Paul Catalanotto: Embrace the paradoxes of Lent

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At every season in Australia and in the Church in Australia, she must continually ask herself how she manifests paradoxes. Photo: jeremy thomas/unsplash

The word Lent means spring as in the season. In the Northern hemisphere, the Lenten season in the Church happily corresponds with the Spring season. Up North, Lent takes on a flare of renewal and growth in how flowers anticipate fruit.

However, in Australia, the seasons of the Church don’t line up with the seasons of nature. Because the seasons never meet, it should raise questions for Catholics in Australia around understanding and engaging with a religion’s liturgical seasons whose calendars and feasts have a similar rhythm as the Northern Hemisphere.

The solution to this riddle is for the Church in Australia to embrace paradox and be paradoxical. That is, the Church must hold what appears to be two contradictory statements in her consciousness that, upon further investigation, are found to both be true. To paraphrase Catholic priest and convert Ronald A. Knox, a paradox is a statement of the obvious made to sound untrue.

Paradoxes characterise the Universal Church: The Trinity, the Incarnation, God’s death on a cross, and the Eucharist – to name a few. Christ gave his own paradoxes: the last shall be first, and whoever wants to gain his life must lose it. Saint Paul said that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Even Mary, the Virgin Mother, is a paradox.

The Church in Australia is positioned to be a living paradox. Because of the asynchronous seasons, some paradoxes are even more significant than to our brothers North of the equator. Therefore, at every season in Australia and in the Church in Australia, she must continually ask herself how she manifests paradoxes.

From a Lenten perspective, when flowers bloom in the Northern hemisphere and the Church is in her Springtime, Down Under the country is Autumnal. Images of nature dying dominate the Australian consciousness: shorter days, longer nights, cooler temperatures, and leaves swirling in the wind.

On the one hand, the brilliant, kaleidoscopic colours of Autumn speak of abundant life and harvests, while on the other, those same colours signal life draining slowly from the world as it turns brown and grey. It is as if death and beauty met for a cuppa, and Autumn was the result.

On the one hand, the brilliant, kaleidoscopic colours of Autumn speak of abundant life and harvests, while on the other, those same colours signal life draining slowly from the world as it turns brown and grey. It is as if death and beauty met for a cuppa, and Autumn was the result.

While the Northern Hemisphere experiences new growth, the trees in Australia strip themselves bare to the essentials. They say to their leaves, “You’re no longer needed.”
Yet, ironically, with leafless limbs, the sun shines through the trees to the winter ground even more brightly.

The Church in Australia can embrace further spiritual metaphors when considering how the Australian season of decay occurs during the Church’s Liturgical Springtime. After all, Christ teaches that the grain of wheat must die to bear much fruit.

Finally, This year, Ash Wednesday occurs one day after the start of Autumn. As those congregants exit the church and into the start of Australia’s season of decay, with freshly dusted ashes on their forehead recalling their beginnings and endings, they also enter a powerful spiritual paradox lost in the Northern Spring.

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