Go ahead. You know you want to sing it. A title like this demands an obligatory “Fa la la—la la la—la-la-la.” Deep into a slightly longer Adventide than usual, and I’m already saying my mea culpas for tempting you with Christmastide before the Holy Family even leave for Bethlehem; before the Altar Guild and volunteers have had the chance to do the Greening of the Church after next Sunday’s Mass.
But bear with me. Instead of a certain apparel, this new lyric merely invites us to do, as the famous hymn says: “Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness.” As we have passed through Gaudete (Be Joyful or Rose) Sunday—the lighter third Sunday of Advent—the Sunday to look at rejoicing—there is still a bit to go. We liked the rose candle, but the part of Advent that society, and worse, many in the Church avoid (hey, I’ve been guilty, too!)—is going deep into the penitential and reflective part of Advent. It is the part where we change, where we prepare to adore Jesus at the Nativity.
Wherever one finds oneself in the spectrum of debate on liturgical colors in Advent, sky blue, sapphire, indigo, violet, roman purple etc, we will agree that the period is markedly more somber. But it is not at all disagreeable. It is pensive. It is thoughtful. It is anticipatory.
In the English catholic tradition, we are famous for an emphasis on the Incarnation. Sacramental life—Our Lord imparting graces through the Church and through things—is often one of the draws for people like myself who come from other traditions. It was the sacramentality of the Liturgy that drew me. It was the grace that came through the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament that became for me a must, even if it took a while to “get.”
More subtly alluring, was a small image of Our Lady of Walsingham in a flickering niche in a church. Raised in a tradition where we didn’t have more to do with Mary than we had to, I am convinced she spoke to me in this calm, noble depiction of the Incarnation. Here she presented her Son to the world, and it didn’t bother me at all when attending daily Mass at the local Anglo-Catholic parish near my university.
At that time, in college, I didn’t realize I was experiencing something of the Incarnation. I don’t even remember knowing the word at the time. However, as the years wore on, my trepidations about Mary turned into a love, trust, and devotion I believe the Blessed Mother has prayed for me.
Everyone has their thorn, their set of challenges, that God gives the grace to walk through. Since including it in other writings, it is no secret that one such in my life is living continently and celibately, while experiencing same-sex attraction. Indeed, the grace of Jesus has carried me through. And I know Our Lady has given many men in my situation similar comfort. After all, many men experiencing homosexual feelings are famous for relating a bit more closely to their mothers—surprise surprise! So, it makes sense that many of them find solace in her.
Now, fair warning, a bit of rough before returning to the smooth. “Not again… not THIS subject again!”, some might be grunting. “Can’t we go one season in Anglicanism without this sex stuff coming up?” Well, too bad. With the Church of England, as well as other Anglican Communion provinces, waffling and crumpling all through 2016 under the weight of social justice warriors bullying them since the January Canterbury Primates Meeting (and long before), too bad.
If the clergy and lay leaders of the Communion, especially in the West, aren’t willing to live and teach within the Conciliar received Teaching of the Church, then we need the Mantle of Our Lady MORE than ever. If bishops aren’t willing to be truthful loving shepherds, they are shirking their responsibility as Our Lady’s sons. If they are going to sell men and women like myself a shoddy bill of goods, then they don’t seem to love us very much. It is as if they subsist on telling us what our itching ears would rather hear.
It may seem tacky, but Anglo-Catholics have a notorious reputation for letting things slide, particularly when the Establishment enables it—for letting the incense cloud become a place of convenient forgetting. This has been so much so that it made itself into Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, where Jasper says to his cousin Charles at University, “Oh, and beware of Anglo-Catholics… they’re all sodomites with unpleasant accents.” While the Cousin Charleses in our lives, oftentimes with their own unpleasant accents, may be boorish, uncharitable, and a bit simplistic, they do act as inconvenient mirrors, too.
So, this is a call to others dealing with homosexuality, especially the guys, who make up the statistical majority of that 1-3% of the population. Arrange the flowers, polish the brass, sit on those committees, read the Lesson, chair the parish fundraiser, whatever, but don’t forget that the Blessed Virgin Mary is your Mother. She will pray for you. She will hear your cries. She will bring you closer to her Son. When we “deck the halls” to prepare for the Feast of the Nativity and the Incarnation, our lyric, and really everyone’s, should be to “Don we now Our Lady’s Mantle”. (And those who pray for us, please keep doing so. This line of spiritual attack has been very nefarious and vicious across orthodox Christendom, and it is getting bolder.)
Of course I don’t mean that we should presume to wear her mantle, literally. What I do mean is that the Incarnation came with her Fiat, “Let it be unto me according to thy word.” We are to heed and “don,” wear, her example. May our prayer be to give our yes to Jesus; our will, our emotions, our troubles, hopes and fears, all that we are. With that, His gift back to us this Christmastide would be greater than we could ever give or imagine.
Adventide, Christmastide, and Epiphanytide famously bring sludge to the surface in many of us. The “holidays,” especially in their backwards secular form, play backdrop to a lot of pain. But the Communion of Saints is full of people who went through what we go through and more. There is nothing new under the sun. Sin, grief, and suffering are not new; alcoholism, sloth, avarice, grief, stealing, pride, sexual temptation, gambling, procrastination, adultery, hatefulness, entitlement, critical spirit, scrupulousness, substance abuse, despair, depression, perfectionism, poverty, and on. No one is exempt from the catalogue of imperfection.
But a great thing in our era of confusion is that Our Lady is unapologetically Mother, “Vive Her Difference!” The Blessed Mother is an icon of motherhood, whether our biological mother was ideal or not. Our Lady cares for us. Let’s rest under her Mantle with her prayers to fortify us.
Maybe she can show us how to extend the love of Jesus Christ to others in this Season. Maybe there is something we can do for someone else to bring them closer to her? Maybe with our prayers, our generosity, our time? Be assured of my prayers as I light a candle for all of you reading this article and please pray for me, a sinner.
A most holy Adventide to all and merry Feast of the Incarnation!
Brian Pickard is a layman in the Diocese of Fort Worth.