For Ash Wednesday this year, I went with a coworker to her Catholic church's service. I have been to weekday and Sunday Mass services before, but never to a holiday Mass. And while I'm aware of Rome's teaching in the abstract, seeing it in operation was like getting hit upside the head with a two-by-four. After the readings from Scripture, the homily was certainly a post hoc, ergo propter hoc in that it followed the Scripture but clearly was not a reflection upon the text itself. The priest delivering the message was so vague in his statements that he could well have been a Unitarian Universalist, simply moralizing about why humans should live a good life, with hardly a reference to Christ's commands. Moreover, at least twice he made reference to needing to let the "good person deep down inside" of us determine our actions during Lent, without any context of Christ or the Holy Spirit indwelling us. But the hum-dinger was the repeated mention of self-denial during this season making us "worthy" to be part of Christ's body.
I was dumbfounded, and reflecting on it now again, I feel nearly scandalized. But, again, I suppose that's how the Catholic sausage is made. If you have a system that teaches people they are basically good, but they need some works to assure that Peter unlocks the pearly gates when they arrive, that's what you teach about daily living. So, that should not have been a surprise for me as a Protestant attending a Catholic service, but it sure felt like a kick in the teeth.
I like the liturgical calendar, and Lent has come to be a particularly meaningful time for me to evaluate my walk with Christ in a more intent way than I normally have time to do. (I'm not at all advocating that Christians are required to do this, nor do I intend to suggest that I don't self-evaluate throughout the rest of the year; I over-analyze everything, but these forty days afford me an opportunity to re-orient away from whatever busy-ness has been plaguing me, which is common for a teacher at this time of year.) In years past, experiencing the Reformed Anglican service on Ash Wednesday was a powerful reminder of my mortality & insufficiency as I look forward to celebrating Christ's resurrection & His complete sufficiency. (Though I could never reconcile the overly-penitent feel of not saying "Hallelujah" during Lent; Christ has been raised from the dead, and we are living in His Kingdom, awaiting His return, even as we reflect on His death.)
This year, listening to Doctrine & Devotion's podcast episode about Ash Wednesday got me thinking about how I approach this time, and challenged me to examine whether I'm just piecemealing my worldview together. Before listening to their episode, I had left The Reformed Pubcast guys a voicemail asking their thoughts on Lent, and had some fun on Twitter bantering with both podcasts about the topic. They didn't respond to my voicemail (I assume because they're on a backlog to October), but their next episode was titled "Giving Rome the Middle Sausage," and I was impressed by Les & Tanner's handling of the topic because it was much more even-handed than I'd expected while still being characteristically adamantly & humorously Protestant.
So where do I fall on Lent, having been exposed to the dead legalism of Rome and living in the generally oblivious (if not militantly anti-Lent) evangelical world? I'm still observing this time of year as a chance to evaluate how dependent I am on Christ, but I don't know that I'd say I'm observing Lent. As my Catholic friend pointed out, if I want to observe Lent, I'd need to give up meat - and I'm not doing that. On the other hand, most of the evangelical circles in which I've run think that "liturgy" means Catholic tradition, but I'd like to retain that term for my meditations this time of year; liturgy means a religious observance, and that's certainly what I'm doing. I'm going to scour my usage of Lent of any heresy of self-sufficiency or rote ceremony devoid of sincere repentance, and
But only for forty days.