Today is the day of fasting for Catholics requested by Pope Francis for peace in Syria. Given the modern misunderstanding of fasting, it goes without question that some will ask, what good will it do?
Fasting also is not intended to call down the grace of God to convince him to come in and clean everything up all nicely in Syria and make the governments behave humanely. God’s grace does not work that way, we can’t earn it. It is a free gift that he gives, and it is inevitable because we could not live without it. Think of it like a sunrise. A person could get up before the dawn and do a dance and beg the sun to rise, and pretty soon, voilá! The sun is rising. Mission accomplished. But get that person to sit and watch one morning without doing their dance, and sure enough the sun still rises. We can’t earn grace, it’s freely given.
So why fast? There are millions of things that fasting isn’t, but what is it? It’s a spiritual exercise, and a powerful one at that. Simply put, fasting uses the desires of the body to remind us to pray. It sharpens our spiritual awareness. We can easily get spiritually lethargic and dull without even realizing it. Fasting quickly snaps us out of our spiritual daze. Although we don’t earn God’s grace, it does call us into a response of love. When most will say, “why me, I liked my blissful ignorance,” the saint asks “what do I do with this?” Fasting helps keep that in mind.
What in the world does this have to do with Syria then? For one, Pope Francis has called for an end to our global indifference. We’ve become dull to the suffering of the poor around the world. They’re more of a nuisance to us than anything. We in America would rather rant about a pop start twerking than open our eyes to the pain of the poorest of the poor. Pope Francis has it right in calling Catholics to a day of fasting, it’s the most effective and powerful way to snap us out of our apathy and re-sensitize us to the Syrian peoples’ plight. He’s calling for something much greater than for 1 million people to like something on Facebook.