By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published September 26, 2013
Consequences are the live ingredients that make up the news fodder every second of every day. A live news feed does exactly that. It lives off a ravenous appetite for the consequent nature of events, both good and bad. All actions are eternally consequential. An assassin’s bullets fired one hundred years ago into the bodies of an Archduke and his wife in Sarajevo still spin through the air and inflict death.
Pope Francis recently set aside a day of prayer and fasting as a consequence of the recent gassing of over a thousand men, women and children in Syria. We observed the day here at the monastery, along with people of faith all over the world.
Our own president was weighing the possibility of a retaliatory attack on Syrian military installations. The Russian president warned that his country would send further armaments to Syria as a consequence of an attack by the United States. So the world watched, it waited. And perhaps many wondered. Is military might and power more effective, more persuasive, than fasting and prayer? We are one of the most powerfully armed nations on the earth. And that brings with it a welter of consequences. The equation might equals right seems to absolve us of the unforeseen and terrible consequences of our bullets, our missiles, our retaliations.
Days passed. We fasted, prayed and took note of the news reports as they came in from all over the world. Tensions eased as it became apparent that President Obama had modified his position and President Putin had softened his threat to supply arms. A different path was agreed upon, a path that did not have the use of military force as its point of departure. For the time being, it looks as if a more humane way has been found to find and dispose of chemical weapons.
Was the shift in approach in any way the consequence of prayer and fasting? I do not know. Our ways seem to change when we are in desperate straits, when our actions will spawn consequences that are way beyond our control. Perhaps we are slowly learning that retaliatory strikes have the same effect as fragmentation bombs. We cannot control the damage. Blood, flesh, hatred and the vow to revenge fly in all directions and kill and maim the innocent.
We are called to trust in a way that is foreign to our nature. We are asked to trust in a way that seemingly has no tangible consequences.
Fasting and prayer accomplish nothing in the watchful eyes of many.
Action, military action, trumps the silence of the fast, the saying of prayers. But fasting and prayer have consequences as well. We draw near to a God who asks us to approach him humbly, foregoing food, with a prayerful heart. It is the only way to peace, to his way of life, to his wish for us. And there is a consequence. It is the way that we will discover, a way to each other. It is consequence as gift, with a life outlasting the solutions hoped for by war.
Maybe some day the world will come to the collective realization that we are not the source of the power that is within us. God is the source of all power and if Jesus is a living sign for us as to what to do with power, he only used it for the good. He denounced the use of power insofar as it inflicted harm on others. He taught us that power must be used for life, and not death. Prayer and fasting are ways to curb our nature and to love from the power that lives within us. It is the same love that will save us.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at www.abbeystore.com.