September 6, 2013

Archdiocese to pray and fast for peace on Sept. 7

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Archbishop Josesh W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.Last Sunday, Pope Francis called the Catholic Church throughout the world to mark Saturday, Sept. 7, as a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, the Middle East and throughout the world. He also invited members of other religions, and all people of good will, to participate in this initiative in whatever way they can.

Through his heartfelt words during the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, the Holy Father united himself clearly with the anguish of suffering people across the globe but, especially, with the victims of the bloody civil war in Syria.

He did not mince words in condemning the obscenity of that slaughter, particularly, the apparent use of chemical weapons that resulted in the massacre of hundreds, including many innocent children. However, he will not allow that tragedy to justify the additional violence that would result from the intervention of other nations, including the United States.

Rather, Pope Francis uses the terrible images of war and the specter of an ever-widening circle of violence to remind each of us of our responsibilities, first, as human beings and then, as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis repeated the teaching of Blessed John XXIII who, 50 years ago, wrote that it is the responsibility of every individual to work for peace by establishing new relationships in this world “under the mastery of guidance of justice and love” (“Pacem in Terris,” #30-32). Peacemaking, then, is not simply the task of those in government or delegates at the United Nations. Rather, all of us have the responsibility for ending conflict. As a song asks of God: Let there be peace on Earth … and let it begin with me.

As disciples of Jesus, our peacemaking includes constant prayer for the sake of this world. Noting the particularly grave situation of the Middle East, Pope Francis has called for special prayer and fasting on Sept. 7, the day before the Church celebrates the birth of Mary. I wonder whether an incident from the ministry of Jesus may have motivated this request?

The Gospels recall the Apostles’ failure to expel a demon that was tormenting a young boy. After Jesus frees the child, the Apostles ask him to explain why they could not do it. Jesus replies, “This kind can only come out through prayer” (Mk 9:29). Some versions add “and fasting.” In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus attributes the failure of the disciples to expel the demon to their lack of faith (cf. Mt 17:14-20; Lk 9:37-43).

I believe that Pope Francis is calling us to a greater faith, a faith that “works.” Even to the most generous of souls, the pursuit of world peace can appear elusive, frustrating and futile. It is, if it all depends on us.

Our faith tells us that peace is finally God’s gift and God’s desire. We do not have to bribe or cajole God into bestowing it. We are asking God to help us to forgive our violence, especially the unquestioning confidence that bloodshed will end bloodshed. There are demons that will only be cast out by prayer and fasting.

How does the archdiocese intend to respond to this request of Pope Francis? Although the Holy Father has given us less than a week to prepare, I believe that we will be able to get the message out through Internet and e-mail.

So I am asking all parishes to schedule a special period of prayer on Saturday afternoon, Sept. 7, in solidarity with the prayer vigil that will be celebrated in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Deaneries may designate a parish or eucharistic chapel where the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed next Saturday afternoon and special prayer conducted.

Finally, at the vigil Mass this Saturday afternoon or evening, parishes will be permitted to substitute the Mass for the Perseveration of Peace and Justice in place of the Mass for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. (Related: Archdiocese assigns places and time of prayer for peace on Sept. 7)

The Holy Father also encourages that we fast on Saturday. According to our tradition, on fast days a person is permitted to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may also be taken, but not to equal a full meal. People unable to accept such a discipline because of age or health, might choose to fast from TV, radio or the Internet on Sept. 7.

As we heed the request of Pope Francis to invoke God’s great gift of peace on Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world, let us ask Mary to help us to respond to violence, to conflict and war, with the power of dialogue, reconciliation and love.

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.
Archbishop of Indianapolis

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