Prayer and fasting for peace
Other languages: English, Hrvatski
Date: January 24, 2007 , Originally published September 9, 2002
Author: Dr. Fra Slavko Barbarić, OFM
Category: Priests of Medjugorje , Reflections
Content of the article
In the message of September 25, 2001 , Our Lady says:
« … pray and fast that God may give you peace … »
Praying and fasting for peace was the substance of the whole life of Fr. Slavko Barbaric, from the very day he entered in the service of the messages of Our Lady. In his last book: “Fast with the heart”, Fr. Slavko wrote especially on fasting and praying for peace. Let us read some passages from this book:
Mary is the Queen of the Prophets
All the Prophets called for conversion, fasting and prayer as conditions for peace. She does not have any better or different means than those by which the Prophets called to peace, namely: conversion, prayer, fasting and firm faith.
In calling us to fast on two days a week, Mary remains in the tradition of her Israelite nation and reminds us of the multy-century tradition of the Eastern and the Western Church.
While the Second Vatican Council calls everyone to return to “the source”, we must admit that we have not discovered fasting but, instead, the opposite has happened. In the past decades, fasting has been reduced to the least possible mesaure – to two days a year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
The apparitions in Medjugorje have not presented anything new nor have they revealed anything unknown. Instead, they help us accept what God asked for through the prophets – what Mary did and Jesus Himself has done.
In Biblical revelation, fasting is connected with the call to prayer and conversion
Prophets fasted before accepting their service as prophets and before special revelations. Individuals fasted in various circumstances of life – of joy, gratitude, sorrow and sinfulness. Even the entire nation fasted in preparation for certain feasts, to be saved from a catastrophe or to come out of a catastrophe once they had fallen into it.
(Fasting and Visions: Ex 34,27-28; Dt 9,9-11; Dn 10,1-8. Lamentation of Sins: 1 Sm 7,3-6; 1 Kgs 21,20-29; Dn 9,3-5. Fasting in a Time of Sorrow: 1 Sm 31,11-13; 2 Sm 1,11-12; 1 Chr 10,11-12. Prayer and fasting for healing: 2 Sm 12,13-17. Fasting and Inner Healing in an Experience of God: 1 Kgs 19,6-13. Fasting and Danger of War: 2 Chr 20,2-4; Jdt 4,12-13; 1 Mc 3,44.47; 2 Mc 13,11-12; Jon 3,4-9. Prayer and Fasting for a Blessing and a Safe Journey: Ezr 8,21-23. Fasting after Destruction of War: Neh 1,3-4. Fasting after Returning to the True God: Neh 9,1-2. Fasting, Prayer, Almsgiving and Righteousness: Tob 12,8. Life-long Fasting out of Sorrow: Jdt 8,5-6; Lk 2,36-38. Fasting in a Situation Endeangering the poeple: Est 4,1-3.15-16,17k. Fasting in Psalms: Ps 35,13; Ps 69,11-12; Ps 109,24-25; Sir 34,26. The Meaning of Fasting – a New Relationship: Is 58,1-6; Jer 14,11-12; Zeh 7,4-5; Zeh 8,18-19. Fasting and Preparation for Listening to the Word of God: Jer 36,5-7. Responding to the Word of God with Prayer and Fasting: Bar 1,3-6. Fasting and Prayer as a Way out of a Common Sinful State: Jl 1,13-14; Jl 2,12-15; Jesus' Fast: Mt 4,1-11. Jesus Speaks about Fasting: Mt 6,16-18; Lk 18,10-14; Mt 9,14-15; Mk 2,18-20; Lk 5,33-35. Fasting and Prayer Strengthen Faith: Mt 17,20-21. Fasting and Prayer Used Against Satan: Mk 9,25-29. Fasting and Prayer Before Being sent to Serve: Acts 13,2-3; Acts 14,21-23. St. Paul Fasts: 2 Cor 6,3-8; 2 Cor 11,25-28.)
Fasting and Peace
Peace is a fruit of the Spirit.
The deepest longing of man’s heart is actually for peace. In everything we do, whether good or bad, we seek peace. When a person loves, looks for and experiences peace, or even when he hates and wants revenge, he seeks peace. When he stays sober or fights against addiction, he seeks peace. When he becomes drunk, he also seeks peace. When he fights for his life and the lives of those he loves, he realizes peace. Even when he raises his own hand against himelf and commits suicide or kills someone, again he seeks peace. Therefore, every decision of man is, in its essence, a decision for peace. Clearly when good is being done, personal peace and the peace of others are being realized. On the other hand, when evil is being committed, it is a search for one’s own peace at the expense of the peace of others.
