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.
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