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From Carnival into Lent, through Catholic Social Teaching

By Fr Stephan Alexander

General Manager, CCSJ and AMMR


We’re here again! Here at one of the most mystical and provocative intermingling of spiritual expressions in Trinbagonian society: the apogee of Carnival and the commencement of Lent.

Many of us experience this “spiritual, mystical and freeing” moment with ambivalence – how can we marry the extremes of overindulgent revelry and pious exuberance?

Others escape thought about this spotlight on our spiritual reality by assumed or imposed separation from Carnival activities. Yet, as pointed out by Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon in his new book Rekindling our Carnival Rhythms: Reigniting our Soul, neither of those two responses should be our default.

Rather, we should actively engage in deep reflection on the relevant expressions of our desire for freedom – that is, freedom from oppressive social constraints, and freedom from sin – if we are to arrive at a “truer understanding and appreciation of self”.

This true understanding and appreciation of self is the subject of Catholic Social Teaching [CST]. CST speaks to the reality of the human person, our humanity, as gift from God that must be honoured, treasured, and cared for.

Among the key principles of CST are: the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person; the common good; the fundamental option for the poor and vulnerable; family and community; participation in the economic, political, social, and cultural life of society; rights and responsibilities; economic justice; environmental stewardship: care for God’s creation; the role of government and subsidiarity; global solidarity and development; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; the promotion of peace and disarmament; and the universal destination of goods.

The understanding and application of these key principles can actively assist us in the authentic expression of our desire for freedom during Carnival and Lent. Hence, in accepting the Archbishop’s invitation to reflect, let’s examine how several of these principles can guide us at this time.

Can we understand this invitation as a call to seek out and uphold that which is true, noble, right, pure, and admirable (cf Phil 4:8) in Carnival’s celebration of the human person, through the positive explosion of human creativity and expression displayed in the rituals of this festival?

The focus on the person, in many ways, aligns with the principle of human dignity and responds to the call for participation, solidarity and seeking the common good as it fosters an environment where people of all backgrounds come together in celebration.

In various ways, this coming together has been equated to a ‘sacred space’ of communion and welcome for partakers. However, to adequately reflect and reverence human dignity we must recognise that Carnival’s ‘modern’ emphasis on outward beauty, popularity and financial access can erode a person’s true sense of human dignity.

How good it would be if our critique of the devolution of Carnival could once again include an entry or rather a re-entry into these sacred spaces with portrayals that affirm the dignity of each person. In doing so, it affirms our own dignity as well. Rather than objectifying, commodifying and instrumentalising human persons, our vibrant participation can courageously identify “boundaries around nudity, vulgarity and immoral behaviour”. Couldn’t this also be the foundation of a Lenten sacrifice?

I could only hope that the disciplines undertaken to meaningfully deepen our spiritual life during Lent would involve reflection on all our relationships with the view of ensuring they uphold the dignity of each person.

Advocating—in our spheres of influence, be that the home, church, school, workplace—for policies and practices that respect the inherent worth of every individual could also be a valuable Lenten sacrifice/undertaking.

Similarly, CST’s emphasis on the importance of social responsibility may find a willing host in Carnival as in Lent.

In the context of Carnival, this suggests a conscientious approach to environmental sustainability, cultural preservation, and ethical conduct. This would reflect the image of responsible enjoyment, ensuring that its impact is not detrimental to the well-being of individuals, the wider community, or our common home.

In the context of Lent, the manifestation of social responsibility could include a reimagining of the ‘sacred space’ privileged during Carnival. This can be done by fostering a sense of community, through reaching out to our neighbours and offering support, as well as fasting from negative behaviours, cultivating virtues instead.

Reimagining must occur if the context of the space currently provided in our churches and elsewhere does not facilitate the  generation of community.

Archbishop Gordon looks at the reality of the panyard and how understanding it can help transform our vision. Others have utilised different social fora. The importance of such ‘sacred spaces’ is their ability to facilitate meaningful conversations in the spirit.

They might begin at Carnival, continue during Lent, and progress thereafter in a way the helps people to encounter true understanding and appreciation of self and the other.


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