There are those who fast for vanity. The pot-belly has grown to intolerability, the handles on one’s sides no longer help loving, the bulges and puffiness make glances in the mirror embarrassing. There are also those who fast for health. The liver tolerates no more fat and carbs, the blood chemistry forbids more of those beloved cakes and chocolates, the heart has no heart for lechon and kare-kare. My suggestion is that this Lent we fast for peace.
Jesus fasted. The Gospels tell of him going into the desert for forty days (Mt. 4:1-11). That is why our Lenten season is forty days. In the desert he grappled with temptations to scuttle his Father’s mission and promote himself. He enhanced his freedom in fasting.
During Lent, we are invited to fast. The prayer of Ash Wednesday petitions the Lord for the grace we need. “Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up the battle against spiritual evils we may be armed with weapon’s of self restraint.”
I suggest we fast for peace. The struggle for peace is a battle against the evils of guns, bombs, violence, killing and death. But it is also a battle against spiritual evils. There are many such evils: instead of faith, pride; instead of hope, despair; instead of love, hatred. From pride comes arrogance. From despair, violence. From hatred, imprudence, bad judgments, folly and war. Moved by these evils, one does not care to listen, one does not need to learn. Instead of being filled with liberating truth, one is filled with one’s pathetic self.
Our prayer is that through fasting we may be armed against these spiritual evils with “weapons of self-restraint.” When there is no self-restraint there is self-abandon. One is victim to one’s whims, one’s arbitrariness, one’s demands for immediate gratification. In self restraint one restrains oneself to find a deeper self. One restrains whims to find certainty, rejects arbitrariness to find reason, denies oneself immediate gratification to find depth.
Through fasting we prepare ourselves more for the battle for peace. Fasting in itself does not produce peace; it produces hunger. But fasting for peace helps those hunger and thirst for justice. Fasting hungers in solidarity with these. For there is no peace without justice. Similarly, fasting hungers in solidarity those who mourn in injustice, those who are merciful, and those persecuted for righteousness. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice” (Mt. 25: 6) “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt. 25:9).
Once, when the disciples were perplexed why they had not been able to cast out a demon, Jesus replied: “This kind of demon doesn’t go except by prayer and fasting” (Mt. 17:21, Mk 9:29). On the arduous path for peace in Mindanao where there has been so much progress in government and MILF working together for peace. We may now be perplexed as to why the war mongers and war demons have not yet been expelled. We may be profoundly disturbed at the evil related with Mamasapano, and horrified how stupidly the custodians of the nation abet and promote the demons of peace. Perhaps the Lord is saying, the extirpation of this kind of demon needs prayer and fasting.
This is fasting that does not just inflict suffering on ourselves for the sake of vanity, but seeks to restrain ourselves from dispensable goods that we may better struggle for indispensable spiritual goods, like, humility, wisdom, compassion and peace. This type of fasting is best done quietly. It need not be posted in Facebook; it need not be tweeted. It need not be disclosed to anyone. “When you fast, don’t be hypocrites. …Anoint your head and wash your face, so that you are not seen by others to be fasting, but by your Father who is in secret, and your father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt. 6:17-18). For peace, fast. For peace, pray.
In fasting for peace, God himself guides us how to fast in a way that shall be fruitful. In Isaiah 58:6-11, he links this kind of fasting with promises of grace.
“Is this not the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke? Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bring the afflicted and homeless into your home, clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh.
“Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall be quickly healed. Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall cry for help, and He will say: “Here I am!”
“If you remove the yoke from among you, the accusing finger and malicious speech; if you lavish your food on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted,
“Then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom shall be like midday;Then the Lord will guide you always and satisfy your thirst in parched places, will give strength to your bones.
“Then you shall be like a watered garden Like a flowering spring whose waters never fail.”
It is a beautiful passage. Fasting for peace is not just hungering and thirsting for justice. It is doing justice, especially when society itself excludes, oppresses, imprisons unjustly, leaves human beings homeless, hungry and naked. It is withdrawing the accusing finger and removing the malicious speech. Such fasting turns you into light which leads “into the path peace” (Lk 1:79), reverses your gloom, satisfies your thirst and restores your strength. Even after Mamasapano. Such fasting makes you a watered garden for peace: “like a flowering spring whose waters never fail.”
Fast for peace.