Pope Francis has called for Saturday, 7 September, to be set aside as a day of prayer and fasting for Syria. What does that mean, and how do we prepare for it?
Here in the monastery we think Saturday should be marked by a sense of the gravity of what we are about. Each one of us is called upon to implore the Lord to bring good out of an evil situation, as he wills and as he knows best. We don’t presume to know what the answer should be, but we do know that prayer will make a difference. Our willingness to align our will with God’s, to give time and energy to just being with him, is the most powerful thing we can do. It is an act that relies upon faith and expresses our trust and confidence in him. As a sign of this commitment, we shall be adding an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament to our customary round of liturgical and private prayer.
And what of fasting? In a world where people can talk of a ‘fasting diet’ or stuff themselves into obesity, who really knows what fasting is or understands its spiritual purpose? Yet there is a long history of people fasting from food and drink in order to become more aware of their creaturely dependence upon God. So, on Saturday, we shall fast as we do during Lent, going without food in order to realise more completely our need of God.
Most important of all, however, is the preparation we shall be making before the day of prayer and fasting comes upon us. We shall be reading scripture and pondering how best to spend the day so that it is not just a mechanical process we undergo but something that comes from the heart of each of us. Perhaps everyone who intends to join in the day of prayer and fasting could spend a few minutes today and tomorrow thinking how he/she will spend the day. Syria is not a ‘problem’ to be solved but several million human beings created in the image and likeness of God who are, whether we like it or not, our brothers and sisters, for whom we must pray as we pray for those nearest and dearest to us. That is a challenge we must not fail to meet.