Friday, July 17, 2015

Fasting Did It

I think Ramadam ends tomorrow. A couple of years ago a rather distraught Italian lady came to see me, she was upset, she didn't come to Mass here or anywhere else in England, though, "I go the time in Napoli", "... but I sent my boys to Catholic school, they went to Mass and Confession there, now they have both becoming Muslims and they are telling me I should become Muslim and Maria my daughter should become a Muslim and cover her hair!"

To listen to her it would seem that everyone at our local Catholic secondary was becoming Muslim, certainly it is not just her sons but one or two other lads I know, who come from not exactly 'sacrament hungry' families have embraced Islam.

I was a bit shocked a few months ago when amongst the crowd coming out of the local mosque a bearded figure greeted me with 'Hello, Father, you gave me my First Holy Communion'. I think he was another lad with Italian, Portuguese or Spanish ancestory, who had received First Communion but probably not his second, the interesting thing he was with three or four other rather western looking young Muslim men in their teens, who didn't really want to be seen talking to me but didn't seem too ill at ease in calling me 'Father'.

The Italian lady told me about how her boys became Muslims. They had been teasing a Muslim friend about his Ramadam fasting, so he challenged them to fast with him, they did and after a few days they had started breaking the daily fast with a group Muslim men and discussing the Koran with them, and a little later they were praying with them and going to the mosque with them.

The mother was convinced it was the fasting that did it!

One of our great post-Concilliar lacks, is fasting and abstinence. One of the things we in England and Wales should be grateful to Bishop Kieran Conry for, was his pressing the restoration Friday abstinence amongst their Lordships. Amongst the teaching of the Fathers prayer is always accompanied by fasting and abstinence. A friend staying here for a few days respite from Greece, told me of Greek monks sermon which contained the memorable line, 'For a life of prayer, three things are necessary, control of the tongue, control of the genitals, control of the stomach'.

Fasting, sexual continence and silence are all much easier than real prayer but they are necessary adjuncts to prayer. They are also very attractive to competitive young men.

Jesus fasted, he encouraged his disciples to fast, "some demons are only driven by prayer and fasting", he said that his disciples would fast when he, the bridegroom, was taken away. Throughout Europe under the encouragement of Pius XII, fasting before feasts and during Lent were relaxed to the point where they were more or less abolished. He had very early on in his reign reduced the ancient Eucharistic fast from midnight to a three hours before reception. In most religious communities the lent from Holy Cross to the Nativity had long been more or less forgotten. The liturgical reforms removed the Ember Day fasts, and following Pius' lead the Eucharistic was reduced to what we have today.

I was recently shown the penitential instruments of a Russian hermit in France used, he died in the 1950s and offered up his penance for his brothers in the Gulags and for an end to Communism. There were heavy spiked chains to go over the shoulders, a rough spiked wooden boards for the chest and back and another spiked chain to go round waist, these would have weighed 30/40 pounds, and there was a chained discipline, like the Capuchins once used.

There was a time when practically every serious Catholic practiced some form of penitential discipline.


Oakes Spalding said...

I find the first part of your story incredibly sad and actually quite frightening.

Romulus said...

Last night I suggested to my pastor that in view of recent events the bishops of the United States ought to embrace fasting and abstinence for themselves -- in reparation for pastoral failure at the episcopal level over many decades. Other clergy and religious and lay people could be invited to join in solidarity.

I am fasting right now.

Fr Ray Blake said...

It is very sad but if we are rootless the tree will fall.

Genty said...

What the terrible story also indicates is that boys and young men thrive on rules and the stricter the better, because they respond to a challenge. Sadly, they have been bereft of this in their Catholic-lite schools.
I would be interested to know if the Italian lady is a single mother. It is claimed that the sure-fire way of keeping lads in the Faith is to have a practising father.

Unknown said...

"Fasting, sexual continence and silence are all much easier than real prayer ..." It seems the opposite to me. It seems so much easier to pray than to fast. Maybe I am not understanding what real prayer is though.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Total abandonment to God

Jacobi said...


You describe one of the results of the collapse of faith amongst bishops and clergy, post- Vatican II. All in contrast to a resurgent aggressive Islam which I am sure fully intends to include Europe in the Caliphate one way or another, over the next 20/50 years. European governments and the Church simply have not yet grasped this – or at least dare not admit it.

If I may raise the other point you mention. The abolition, effectively, of fasting before Holy Communion is one of the main factors in the current attack on the Real Presence. The re-introduction of at least the three hour fast would solve so many problems, including the routine thoughtless queuing up of some 98% of the congregation, and it would give those in a state of (objective) mortal sin i.e., contraceptors adulterers, active homosexuals, the greedy, the slothful, the proud, etc., an excuse to stay in the pews and not be embarrassed.

Michael Petek said...

I can't figure out how anyone could convert to Islam in good faith.

