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A Lenten treat

Aidan Mathews, RTÉ producer, playwright and poet has written the online Lenten retreat for Irish Jesuit Communications. IJC chose the theme of  the ‘reign’ or ‘kingdom’ of God as described in Jesus’ parables in the gospel of Matthew. Aidan has previously written and presented a series of Sunday night reflections for radio, based on Matthew’s gospel.  His unique, provocative, sometimes startling style that spoke to the hearts of listeners to RTE 1, is happily evident in this six-week Lenten retreat.

In his introduction to the ‘retreat’ Aidan makes clear it’s a ‘two-edged’ word for him. In his ruminations he uses the word in its military sense, meaning a withdrawal from danger and destruction. “Chaos and confusion, distraction and demoralisation, do not always, thanks be to God, predominate in our lives; but they are constant callers, and we are somewhat perversely attached to their intimations of ultimate meaning.”

He notes then that retreat can be a type of ‘confinement’, which of course can also lead to ‘delivery’. “Words”, he notes, “are as much astray in themselves as we are.” So he kindly warns the potential retreatant:  “If you are looking for clarity and hygienic clear-headedness in what follows, you had better Google another internet site, for we cannot answer the mystery when it questions us. We can only reply, and we do so, when we do so, in the upheaval and downfall of our own baffled existence.”

For those who venture to the first week of the retreat he offers, first, an exercise in stillness. But he looks with suspicion not only on the possibility but also on the reason for attaining it. “It is not about robes. It is not about gongs. It is not about chanting matins or mantras. The time is never right and the place is never perfect. Even the most righteous of rites can deteriorate into trickery and mere technique, for prayerfulness, which fumigates the wistful list above, is always, by definition, a precarious state. We can never coincide completely with ourselves…”

After delving into the Parable of the Sower during this first week, Aidan uses his creativity and freedom of speech to ‘prey’ on the gospel text – agitate it, pluck at it, so to speak. The sower’s way of sowing seed, he insists, is “plain weird and pretty wasteful” – “for Christians, the original texts are the commentaries”. Then he attempts to ‘pray’ on it, a more porous, receptive response, using his own experience in radio: “These days we want absolutely everything we transmit to be thought through, to be targeted, to hit home, to boost a bumper harvest, to capitalise its full potential. But that has nothing to do with the Kingdom of Heaven.” It is through these provocative and thoughtful reflections that retreatants are challenged to see the world with new eyes.

Week One began on Monday, 6 March. Use the banner at the top of this site to go to the Retreat start-page.