Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lent and penance

Today is Mardi Gras, also called Fat Tuesday the day before the solemn  40-day liturgical season of Lent. There will be lots of partying today because when Wednesday hits, the faithful in liturgical churches, especially the Roman Catholic Church, will begin to fast, pray, have their heads marked with ashes  and begin to do penance for their sins. The 40-day period culminates in in Holy Week with the celebration of the Last Supper, Good Friday and Easter (Resurrection) Sunday.

So just what is Lent?  When I grew up, we were taught in parochial school we needed to "give something up" such as candy, television shows, or something to let God know we were serious about serving Him. we were told we had to "do penance". It was part of earning God's favor despite what modern-day Catholic apologists say. That's what I and millions of others throughout the world were taught. 

Penance as defined in the dictionary means a voluntary act of reparation (making up for a wrong or injury) or self-punishment to show repentance for a sin. People used to do all kinds of strange things with this to make up with God. Some folks in Mexico "walk" to church on their knees which are quite bloodied when they arrive. Others used to wear uncomfortable hair shirts against their skin to embrace the suffering of Jesus.

The Catholic  practice of self-denial and penance is solidified by the Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible which uses the word "penance" in numerous places. Unfortunately it is often used incorrectly. I'll give you few examples of which many more could be made. In 2 Chronicles 6:24, Matthew 3:2, Matthew 4:17, Luke 13:3 and Revelation 2:16, the Douay-Rheims uses "do penance" instead of "repent".  The concepts are very different. The Douay-Rheims translation was faulty.

When a person repents, it means they confess the wrong and turn away from that habit or lifestyle. For the Christian, it means embracing the forgiveness of what Jesus did on the cross for all sins past, present and future and understanding that the Christian is now righteous and holy in God's sight. Romans 10:9-11 lays it out. A Christian does not need to buy God's forgiveness or earn His favor. Jesus already did that. A Christian can only trust that what Jesus did was all-sufficient and then walk a life that that reflects that truth as found in the sacred scriptures.

Doing penance to satisfy sin is not a Christian biblical practice. It is very much reminiscent of Old Testament practices. Repentance , however, is rooted in God's grace as explained in the New Testament where Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament sacrifices by becoming the perfect sacrifice for us on the cross. Jesus isn't sacrificed any more and the penalty is paid. All we need to do is repent, become born again, listen to the Holy Spirit and read God's written word to understand what God wants from each of us.

For those of you who are Catholic or who have Catholic friends, get a copy of my book The Shift, Moving from Religion to Relationship. It shares my story of "doing the stuff" my Catholic religion taught me to do versus what the Bible said could be accomplished by personal faith in Jesus.  Available on my site here or on Amazon and  Barnes & Noble.

May you understand the true purposes of Lent these next 40 days and come to a vibrant and living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

No hair shirts or bloody knees needed. Just repentance and faith that Jesus really did it all.

God bless.