I’ve been talking about it for weeks and on Wednesday the CAFOD Walk for Water Challenge finally started. By Tuesday evening I had reached over 80% of my financial target, it was now down to me to put the steps in and hit at least 10,000 steps each day. As I started writing this on Wednesday, Day 1, I had just come in from a 3 mile walk, it rained for the whole duration, but that, added to the steps from earlier in the day took me to more than 18,000 steps. The first day ticked off, but I was wondering how much harder it will be to beat the 10,000 steps target when I have to fit in work as well.

In Lent we often look to fast from things which may be physically unhealthy for us, like chocolate, sweets and cakes, things which we may enjoy like television and from things which are unhelpful for us spiritually like sin. Pope Francis has said that fasting is not just a time to lose a few pounds by losing weight. He encourages us to switch of the television and pick up the Bible. While we are to fast from things which weaken our resolve to be better Christians; we should be feasting on things which build up our faith and allow us to have a more intimate relationship with God.

There are lots of programmes out there, with perhaps this year bringing us far more online resources than ever before as a result of the pandemic; there is something for everyone if you have access to the internet.

For those that do not have access to the internet, perhaps picking up your Missal and spending a few minutes reading the readings of the day from Mass. Sit for a few moments and think what is this telling me? Try and put your self into the readings, what do you see? What do you hear? What does the air smell of? try and immerse yourself in the reading, imagine being there when Jesus preached, or when he challenged the Scribes and Pharisees. Imagine it is you who is reaching out to touch Jesus as He passes by or that wants His shadow to be cast over you as He passes. Imagine His smile as He turns to see you, how do you feel? Then read the scripture passage again, slowly, absorb the words, get to know Jesus personally, just as He knows you and calls you by your name.

This week, in a very short Gospel from St Mark, we have Jesus being driven out into the wilderness by the Spirit, in some translations it says Jesus is ‘at once’ driven out or ‘immediately’ driven out. St Mark’s Gospel is one of action, this passage comes immediately after Jesus’ Baptism, where the voice of the Lord was heard proclaiming that Jesus is His beloved and that we are to listen to Him. This time of temptation or spiritual low follows a time of great joy, it is a message for us that when good things are happening, when powerful things are happening in our lives Spiritually, then the enemy is sure to pop up and try to spoil things; we are to model ourselves on Jesus; we are to do all we can to resist temptation and trust in God; God will provide our protection.

The passage we have from the letter of St Peter links the first reading and the Gospel well. In our first reading we have the story of Noah, which we are all familiar with. In the reading from Genesis, we are reminded that God made a Covenant and promised that He would not destroy the earth by flood again. St Peter links the saving from the waters of the eight people on the ark with how everyone can be saved through Baptism. St Peter says that our Baptism does not wash away physical dirt, but the dirt which sin causes in our life. This is a strong reminder that we can all be saved through our Baptism if we let God work in our lives. This is a message we hope to share with the parents and Godparents of the children taking part in the Baptism Preparation programme this weekend.

Now that we have started Lent, I am looking for ways of feasting on Scripture, to help me build a more intimate relationship with Jesus. I normally increase my daily prayers by adding to the Morning Prayers and Evening Prayers of the Church (which are a requirement of being a Deacon), to this I add the Office of the Church each morning and as I need to get the steps in for the challenge I walk while I pray these prayers. As I said last week, I have started reading a short daily reflection called ‘Walk with Me’, these things require time to complete, so something has to give and for me this year I will be watching less television to create the space to put my relationship with Jesus front and centre. This will be a real challenge for me as I am a bit of a couch potato, so far we have only turned the television on to watch films with a Christian theme, either based on the Bible or which highlight Christian values.

So while we contemplate Jesus’ time in the wilderness, we look at our own lives and ask ourselves what part of our lives are like a desert experience? Are there aspects of my life where I feel alone or lost? If so, where can I turn to so that I am accompanied in my wilderness? As Christians we look towards Jesus and the examples of His disciples. When Jesus was alone, He prayed, He turned to His Father and He never lost confidence that His Father was there for Him. Jesus used His time in the desert to build Himself up for His mission; as the Spirit drove Him out into the desert, the Spirit accompanied Him. The times when we are struggling can be times which we can extract energy, these times can toughen us up knowing that God is always with us.

As we are all only too aware, this past year has been devastating to many families. The virus has caused so much distress. This does not just affect the families of those who have died because of the virus. There are people in our community who are in their own wilderness today. Some may have serious health problems and are unable to be visited by family members who are fearful of passing the virus on to them. Others may be grieving the loss of a loved one, but again are unable to have the physical support of friends and family and are left to try and grieve in a manner which is alien to us. I pray that everyone affected either directly or indirectly by this virus can take comfort in knowing that Jesus spent time in the wilderness, Jesus understands the isolation, Jesus understands your pain, Jesus, innocent as He is, took on our sins and died so that we can all have eternal life and live with Him in a place where there is no more sorrow, no more pain and no more tears.

I pray that all of us can take comfort and encouragement in the words spoken by Jesus in today’s Gospel “The time has come, and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.”

Please keep in your prayers this week

  • Those who are in their own personal wilderness at this time, that they are able to experience the love of God and the love of their neighbour.
  • All those who are sick, all those who care for them and all Key workers who are striving to keep us safe.
  • For all victims of violence, grant protection Lord to the innocent and prompt all who would hurt others to repent and seek help for their violent urges.
  • For the seven families taking part in the Baptism Preparation Programme, that they live up to the promises they will make on behalf of their children.
  • Our doctors, nurses, care workers and health workers who are under extreme pressure, we ask for their protection.
  • For all those taking part in the Walk for Water campaign, that we all have the strength to overcome any physical ailments.
  • For those suffering from Domestic abuse in our local area that they will have the strength and courage to seek support
  • For those who do not believe in God, that this Lent and Easter will open their eyes to the magnificent wonder of our Creator.
  • For all those taking part in the online Alpha course, may they be encouraged to enter a deeper relationship with God through prayer.
  • For all those in our Parish and Diocese who are preparing to come into the Church or to receive Sacraments, many of whom would normally have attended the Rite of Election yesterday. We pray that their preparations are blessed by the grace of God and the support in prayer of their friends, families and fellow Parishioners.
  • For the success of the RCIA course next Wednesday, that all those attending will gain an understanding and develop a love for the Liturgy and Sacraments of the Church.

Once again, I thank those who have sponsored me on my Walk for Water Challenge in aid of Cafod. If you would like to sponsor me, please go to Deacon Tony’s Walk for Water Challenge | Walk for Water | CAFOD

All donations are greatly appreciated and as always if you are unable to financially support me or the others taking part your prayers are very welcome.