The Church frequently encourages the custom of fasting and the Pope has designated specific days of fasting a number of times, such as days of fasting for peace in the world.
However, when this topic comes up, we might wonder, “How is it possible that my fasting will stop a war? What does what I eat or don’t eat have to do with world peace?”
While it may seem unlikely that fasting could stop a far-away war, there are some deep theological truths at play here. And, in fact, we know fasting has helped in the past, even the recent past.
Pope Francis’ past appeals for fasting
Giovanni Marcotulliowrote in an article for Aleteia how Pope Francis’ 2013 appeal for prayer and fasting helped calm down the Syrian war.
The conflict [in Syria] was close to making the local bonfire of war ignite a global conflagration, presaging terrifying post-atomic scenarios. Pope Francis took recourse then as well to fasting and prayer. “This kind of demon,” Jesus said, “cannot be cast out if not by fasting and prayer.” (Matthew 17:21)
While the war in Syria didn’t immediately end that night, the conflict didn’t erupt into something much more terrible.
The spiritual power of fasting
Marcotullio then explains in his article why fasting in particular can be beneficial.
Why accompany faith and prayer with fasting? There are various reasons; here, I try to list a few (without pretending to cover all the bases):
- Fasting bends man’s pride, and every war is born from someone’s pride: by fasting, we recognize that we are brothers of the proud, and that we are proud like our warmonger brothers, so we ask God to convert all of our hearts;
- Fasting leads us to humble prayer, so we don’t put ourselves on a pedestal with respect to others: the Pharisee who Jesus described in the parable fasted, yes, three times a week, but by boasting of it, he made it a vain gesture; he emptied it of its sacrificial significance and—so to speak—he reneged on it.
- Fasting leads those who do it to express compassion toward the direct victims of violence and of war: We have no merit if we are “on the right side” of the world; not only that, perhaps its our very being “on the right side” that makes us in some way a cooperating cause of the suffering of others;
- Fasting breaks the dynamics of consumption, it brings us back to the essentials, and it shows us that we can live even without all of those things that the opulence of our world induces us to consider “essential”: then, our eyes are opened to the prospect of an essentially sober lifestyle, learning an integral ecology that restores to the (often overused) phrase “fair and solidary” to its highest destiny, which is Paradise.
In a spiritual way, fasting can help us personally, as well as the global community, understand the necessity of peace.
Fasting puts us into a particular disposition that cries out to God, begging him to change the hearts and minds of those involved in war.
Above all it comes down to trust: trusting that God can work miracles and that our prayers really do have an effect in the world.