St. Isaac of Nineveh
Died, c 700 AD
Feast Day: January 28th
“The fruits of the inner man begin only with the shedding of tears. When you reach the place of tears, then know that your spirit has come out from the prison of this world and has set its foot upon the path that leads towards the new age.”
~St. Isaac of Nineveh
St. Isaac is a 7th century saint of both the Eastern and Western traditions, and a known source of wisdom and inspiration. He was an ascetic from the town of Bet Qatraye on the Persian Gulf, and in 660 AD, he was ordained Bishop of Nineveh, an ancient city in present-day Iraq. Yet, Isaac was drawn to the solitary life and left his position after only five months. He retired to a monastery in Iran where he wrote and, it is said, studied Scripture so much it eventually made him blind.
Isaac is best known for his writings on the exercises of asceticism as means to focusing on God. He suggests a three-fold way of the mind, body and spirit. Fasting, vigils and sacred song remedy our earthly desires and distractions so the soul may be opened to a greater understanding of, and communion with God.
However, it was Isaac’s concept of the Gift of Tears that specifically touched my heart when we began this ministry. Tears, as gift, have been alluded to by many mystics and scholars throughout the centuries. Ignatius of Loyola talked extensively about this grace, and the concept is often attributed to him despite its earlier references by Isaac.
There are several instances, throughout my life and with this work, when I experience so strongly God’s love and presence that I am brought to tears. It is seeing the beautiful innocence of a child in our rural slums, taking in the awesome vastness of these hills from the dot that is my existence, or showing my weakest self and still being accepted by my neighbors; I feel completely emptied and completely filled at the same time. Extreme polarities in perfect balance. St. Isaac says, “But we are not accustomed to such an experience and finding it hard to endure, our body is suddenly overcome by a weeping mingled with joy.” It is in gratitude for this experience of God, and a desire to expose others to it, that this ministry was initially named:
The St. Isaac of Nineveh~Gift of Tears Catholic Worker