There's absolutely nothing in the Islamic belief system, nor on the record of the history of the Arabs and their neighbours, that God appeared to Muhammad and his companions for all the people to see as He did to the Israelites on Mount Sinai - thus there is nothing to validate Islam as having anything to do with public revelation.

For sixty years following the reported death of Muhammad, neither the Arabs nor the people they conquered ever mentioned that they had a prophet, a holy book and a new religion.

There is no moral certainty that the Caliphs and the Arab Empire were confessionally Muslim at any time before the reign of Abd al-Malik.

The first manual of Islamic law was compiled 150 or so years after Muhammad died - yet there is absolutely no sign in it of judicial processing, no indication at all that the Caliphal judiciary had decided any cases on the basis of Islamic law.

Jane said...

I have just finished reading `The Shed that Fed a Million Children` in which Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder of the hugely successful Mary`s Meals charity, speaks of his work as a fruit of Medugorje. Whatever may be the truth about Medugorje, the fact is that its devotees fast twice a week on bread and water. Magnus and his family undertook this discipline for several years before Mary`s Meals was born; the charity now feeds over a million hungry children daily in their place of education. This is the simplest of solutions to poverty with a large and growing number of supporters. It grew out of prayer and fasting for love of Our Lady.

John Vasc said...

By coincidence, just before reading this I chanced on a story in the German daily broadsheet, Die Welt about the recent large fall in membership of the Catholic Church in Germany.

"Never have So Many [Germans] Left the Catholic Church"

"218,000 [German] Catholics abandoned the Church in 2014...representing nearly 1% of its [national] membership.
[Btw - Figures are presumably based on formal notifications given to the tax office. The first table on the page gives official membership in millions.]
"Attendance at Sunday Mass has risen slightly from 10.8% to 10.9% - for decades it had been falling. There is also a slight increase in baptisms and weddings. That figure too had been falling for many years.
"Cardinal Marx, the head of the [German]* Bishop's Conference said that the high number of people leaving made the bishops 'painfully aware that we are not reaching people with our message.' The resignations are the result of 'personal life-choices that we regret, although we respect their freely-made decisions.'
"There are striking regional differences. Catholics in the eastern dioceses [Goerlitz, Erfurt, Dresden-Meissen[=regions of the ex-communist GDR] remain the keenest German Mass-attenders, with Berlin, Hildesheim, Essen and Aachen at the bottom, with only 8.5% going to Sunday Mass.
"The number of parish churches, active priests and funerals was also reduced.
"For Cardinal Marx, despite the high number of Catholics leaving, the statistics show that 'Church+ has many different shapes and has a missionary power', and with its various kinds of commitment it continued to be an important, active part of an open and pluralistic society. He thanked all Catholics who participate (clergy, laity, organizations, Caritas etc). 'For the Church lives with, through and for the people. The joy in faith and the energy of Pope Francis are a great help to us in this.' Together with the Pope, the Church in Germany wanted to be a Church of 'new departure,# that involves itself in society, for the sake of human beings and of God.' "
[My translation - Comments I'll leave to others.]

*Curious that the word 'German' is nowhere used, in a national newspaper of international standing. (Almost as if 'the Catholic Church' is German... ;-)
+'Church' is a cult neo-German term for 'the Church' used largely by modernists and anti-authoritarian lay activists.
#'Aufbruch' is another cult word, this time from the postwar 1920s, meaning a new movement, a radical break with tradition.

JARay said...

I have observed Friday fasting and abstinence for at least the last ten years. I am all in favour of that at least. I have a son who lives with me and he follows the same routine. It should never have been abandoned.

John Fisher said...

I don't understand how anyone can convert to Islam> Once they do they can never leave and as the Koran says must be killed by Moslems if they do. Are they so unthinking they don't read hadith's or Koran and see what Islam is! I know Islam has mutated and they filter out bits they don't find appealing! How can anyone follow a belief system or example of such a corrupted, violent, debauched and tyrannical religious political despot? Why admire Moslem fasting? They are allowed to stuff their faces after sundown and before dawn. Its not a fast its simply binge eating with a religious veneer!

Paul Hellyer said...

It's not just the fasting that has been eliminated its the Teaching that the Catholic Church is the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ. God made man for us. From this truth flows the desire and rationale for fasting. Sadly our clergy treat the Catholic Church as just another religion among many. Only when we stop having liberal clergy from Pope down will the true religion be seen as a lamp set on a hill for all to see. . .

Paul Hellyer said...

Added point. The muslim will tell the prospective convert that his religion is the Truth. Catholics have abandoned this approach. Catholics no longer say that Christ is the Truth and the Way and that He founded only One Church. That all other religions are false. That other churches like CofE are false, man made creations to suit human weaknesses. Protestantism is sadly seeping into the Catholic Church. See the shuffling lines for Holy Communion and the empty confessionals. Communion in the hand while standing need I say more You all know it. . .

