Advent truly cannot get here soon enough.
It would be nice to simply ease into the season but most years we have barely finished the T-bird leftovers, restacked the good dishes and developed a ruthless cold or flu thanks to all the love when suddenly Advent arrives we are unironically encouraged, in the busiest time of the year, to slow down.
It can be managed, though, if we really want it — if we really want to make room for possibilities of light amid the darkening skies.
To that end, I’m clearing out thoughts on news items that struck amid Thanksgiving and deserve notice, even though — because the headlines arrive in inexorable waves, each day’s wash of ink obliterating the day before and drawing it away from the beach of memory — they will never become the fleshed-out columns I mean them to be.
Invitation to those on the Margins
First up, on the World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis had his usual luncheon with the downtrodden and people on the margins, and this year, he specifically invited transgender people, some of them former sex workers, to dine with him. Just a week earlier he had signed off on a note from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith affirming that transgender people can be baptized. As Father Patrick Briscoe helpfully pointed out, t’was ever thus, actually, but Francis’ Vatican is the first to say it out loud, and this is entirely consistent with the Holy Father’s splendid notion of accompaniment and his words at World Youth Day (“everyone, everyone, everyone!”).
Transgender people are not new and nor is ministry to them, but accompaniment is a process, and this is what the process looks like.
Having long-advocated helping LGBTQ people to feel included in the Church, I’m all for it. But I do understand why some of my more conservative Catholic friends are beginning to feel like “everyone, everyone, everyone,” gives them a jaundiced eye and says, “maybe not you.”
It might be a very good thing if the pope and his advisers cued into that, and perhaps ate a meal with the boring old pewsitters who pay the bills and wonder whether they, too, are still welcome. The prodigals need the hugs, certainly. But Scripture says the intense older sons do, too.
Next, it was announced that Michael Voris, the rad-trad founder of St. Michael’s Media and Church Militant, a website that has expended a great deal of energy stirring Catholic names into its vortex of calumny, controversy and condemnation (we are catholic; we contain multitudes), has resigned from his position due to breaching a morality clause. On social media, a broken-looking Voris put out a video explaining that yes, he’s in spiritual trouble, though he was at pains to say that the “ugly” stuff is less about the acting out than what he has permitted to long-reside in his heart and mind for fear of looking at it all.
I don’t know about you, but I can identify. The stuff in our heads and hearts is always 100 times more heinous than what we actually do, because it goes unseen, so it can be. Truly dreadful things, all unbidden, can pop into our thoughts for a moment. Usually, we are appropriately appalled at our unfiltered minds and whisper “I don’t mean it … ” toward heaven.
Still, a thought is a thing. Jesus said nothing by accident, including, “From within people, from the heart come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile” (Mk 7:21-23).
Sin begins in the heart. Having gone from making a sincere confession to screaming death wishes upon other drivers — all within a five-minute span — I certainly know the truth of that. Whatever spiritual terrors Voris is facing, I ask St. Dymphna to be with him.
St. Dymphna is a patron saint for those dealing with mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and all manner of modern mania. It was heartening to learn that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched a Mental Health Campaign. It’s brand new and details are to follow, but such an effort cannot but be a good thing.
Into the quieting of Advent, let us bring all the things, good and bad, and hand them off to the consoling Creator — who makes all things new, including us. Whenever we permit it.