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An Exclusive Interview - Matthew, A Catholic Life

Today I have the pleasure of introducing Matthew from A Catholic Life. He's a Third Order Dominican from Chicago and an expert on Catholicism, with an emphasis on Traditional Fasting.

Matthew was gracious enough to take the time to do an interview with us on Traditional Fasting, and I have to say—man does he know his stuff!

Whether your own knowledge on what fasting is and why we should do it is sparse or robust, I guarantee you that you'll not only learn something in this interview, but that you'll be glad you read it.

Without further ado, here's the interview!

1) So, you're Catholic. Were you always Catholic? If not, how did you enter into the faith? How has your faith grown over time? Can you tell us of any struggles you've had with it along the way?

I grew up in a family that was not religious – my father was a fallen away Catholic and my mother was raised by anti-Catholic protestants who did not believe in needing to do anything so she never went to a church. As a child in elementary school, my mom would occasionally try out different churches to see which ones she liked the best. I remember her going to a handful of protestant ones and never really liking any of them.

It was not until after September 11th that my family started to really look more at practicing the Faith. There was a Catholic Church in our town and I wanted to go there and be part of that. I started attending Mass with my Dad in 2002, who at that time returned to practicing the Faith. One of the main draws for me was honestly Lent. Seeing people believe in a religion enough to give up certain foods on certain days of the week meant something to me. It meant that people believed in something. And I felt a sense of community there that I never felt elsewhere. At this point, I was early in high school and I began RCIA with my mother. We ultimately came into the Church and received our Sacraments in 2004. And ever since then, I’ve spent time studying the Faith and living it out. The Faith is truly a gift and I’m grateful to have found it. Had it not been for great Catholic resources online, I would not have been able to continue learning the Faith. I highly credit the website of fisheaters.com which was instrumental for me.

After converting, I created https://acatholiclife.blogspot.com in 2005 and have since then, to a greater degree over time, worked at spreading the Faith. I became a Dominican Tertiary around 2014 and now work nearly full time on writing, teaching, and catechizing. Everyday I am thankful for our Lord for making this possible for me.

2) What are 3-5 of the biggest myths and misconceptions Catholics themselves have about fasting, and why?

There are many myths. First, most people have no idea what fasting is. They often confuse fasting with abstinence from meat. They are different laws. Secondly, many people are not sure what fasting even entails. Some think it entails eating no food at all. Some think it means only bread and water. Others think it means eating one meal a day but indulging at the one meal. None of these are right. Hence I remind people the following:

Fasting: Fasting refers to how much food we eat. It means taking only one meal during a calendar day. The meal should be an average-sized meal as overeating at the one meal is against the spirit of the fast. Fasting generally means that the meal is to be taken later in the day. Along with the one meal, up to two snacks (technically called either a collation or frustulum) are permitted. These are optional, not required. Added up together, they may not equal the size of the one meal. No other snacking throughout the day is permitted. Fasting does not affect liquids, aside from the Eucharistic Fast which is a separate matter.

Abstinence: Abstinence in this context refers to not eating meat. Meat refers to the flesh meat of mammals or fowl. Beef, poultry, lamb, etc. are all forbidden on days of abstinence. Abstinence does not currently prohibit animal byproducts like dairy (e.g. cheese, butter, milk) or eggs, but in times past they were prohibited. Fish is permitted along with shellfish and other cold-blooded animals like alligators. In times past, days of fasting were always days of abstinence as well; however, not all days of abstinence were days of mandatory fasting.

Partial Abstinence: Partial Abstinence refers to eating meat only at the principal meal of the day. Days of partial abstinence do not permit meat to be eaten as part of the collation or the frustulum. Partial abstinence started only in 1741 under Pope Benedict XIV as a concession and as part of a gradual weakening of discipline. Beforehand, days of abstinence were days of complete abstinence.

Fasting, therefore, refers to the quantity of food and the frequency of eating. Abstinence refers to what may or may not be eaten.

3) What are 3-5 things you would recommend every Catholic should do while fasting in order grow deeper in their faith, and why?

First, you must pray more while fasting. If you do not pray more while fasting, it is just a diet and not a fast. Second, all days of fasting must be days of abstinence. The Church has always understood it this way. Not all days of abstinence are those of fasting, but all days of fasting are those of abstinence. Third, do more than the Church requires. To this end, I make an annual fasting calendar (https://acatholiclife.blogspot.com/search/label/Fasting%20Calendar) listing all obligatory, previously obligatory, and devotional days of fasting and abstinence. Do of course the minimum of the Church and each year strive to do more for the love of God.

