Beirut (AsiaNews) - By asking people to pray and fast for Syria, Francis placed the Church and the whole world in the full theology of history. In a spectacular way, he externalised the internalised Evangelical Revelation that the West has denied but which has prevented its collapse, and prevents it from sinking into moral anarchy, preserving "whatever Christian element that still prevents modern societies from exploding."
This idea comes from René Girard, and inspired the great essayist and journalist Jean-Claude Guillebaud who cited them in an essay titled Comment je suis redevenu chrétien (How I became Christian again), published by Seuil. "The Evangelical Revelation," Guillebaud noted, "has been internalised in Western society for a long time, including by those who think that they are fighting it."
At first glance, in the context of the dominant culture, the decision has something amazing. At a time defined by sarin gas, Tomahawk missiles and Russian SS-30 air defence system, a time when civilians are gassed, prisoners tortured, hostages burnt alive and soldiers thrown from the air, a time when Bashar al Assad is regaining ground, and Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United States and Russia are gambling on the fate of Syria, each in their own self-interest; at such a time is it possible to influence history with passive things like prayer and fasting?
Obviously not, and we must acknowledge this. The pope's appeal does not lead to pacifism, but to another dimension of reality. Neither Obama, Putin, or Bashar al -Assad, nor the arms industry or the petrochemical industry are in this dimension; God, the supreme actor in history, is. By calling on people to pray and fast for Syria, Francis placed the Church and the whole world in the full theology of history.
This is not the first time that a pope has done so. Usually, this must be said, pontiffs preach the "good word"; a version of the Gospel that has been purged of the corrosive, intractable, and even spiritually violent aspects that the word of God can have. However, the Gospel is not just "feel good stuff", something that Francis stressed several times since his election.
Two decisions in particular have placed the Catholic Church and the world in a purely eschatological perspective. In the spring, the pope dedicated his pontificate to Our Lady of Fatima. On 13 October, he will solemnly consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in the spirit of the revelation made in 1917 to the three child shepherds in Portugal.
What did Mary say at Fatima? During her apparitions, she expressed two or three basic principles. First, that God judges nations on their moral conduct. Second, history had multiple causes, like class relations, the lust for power, dynastic games, the struggle to control energy sources, but that God is the primary mover of a set of causes of which he has the secret and that he is still the main mover of the human heart; that God, Mary said, "allows himself to be touched." It goes without saying that the main principle behind the first two is that God really exists, an explosive statement in an age when agnosticism rules.
The pope's call for fasting and prayer should be judged starting from this fact. Throughout the Church's history, praying and fasting have been spiritual weapons wielded in cases of extreme difficulty. By using them last Saturday, on the eve of the feast of the Nativity of Mary, the Pope stressed the urgency of the moment and asserted the primacy of the spiritual over the material, the sovereignty of God over the course of history.
Beyond the war among men, there is, the Church teaches, another war fought against God by an opponent who has no heart, who finds in destruction the same pleasure God has in loving and building. This is the ground on which Francis stands; this is the ground where, with God's weapons, he shall win.
"No more war!" There was nothing magical in Francis's appeal, which was also Paul VI's, who had addressed God and t men. Instead, it was accompanied by an appeal to reason, to conscience. We must avoid the risk of a world war. But parallel to the fight against what is irrational in man, there was a struggle against what is destructive in the cosmos, one to which God has called men.
In the history of the world, there are many examples of extraordinary, unexpected events that are impossible to attribute to chance alone, or to human intervention. One of the latest was the collapse of the Soviet empire (1989), which took place without violence, thanks to a combination of very special circumstances.
We know that this collapse, this inconceivable scuttling, took place a few years after the consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, according to a request made by the Virgin Mary at Fatima in 1917, accompanied by this promise. The Church, of course, has been slow in fulfilling it, but heaven has kept its promise. Let everyone draw their own conclusion.
By placing his pontificate under the protection of Our Lady of Fatima, Francis has thus definitely placed himself on a spiritual plane. Now in continuity with the revelation of Fatima, he has decided to believe truly that "a time of peace will be granted to the world", a second promise made in 1917 by the Virgin Mary, in the continuity of the consecration to her "Immaculate Heart."
In order to counter today's world's all-pervasive yet arid rationalism, which got rid of God after it took over, some would say usurped, his wisdom, the symbolism of the heart has taken back its place.
We should be able to find in that what we need to spell out Francis's call for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, the Middle East, which of course also meant Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, and the world.