In 2002, following the terrorist attacks of “911,” Pope John Paul II called for a Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace in the same way that Pope Francis has called the Church to pray and fast for peace in Syria on Saturday, September 7th. In preparation for the day on 2002, the Holy See and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published guidelines. The following reflections on Fasting for Peace are adapted from those guidelines.
Why fast for peace?
Fasting expresses sorrow, like the sorrow our world has suffered in the face of such horrors. Yet fasting also changes hearts. By abstaining from what is not essential, we are led to turn from selfishness and sin and cling only to our Heavenly Father. Fasting is not just about turning away from food, but turning more certainly to God and to his will for us. By fasting, a person admits with trusting humility that only in God can we find peace, only in God can we learn how to love. Finally, fasting can help us to grow in love for our sisters and brothers in need. By fasting from our abundance, we are moved to share our daily bread with the poor.
How do I fast?
Fasting consists of eating only one meal, or taking only bread and water, or even waiting until sundown before eating. Our fasting should be accompanied by prayer for all the victims of violence and a serious examination of conscience on the Christian commitment to the cause of peace. We will pray for peace for those who know no peace, for children whose have been orphaned, for spouses who have been widowed, and for all who are afraid or wounded by the violence of these sad days.
What is the effect of Fasting?
From the Holy See ‘s Guidelines on Fasting*:
"Following the biblical tradition, the Fathers held fasting in high esteem. In their view, the practice of fasting made the faithful ready for nourishment of another kind: the food of the Word of God (cf. Mt 4:4) and of fulfillment of the Father’s will (cf. Jn 4:34). Fasting is closely connected to prayer, it strengthens virtue, inspires mercy, implores divine assistance and leads to conversion of heart. It is in this double sense -- imploring the grace of the Almighty and profound inner conversion -- that we are called to accept Pope Francis’ invitation to fast on 7 September. For without the Lord’s help it will not be possible to find a solution to the tragic situation now facing the world, and it is hard to see how terrorism will be tackled at its roots without a conversion of hearts.
"The practice of fasting looks to the past, present and future: to the past, as a recognition of offences committed against God and others; to the present, in order that we may learn to open our eyes to others and to the world around us; to the future, in order that we may open our hearts to the realities of God and, by the gift of divine mercy, renew the bond of communion with all people and with the whole of creation, accepting the responsibility which each of us has in history."