LENTEN RETREAT
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Bethlehem University Chapel

Bethlehem University Chapel

Gospel – Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

Reflection by Br. Peter Iorlano, FSC, DENA

I began writing this reflection on 1 January 2021, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the seventh day in the octave of Christmas. Looking ahead to Ash Wednesday my thoughts are still with the richness of the mystery of the Incarnation; I am mindful of God’s lavish love and life-giving grace. Moreover, the metanoia to which we are called is to let the very life, light, and love of Jesus grow in us. In my experience, the vulnerability, humility, and selflessness required to be receptive to the life, light,  and love on offer by God is challenging to sustain; these are not among the dominant virtues promoted in many of our cultures. It is precisely because allowing ourselves to be conformed to the life of Jesus for the world can be so daunting that the Church gives us the Lenten season beginning with Ash Wednesday.

“…[N]ow is a very acceptable time…”; “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. The Scripture readings’ urgency for each of us to act now, to return to the Lord today with our whole heart seems to presuppose that we have turned away from God and God’s ways.  The readings are an invitation to review, assess, evaluate if and how we may have turned away from the God who is always trying to draw us in with forgiveness, mercy, kindness and compassion. The need to return to and embrace the Lord is essential: as Lasallians, “We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.” We are ambassadors in the name of Christ for the world of people to whom God leads us: our students, colleagues, and each other in community.

The Ash Wednesday Gospel from Matthew provides us three concrete examples of how to and how not to “perform righteous deeds”: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. These righteous deeds of generosity, attention and taming our appetites are not meant to be on display for others; rather, they are proposed to set aright our relationships – to edge us ever more closely to loving God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves.  Let us joyfully accept this Lenten season as a vaccine booster shot that the Church gives us to strengthen our immunity against those death-dealing influences that keep us from letting the life and love of Jesus grow in us. Let us pray to the Holy Spirit during this Lenten season to receive resurrection power drawing us out of the darkness and graves in which we might be dwelling.

I have been at Bethlehem University (BU)since August of 2004.  I came to Bethlehem after completing my service at Auxiliary Visitor of LI-NE District. I was asked to consider going to Kenya and India to do formation ministry at this time I was also exploring possibilities at BU. While on an exploratory visit to BU, I happened upon a student smoking a cigarette outside the Brothers’ house on campus.  His name was Yousef.  After brief introductions, I quickly could see that Yousef was angry about something.  As we talked about what was bothering him, I had a sense of God’s presence.  getting ready to leave, Yousef said he hoped I took a job at BU because “students needed someone to talk to.”  I felt this was an invitation from God and told Yousef this.  He lit up and asked, “Do you really think that God would speak to you, a Christian, through me, a Muslim?” Not having known before that Yousef was Muslim, I thought for a moment and said, “Why not?  Can’t God do everything?”

I told some of the Brothers at BU of this experience as well as some of the people with whom I met during the days I visited. They encouraged me to come to BU.  To make a not so long story shorter, I ended up coming to BU; I am now in the 16th year of a 3-year commitment.  During this time, I have taught remedial English (Brooklynese), Developmental Psychology, and have been responsible for campus ministry activities and Lasallian formation. This academic year I was appointed to head the Human Resources and Administrative Affairs Office.

Questions for Reflection

  • In what ways do you find that society encourages you to develop the virtues of vulnerability, humility, and selflessness?
  • When, how, and through whom have I experienced God’s forgiveness, mercy, kindness, and compassion? How have I responded? What difference has it made?
  • What relationships of mine need to be set aright? At this time, which of these proposed righteous deeds might open me to God’s transforming grace? From what grave might I need to be freed?