Looking at it from yet another perspective, we can see how often we loose peace because we are egotistical, selfish, envious, jealous, avaricious and consumed by power and honour. Experience confirms that through fasting and prayer, evil, egoism, and selfishness are overcome; the heart is opened and love and humility, generosity and goodness grow. Thus, true conditions for peace are realized. Whoever has peace because he loves and forgives also remains spiritually and physically healthy. He remains capable of shaping his own life in a manner worthy of man, who is the most exalted of God’s creatures. Through fasting and prayer, human needs are also diminished and brought to proportion. Also by this, conditions for peace along with a proper relationship with others and material things are being created.
This is why a misunderstanding comes about when fasting is experienced in a negative way, as a renunciation of something: namely, when its benefit is not recognized on the spiritual level. For this reason, it is not possible to speak about replacing fasting with good works or anything else. In this contexte, we can understand why peace is always promised after conversion and after fasting and prayer.
It is, therefore, through fasting that a person comes to understand what he must fight against in himself. In this way, our subconscoius is also freed from everything that drives us to restlessness and disorder. The soul then becomes still and conditions for peace are realized. The following text beautifully presents an image of this battle:
“When a king wants to occupy a city of the enemy he first seizes the water source and stops every supply. When the inhabitants begin to die from hunger and thirst, they surrender to him. This is what it is like with physical cravings: when a religious comes against them with fasting and hunger, the enemies of the soul lose strength.”
Experience clearly confirms that without a battle against internal enemies of peace, it is not possible to come to peace. This is why fasting is a very tried and tested means. This is also why it is not accidental that all of the prophets, together with Jesus and then the entire Church tradition, have called man to fasting and prayer, so that he may open himself to true peace. The problem is that man is inclined to follow the way of false prophets who promise an easy peace that actually does not exist.
Fasting and Prayer
Fasting, prayer and good works are often mentioned together both by Jews and Christians. Prayer does not stand ahead of fasting, and good works independent of them, but as something that binds them from within. The most complete understanding of prayer is particularly offered in its connection with fasting. When we briefly look at what is said about prayer and how it is defined, we can see that the emphasis is naturally more on the state of the heart and soul and less on the body as a possible expression of prayer or of prayer generally.
The answer to the question, “What is prayer?” is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is the definition of St. Therese of the Child Jesus: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” It is also the definition of St. John Damascene: “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requisition of good things from God.”
Primarily, the conversation with God as a spiritual activity is emphasised. However, there is also the practice and the experience that not only thoughts, conversation and spiritual acts on their own are included in prayer, but so is the body. Prayer becomes more complete by means of the body and the movement, which accompanies the words of prayer. The body and its movement support prayer making it more complete and expressive so that it may more easily encompass the entire person.
The unification of the body and soul in prayer are particularly manifested in fasting and prayer. The physical fast makes prayer more complete. A person who fasts prays better and a person, who prays, fasts more easily. In this way, prayer does not only remain an expression or words, but includes the entire human being. Physical fasting is an admission to God before men that one cannot do it alone and needs help. A person experiences his helplessness more easily when he fasts and that is why, by means of the physical fast, the soul is more open to God. Without fasting, our words of prayer remain without a true foundation. In the Old Testament the faithful fasted and prayed individually, in groups and in various life situations. Because of this, they always experiences God’s help. (Cf. Ezr 8,21-23; 2 Chr 20,12) Jesus ascribes a special power to fasting and prayer, especially in the battle against evil spirits (cf. Mk 9,29). The same practice is found in the tradition of the Catholic Church and us most evident in the rules of all orders and religious communities. St. Bernard wrote about the relationship between fasting and prayer saying:
“I will tell you something that you will understand easily and that you have often experiences, if I am not mistaken: fasting gives certainty to prayer and makes it fervent… By means of prayer, strength is gained for fasting and through fasting the grace of prayer. Fasting strengthens prayer and prayer strengthens fasting and offers it to the Lord.”
This is apparent because by means of fasting one becomes more awake and open to God and to what is spiritual. For the same reason, fasting is connected to the Eucharist. While a person practises renunciation and lives for a period of time with bread, he prepares himself for a meeting with the Divine Bread. This exceptional meeting with God, especially in connection with the Eucharist, is evidence of how fasting is positive in itself and how it enables us to realize the fundamental goal of prayer – the meeting of the entire person with God, the Saviour.
In our time, Gandhi is known as a man who fasted and prayed. He said: “My religion teaches me that in every affliction which cannot be alleviated, it is necessary to fast and pray.” Although it is known that Gandhi fasted and prayed with political goals in mind, he deeply believed that only God could change the heart and man’s intentions through fasting and prayer. He believed that with fasting and prayer, man is purified within and frees himself from guilt, which, et the same time, is an expression of solidarity with those who suffer.
From the above, it must be concluded that fasting and prayer are inseparable just as man as a whole, comprised of the spirit, soul and body, is inseparable.
Cf: Fr. Slavko Barbarić: Fast with the heart, Informativni Centar „Mir” Međugorje, 2000
(You can find this book in the Souvenir Shop of the Parish office in Medjugorje)