressively leads his beloved disciple to a greater and freer love. We human beings, and especially us women, tend to depend heavily on and even attach ourselves to others. God allows experiences of detachment to remind us that he is the fount of our life and that it is on him and only him that we must depend so heavily, even in the relationship of a couple. The other person cannot satisfy all of your needs for affection or completely cure the solitude you feel inside, and if you demand this of him/her, the relationship will end. Only with the awareness that God is the only one able to love you unconditionally will there be the space necessary for freedom. In his book Interior Freedom Jacques Philippe writes:
“There is no happiness without love, and there is no love without freedom…From this we intuit the extraordinary value of freedom: it gives significance and quality to love, and love is the condition of happiness.”
God allows this often painful detachment in our relationships to give us a freedom that renders true love possible. God surprises us and goes beyond our expectations to give us something much greater. He did this with Mary Magdalene: she was seeking the postmortem body of Jesus privy of his soul – nothing compared to what God wanted to give to her in a relationship with the alive and risen Christ. The greatest desire of Mary Magdalene was to find Jesus’s cadaver, but this desire was too small in the eyes of God and limited her vision of reality. It prevented her from recognizing the beauty and greatness of the reality before her, mistaking Jesus for a gardener. She could not see Jesus, who she herself so desired, because she was convinced that he would have been only in the form of a cadaver. God goes beyond our ideas and our limited vision. He manifests himself to us in reality. In the reality in which our God became man and came close to us. It is in the concrete reality around us that God will give much more than we ourselves ask for or desire.
In a daily Mass with this Gospel, Pope Francis reminded us that “At times in our life the glasses to see Jesus are tears.” Maybe these tears poured out by Mary Magdalene were necessary to prepare her heart to receive the immense gift of the first apparition of the Risen Christ. Maybe also our tears will open us to a gift greater than we can possibly imagine like the freedom necessary for true love.
“What is the message of this woman?” the Pope asks. “I have seen the Lord.” Let us ask the Lord for this “beautiful grace” of tears that prepare us to see Jesus, and consequently, the grace to witness to everyone with our life “I have seen the Lord.”
• Close my eyes and imagine the voice of Jesus that calls me by name and asks me: “___________, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?”
• Ask for the grace of tears to be able to really see the Lord in the concrete reality.
• Share with someone that “I have seen the Lord!”
Sr. Janel Olberding.