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...

What a strange story. Who would rather fast till sunset (at which point they can gorge themselves silly till sunrise) for a month rather than simply hold-fast to their Saviour? But I guess that's the fruits of ecumenism.

Victoria said...

The re-introduction of at least the three hour fast would solve so many problems, including the routine thoughtless queuing up of some 98% of the congregation...

Jacobi if some of the people presenting themselves for Holy Communion aren't in the state of grace what makes you think that they are fasting before presenting themselves?

Liam Ronan said...

"...What the sower sows is the word. Those by the way-side are those who have the word sown in them, but no sooner have they heard it than Satan comes, and takes away this word that was sown in their hearts..." Mark 4:14-15

Practice the spiritual and corporal works of Mercy, pray the Rosary daily. More sever fasts and penances are not infrequently practices suggested by the devil to the soul so as to foster pride or discouragement.

Trust in God and pray.

Pater Raphael said...

Yes it is a sad story of these young lads from traditional Catholic origins becoming Moslems. But why the surprise? They were not converted by the dogmas or teachings of Islam, at least at first, but by the Praxis. That was possible because it is impressive, at least by those school comrades who were fasting and practicing their faith. Where do young Catholic children find that in their own religious brothers and sisters.... probably nowhere! Not even the "Catholic light" faith of the post Vat-II years.
I am also a convert, from CofE to the Church - 29 years ago now - and although I was a believing and praying Christian as an Anglican, even as a teen I saw that the majority of my fellow Anglicans did not practice their faith at all and even those that did go the Church on Sundays - a tiny minority - the rest of the week being a Christian or an Anglican meant (as far as life praxis went) really nothing at all.
Thus I searching for a more faithful form of Christianity discovered the Church. through reading good books, including of all things the complete documents of Vat-II, and having meant a very good priest for instruction, I soon realised that if Christianity was true, a) only the Church could be "real" Christianity, & b) being a Catholic meant changing my lifestyle and living differently.
I became a Catholic and am now a monk and a priest too. But it was only shortly after becoming catholic that I realised that 90% of my fellow Catholics were exactly the same as the Anglicans I had left behind. And even that 10% which still went to Mass on Sundays a good majority were living in mortal sin, did not believe in the greater part of our faith and neither did they know much of the content of the faith.

So don't be surprised by these lads. Despite having nominally Catholic families, going to nominally Catholic schools and receiving first Communion, they neither knew the faith, believed the faith nor practiced the faith; they had nothing in comparison to the belief, confidence and praxis of their Islamic school mates.

As a priest I see this daily. Years of vapid and empty sermons together with careless and respectless liturgies and no catechesis has left the nominally Catholic people open to any other convincing faith, whether Islam, the free-Church sects, New Age movements or Atheism.

There is only one answer to this: a) Pray, b) practice your faith strictly and openly, c)know the content of the faith!

To quote Cardinal Newman : Orthopraxis leads always to Orthodoxy, but not necessarily the other way around.

KitKatCot said...

I thought, on reading about fasting, that is something their own church will teach them... but no... I'm just thinking about my own childhood 50 years ago. How things have changed.

John Vasc said...

We had a regime of Lenten fasting in E&W until WW2, when it was abolished and never re-imposed, not even after rationing had ended in the mid-1950s.
Cardinal Heenan abolished abstinence in 1967 with the disappointingly defeatist comment: "It is questioned whether it is advisable in our mixed society for a Catholic to appear singular in this matter." (Typical of the times - the world was 'too much with us'...and became the reference point.) Anthropologist Dame Mary Douglas responded crisply: "Dispensing with such shared symbols would not make self-denying acts more likely or more intelligible."
I have observed and felt this to be true. The act must be simply understood, collective, and involve the renunciation of 'gula', gluttony: the insidious entry point for all other deadly sins in the opinion of the early Greek Fathers.
The Orthodox have no such qualms about 'appearing singular'. We could do far worse than share their well-codified fasting rules for Lent (and Advent). Or we should revert to our own pre-WW2 rules.
It was something of a miracle that Friday abstinence was re-introduced in E&W - I assumed at the time it must have been at the urging of our beloved Holy Father Pope Benedict. Certainly there were few explanations offered by the hierarchy for its re-instatement- a brief pamphlet, I recall, and no sermons or pastoral letters - unless perhaps I was away on holiday when one was read out. The need for penitence was not really addressed then or since.
But surely it is the collective act of the group that strengthens both the will and the outward and evangelizing effect of such a practice.
To me, this is one with the reversion to celebrating and attending our main Holy Days of Obligation on the weekdays on which they fall.

NBW said...

Ecumenism has done much damage. We can still pray for a reconversion of those boys and others who have left the faith. We must fast and pray for bishops and priests who are serving the faithful a watered down faith.

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...