It is with joy (and a certain degree of trepidation) that we would like to announce that our blog is moving. Vox Nova has been asked to become part of the Patheos Catholic Channel, under the editorship of Sam Rocha, one of our former bloggers. We are delighted to be part of such a great group of bloggers.
All of our archives will be transferred shortly to the new site, and at some point our web address, http://www.vox-nova.com will redirect to the new site. In the interim, you can find us at www.patheos.com/blogs/voxnova. Like all transitions, this one may be bumpy, so if you think a comment has gone missing, or that no one is responding, please be patient. Please continue to direct correspondence related to the blog to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the past several months and years Pope Francis has often been heard speaking about the devil and the reality of the spiritual battle we find ourselves in. This week on Thinking Faith, Eric and Brett discuss the reality of the devil. Do we really still believe in some creature called Satan? Is this just a symbol of evil and sin? And what would his place be in the spiritual life and in our Catholic tradition? Throw some salt over your shoulder and join us in this episode we’re calling “Speaking of Satan…”
We at Vox Nova have decided to offer Brett’s weekly podcast for the Archdiocese of Regina here every Tuesday afternoon or so. If it is missing, it is either because an episode deals with a very local issue that would not be of interest to VN readers or because Brett forgot to post it. ;)
Today I had an experience that every adult U.S. citizen should be made to undergo.
Gathered in a university cafeteria with a large group of students and community members, I was paired up with a young social work student and given a folder. It contained our names – Lucía and Juana Delgadillo – and information about us: I was Juana, a 16-year-old U.S. citizen trying to help my 20-year-old sister Juana, who had been brought by our parents to the U.S. at the age of four, get legal status. We then entered a Kafka-esque network of people representing various aspects of the US immigration system: immigration officials, attorneys, judges, translators, smugglers and con artists. Our goal was to obtain US citizenship within eighteen years (in the simulation, each year was represented by six minutes).
Beginning the simulation, I studied the background information on the characters we were playing. It suggested two options. The first was for my ¨sister¨ to apply for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). This would not lead to permanent residency or citizenship, but it would allow her to gain a renewable work permit (valid for two years) and social security number. The second was to wait until turning 21 to petition for her (with a form called I-130, Petition for Alien Relative), a process that would take at least eighteen years before getting permanent residency and an an additional five after that for getting citizenship. Thus, given that the simulation only represented eighteen years in total, there was no way for the two of us to win this game.
I smiled with excitement as the plane landed on the runway and taxied toward the gate. It was March break (which as a teacher I anticipate just as eagerly as my students do), and I was looking forward to ten days in two cities I love: Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I was to present at my first academic conference in three years, and Montevideo, Uruguay, where I to participate in the presentation of a dear friend’s poetry book, which I’d edited and translated into English. After living and working in Uruguay for nine months in 2006 and returning for an extensive visit in 2013, I was excited to reconnect with old friends in a place that still feels like home
After getting through the Argentine passport control and picking up my bag, I used my bank card to purchase a bus ticket from the airport into the city Buenos Aires. The conference was scheduled to take place downtown at the Marriott Plaza Hotel, located along the famous Florida Street, a pedestrian walkway lined with shops. My bus ticket included a taxi that took me right to the hotel’s door, where I marveled at its elegance and luxury. I began talking with the other conference participants, most of them Spanish professors at various North American universities. That night we enjoyed a welcome banquet which featured live tango dance and music. It was truly a lovely beginning to what promised to be a great conference. Read more…
Maybe because of the areas where much attention has been drawn of late, something stood out to me in the collect of this morning’s Ash Wednesday mass. The prayer begins,
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service…
The word “campaign” immediately brought to my mind a political or advertising campaign (which have become almost the same thing these days). The contrast made me smile, as I realized we were entering a season of humility and self-denial, something more like the opposite of what the secular world tends to mean by campaigning.
The language that followed suddenly gave the word a more military overtone:
…so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
But again, this is a radically different kind of battle. As St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood.” Like the self-emptying that leads to the cross (see the great Christological hymn of Philippians 2), it is against the forces that tempt us toward the dark side of our human condition that self-restraint becomes our weapon of choice. It is the only weapon and the only battle that truly be called holy. May this season of Lent teach us to wield it well.
Today’s Gospel reading offers us a clear challenge.
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6: 1-6).
During the season of Lent, we are called to renew our relationship with God through prayer and fasting while reaching out to others in service and charity. We are called to empty ourselves so as to have more to offer others. And, as we are told in this Gospel, we are to do so in a spirit of humility – not putting our good deeds or prayerfulness on display, but acting in secret.
For me, the great irony of this morning’s Mass was that immediately after hearing this Gospel call to humility, we all walked up to the altar to receive a visible sign of this calling. As I go about my workday, I will be marked as different from the norm. I may receive a few stares and questions from students unfamiliar with this Catholic ritual. Indeed, I will stand out – which, on the surface, seems to be the exact opposite of what today’s Gospel is calling me to do.
A few months ago I took the Via Character Survey, a questionnaire that seeks to give its subjects insight into their various strengths and virtues. (You should try it – it’s fun!) The survey tests for twenty-four different strengths, such as curiosity, kindness, bravery, humor, fairness and prudence. When I took the test, I was surprised to discover that the lowest ranked quality on my list was humility. Repeating the survey a few months later, I received the same sobering result. Honestly, I was initially quite surprised. How could this be? I don’t think most people who know me would describe me as an arrogant person a la Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, or Dr. Frankenstein. When people give me criticism, that is not the issue that usually stands out. However, the beauty of this particular test is that it assesses not our outward actions so much as our internal attitudes toward ourselves. From a young age, guided by my parents and teachers in a Catholic setting, I learned to cultivate the appearance of humility. But now, I have come to understand that for years I was displaying a false modesty that actually concealed a deeply rooted arrogance.
So, how does one grow into a spirit of genuine humility? I honestly am not sure, but I have a hunch that the answer lies in the seeming contradiction between today’s Gospel and the ritual that immediately ensues. By marking ourselves with ashes, we make ourselves accountable for our actions. As I walk around my campus today, I’ll be sending a message to my students and colleagues: “Today is the first day of Lent, a penitential time which I plan to observe. Hold me to it.” I am also reaching out in solidarity with all the other people who are seeking to renew their faith and grow in virtue during these six weeks.
In this way, while Ash Wednesday may initially seem like the very kind of public display that Jesus condemns, a deeper reflection reveals that it is not. By being marked with ashes, we can resist our own hypocrisy by inviting others to observe whether we are actually living what we claim to believe. And we can also grow in solidarity with one another, recognizing that while the journey may feel lonely at times, we are truly never alone.