For one thing, tears are really a gift. (A gift that I’m hesitant to embrace, but a gift nonetheless.) For another, I couldn’t think of seven ways to advise people to fight their tears without crossing a line that, even to me, was too much. I mean, if I’m advising you to focus on your three-year-old’s fashion sense instead of what’s happening during the Consecration, I’m not really steering you in the right direction.
If what’s happening at Mass — the miracle and the gift and the beauty — are so much that tears leak out of your eyes, maybe that’s not so bad.
If all you have in your purse is a selection of girls’ underpants, and the thing that staves off the tears for a few moments is the hilarity of choosing between Curious George, Winnie the Pooh, or My Little Ponies for wiping your nose, maybe you’re cooperating with a grace and maybe, just maybe, you took a baby step toward greater humility in your life.
If bowing your head and submitting to the authority on the altar, admitting that not only do you not know it all, but that it’s probably better that way, makes the snot flow right along with the tears, forcing you to use a small child’s delicately embroidered sweater as your stopper, perhaps you’ve offered a gift to God that you didn’t even know he was asking from you.
If someone’s hand touches the small of your back, or your shoulder, or even your hand, as you shake a bit from the sobs, frustrated and embarrassed because not only is your life charmed at worst and blessed at best and you look like a tragedy has struck, feel that touch as straight from heaven and know that you are offering your Mass in such a tender, gentle way that you surely must be changed by the encounter.
If you look in the eye of the person who offers you Jesus, “The Body of Christ,” and as she places Him in your hands, she gives you a gentle squeeze, think of the woman who bathed His feet with her tears and consider that your tears could be blessed by His touch, again and again.
There are plenty of ways I fight the tears. I focus on the grain of the wood in the pew in front of me, on the detail in the statues, on everything except what’s going on. I take deep breaths (a choir friend once told me that she has learned that you can either breathe or cry, not both — she’s mostly right).
But when I fight the tears and try to escape them, I feel like I’m losing something even more important than the embarrassment I feel when I’m wet-faced and snot-nosed. I find myself, once again, reminded that I can give them to Mama Mary. And, perhaps even better, I can ask her to help me accept them as part of who and what I am.