I try not to get too worked up about the commercialization of church holidays. It seems inevitable in our culture, in which most people are at least nominally Christian yet the real national faith is capitalism. The Christmas shopping season is annoying and the Easter candy aisles are dangerous, but it seems futile to rail against things that are more symptom than illness.
It is pretty perplexing, however, when marketers try to capitalize on Lent.
My Lenten practice has almost involved some kind of endurance. As a child I usually gave up something like chocolate or sweets. My practice evolved into committing to walk to the grocery store or buy nothing but food or, one year, give up plastic.
But regardless of what I took on or gave up, I have always intended for this to last through all of Lent. The practice ends—or finds a new form—at Holy Week, and the endurance test ends with it.
This year, Lent has an entirely different rhythm for me—because of a book by writer and Benedictine oblate Paula Huston.
I’m taking a class on the Gospel of Luke this semester, and
one of my assignments is to engage in an ongoing spiritual practice
related to that particular Gospel. So for the entire semester I am
reading the Magnificat daily. It’s a passage that I’ve been drawn to in
recent years, but it has been particularly illuminating to be dwelling
on it during Lent this year, since it is typically confined to the Advent
season. Somehow the triumphal language of the justice that God has
already accomplished fits with the modern treatment of Advent as a
celebratory season. But Lent is a season of penance, which puts an
entirely different spin on the text.
I cringed when I read Jeffrey MacDonald's accusation, quoted
here by Steve Thorngate, that Americans have turned Lent into a spiritual
self-help event "whose effectiveness is measured by how well it entertains us
and affirms what we already believe."