· Vatican City ·

Tears and a smile

 Tears and a smile  ING-014
05 April 2024

Why do people cry? There are many reasons: rage, joy, emotion. Tears flow from the eyes, and they are born from the heart. That’s why one can never remain indifferent to tears; tears move the heart of those who see them. This is what happened on Thursday, 28 March, when Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 inmates during the Mass in Coena Domini celebrated at the Rebibbia Women’s Prison in Rome. Some of them broke down in tears as the elderly Pope solemnly proceeded in a wheelchair, and washed and kissed their feet. Their weeping, brought on by deep emotion, appeared liberating, in a place that by definition limits liberty. Their tears surely poured out from their hearts.

We do not know what thoughts filled their minds in those moments, what emotions, what images of a difficult life, weighed down by many falls. Nor did the Pope know in that moment. Tears are a gift, he has told us many times in these first 11 years of his Pontificate. Tears are also a mystery. Jesus’ tears are a mystery within the Mystery.

Reading the Gospels, have we ever asked ourselves, at least once, why the Lord wept outside the tomb of his friend, Lazarus, knowing that he would soon bring him back to life? And were we not deeply moved and struck to read of his tears as he looked at Jerusalem, or of those on that tragic night in Gethsemane when his sweat became like drops of blood?

Those tears are truly a mystery which we can brush against only with a sense of faith. And yet, it is precisely such a human act as this that makes Jesus closer to those who suffer in this and every age. Every mother who cries over a son sent to war by people who have become incapable of crying, can feel understood by he who shed his tears for those he loved. Every father who struggles every day to put bread on the table for his children, and who perhaps cries secretly so others won’t see him, can appreciate that the Son of God shed tears just like him. And thus, that he understands him.

The Bishop of Rome responded to the tears of the women he met in Rebibbia with a smile full of tenderness. It is the smile of a shepherd who loves his sheep, especially those he thought had been lost. It is the smile of a father who embraces his prodigal son whom he has patiently awaited, like many fathers who, even today, do not tire of waiting for their lost children to return from the labyrinths of society. But Pope Francis’ smile — in a world wounded by much fear and by a violence we had hoped had been consigned to history — is for all of us. It is a smile which gives hope and bears witness to God’s love. A love that is rich in mercy, that of a Father who “never tires of forgiving”, and which we need today more than ever, because, as Good Friday teaches us, it is only by forgiving and accepting others’ forgiveness that we can truly believe that death does not have the final say.

Alessandro Gisotti