Blow the trumpet in Zion! proclaim a fast, call an assembly… Joel 2:15
In his remarks following the midday recitation of the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square last Sunday in Rome, Pope Francis called the whole church to a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria and the whole world.
This is not the ritual fast before we receive the Eucharist, to sharpen our hunger, to hone our senses to experience more deeply the reception of Christ’s Body and Blood. This is not the traditional fast of Lent, to do penance for our sins, to toughen our feet for the journey. This fast is a call to throw ourselves on the mercy of God, keening for the brokenness of the Body of Christ that has brought us — again — to the brink of war.
Ancient Israel was beset by a plague of locusts that threatened to turn the land they likened to Eden into a desolate wasteland. The prophet Joel urged them to gather, to pray, and to fast. Sound the horn in Zion!
Pope Leo the Great, reflecting on this reading from Joel in the fifth century, reminded us that such devotional fasting can be a way of healing, a way of helping us to trust in God’s patient mercy, of opening our hearts to God’s generous gifts. Fasting in hopes of justice and peace is not just for ancient Israel, declared Pope Leo, but something the Church should continue to embrace.
Fasting, even for a day, binds me more deeply to those whose lives are in tumult as a result of war and injustice. It’s an ever-present reminder that we all bear the responsibility for peace.
Still, why fast, what difference can a private, personal act make in the face of forces beyond my control, I wonder. Why not a Twitter campaign or a call to write letters to your congressman or prime minister? Or even, why not fast and make noise in the public square?
In his encyclical Pacem in Terris, Pope John XXIII made it clear that we are each responsible for doing what we can to forge anew the relationships between countries and peoples in the light of justice and love. Fasting, even for a day, binds me more deeply to those whose lives are in tumult as a result of war and injustice. It’s an ever-present reminder that we all bear the responsibility for peace. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
I will miss my morning yogurt and tea on Saturday, and no doubt will find it difficult to pass up the treats at the farmer’s market. But I will heed the trumpet that Pope Francis has sounded, calling us to fast and pray that as God once did for Israel, He will do again for His people, and the threshing floors will be full of grain, the vats spilling over with new wine and oil (Joel 2:34).
I pray that the Lord will bless His people with peace. As Pope Francis has said:
“May the plea for peace rise up and touch the heart of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and let themselves be led by the desire for peace.
To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.”