Having grown up Catholic the connection is easy to see. Ash Wednesday (which occurred this past Wednesday) marks the beginning of Lent. Lent is the roughly 40 day period of grief, sacrifice and repentance that culminates on Easter. As the RC priest applies the ash (from the burnt previous years’ burn palm branches) he reminds the worshiper that man is from dust and to dust he shall return. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday Roman Catholics are to fast (translation: only eat one full meal) and avoid meat. The avoidence of meat (and it used to be sex too) extends onto all Fridays throughout lent (thus broadening your fried fish choices on Friday nights).
During Lent Roman Catholics are encouraged to sacrifice something they enjoy and to do other deeds of penance. Again, the emphasis is upon dealing with sin. And please remember the Lenten practice is mandatory for Roman Catholics. (It is helpful to note also that Lent has traditionally been a way to bring new folks into the church by demonstrating to them what it means to follow Christ).
Lent is a big deal for Roman Catholics. It is supposed to be a time of spiritual concentration and action. As one priest put it:
Lenten practices of penance have great benefits for our spiritual lives. A serious Lent will be like a spring cleaning which will purify the clutter that has accumulated in our souls. A serious commitment to penance will also help us to conquer addictions, obsessions and compulsive behavior. A serious Lent will purify our soul and allow us to experience a deeper interior freedom. (my emphasis)
How do we deal with guilt over sin, trials, questions about assurance, etc?
What is the Problem?
Many evangelicals when feeling guilty about sin or when they are facing ‘big’ events in their lives find themselves becoming quite serious all of a sudden. We say things like, “I am going to start reading my bible more. I am going to go to church more. I am going to start evangelizing more. I am going to start praying more.”
And then if we actually begin to do them we start to feel better don’t we? We aren’t as guilty over sin and we begin to feel better about ourselves and our relationship with God.
The Hindu does not think he needs Christ’s righteousness, he is able to do all the gods require through his earnest sacrifice.What is the Solution?
The Roman Catholic does not think he needs Christ’s righteousness, he is able to earn this himself by his sacrifice and penance during Lent.
The Evangelical does not think he needs Christ’s righteousness, he is able to cleanse his guilty conscience by just resolving to act more like a Christian.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-(Phil. 3.8-9)
8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? (Gal. 4.8-9)