Lent used to be serious business in the Church, much along the same way that Ramadan is for most Muslims. But lately it's become more of a token event in the life of the individual Christian. It's pretty much widely ignored in the non-liturgical traditions. The Prosperity Gospel churches follow, for various reasons, the more Evangelical traditions in America arguing that because Lent is not biblical, it should have no place in our lives.
But in an essay in the Boston Globe, Jeffrey MacDonald argues that we are the poorer for not keeping Lent:
"How did Christianity’s most serious season become a joke in this supposedly religious country? We let desire become our master, and desire has no use for sacrifice. For centuries, Christianity sought to temper primitive desire for addictive pleasures, dominance of neighbors, hoarding of resources, and other idols that ruin lives. But the broader culture has persuaded us to cut loose, to obey our lowest passions, lest they fester into perpetual frustration.
Now religion is desire’s handmaiden. Americans routinely quit churches that fail to please them. And churches, anxious to survive, vie to offer what congregations want: happy, clappy celebrations; entertaining multimedia shows; supportive gatherings of like-minded people. Meanwhile, they jettison the harder and more edifying parts of Christianity, such as practicing repentance, sharing in others’ sufferings, and observing Lent.
In purging self-denial from the tradition, American Christians play into the hands of corporate merchandisers, who hope we’ll spend more and more year-round to quench unquenchable desires. Yet the highest price we pay is spiritual. Self-denial for a season fosters humility. It blunts the insidious delusion of entitlement. It shapes compassion for the poor and hungry by raising at least a measure of awareness of their circumstances. It breeds courage as we tell our lowest desires: No, you are not my master. I answer to a higher authority. With God’s help, it opens a way for higher desires to take root – for the creation of a new heart, in biblical parlance. To trade the inherited wisdom of this way for the cheap platitudes of self-help therapy is costly indeed."
Read the full essay here.