4) Let's say someone stumbles upon your blog for the first time. What post(s) would you say they should listen to first that would make them want to come back?

I have a collection of some of my best blog articles with a tag for this purpose. Anyone who would like to see the best articles, of which quite a few are on fasting and abstinence, should see https://acatholiclife.blogspot.com/search/label/**Best%20Blog%20Articles

5) What are some of the causes you believe to be behind why fasting went from being thought of as so important to now being almost an afterthought for many people?

Long before the liberalism and modernism of our era, mankind continued to give in because fasting is hard. The decline of fasting can be described as death by a thousand dispensations. When dispensations would be granted for certain days, from certain foods, and to certain people, people would latch onto it and not want to let it go. And more dispensations would occur over the decades and centuries. And that is who we went from fasting 1/3 of the year (and abstaining from meat 2/3 of the year) to so few days of fasting and/or abstinence now.

6) What are 3-5 of the most significant benefits Catholics can hope to reap if they make regular fasting a part of their faith?

St. Thomas Aquinas writes that fasting is practiced for a threefold purpose: “First, in order to bridle the lusts of the flesh… Secondly, we have recourse to fasting in order that the mind may arise more freely to the contemplation of heavenly things…Thirdly, in order to satisfy for sins...’”

In conjunction with these, you will find that fasting will free up your day. You will have more time for prayer. You will have more money to donate or use on something other than food. You will have more mental clarity. While fasting is always hard at first, it gets easier after a few days into a fast. And since you are offering God an actual sacrifice and you can apply those merits, if you do so in the state of Grace, to souls, you are truly making a difference.

St. Basil the Great also affirmed the importance of fasting for protection against demonic forces: “The fast is the weapon of protection against demons. Our Guardian Angels more readily stay with those who have cleansed our souls through fasting.” So, there are many benefits to fasting.

7) How necessary is it to fast? Are there any good reasons why we shouldn’t fast?

St. John the Baptist, the greatest prophet (cf. Luke 7:28) fasted and his followers were characterized by their fasting. And our Blessed Lord also fasted for forty days (cf. Matthew 4:1-11) not for His own needs but to serve as an example for us. Our Redeemer said, “Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Fasting and abstinence from certain foods has characterized the lives of mankind since the foundation of the world. If the sinless Creator of the world can fast, who can exempt himself from this universal call to penance?

While some are legitimately excused from fasting (e.g. the pregnant and nursing), no one has traditionally ever been exempted from the law of abstinence. So, it’s important to keep in mind that fasting and abstinence are related but distinct laws. https://acatholiclife.blogspot.com/2023/02/who-is-exempt-from-law-of-fasting-or.html

8) Your book is very comprehensive. How long did it take you to write, and how many hours of research, if you had to guess, went into compiling all the information you drew from?

I wrote it over the course of 4 years and an unknown number of hours. With the help of friends and others, I compiled a significant number of sources for it. In fact, some of the sources were only in Latin and needed to be translated to even make it in the book. The history of fasting and abstinence is spread over so many places. My book is really the first attempt to put it all in one place so people can understand this forgotten history and then use this history with practical guidelines on how to actually implement it. Many priests have said that 95% or more of the book is new to them! And if you look through the sources, you will find that many of them come from the Church Fathers and saints.

9) How many different sources did you draw from, and which sources would you say were the most helpful or valuable when it comes to understanding more about fasting?

With the internet there are so many sources out there. But you need to know where to look. The American Ecclesiastical Review, the writings of the Church Fathers, old catechisms, and such many other documents were incorporated into my writing about the history of fasting. How many people have ever heard of the decretals or the Decree of Gratian? But these were the original source of Canon law in the Middle Ages. I strived to examine all Church laws in both East and West to put this together along with the writings of Fr. Weiser, Fr. Butler, and through the Moral Theology manuals of Fr. Jone and others. These are classics which Catholics should know. Yet they have fallen into obscurity.

10) What made you write this book?

I strongly believe that one of the key changes needed in the Church, besides the restoration of the Tridentine Mass on all the altars of the world, is the return of fasting with the Lenten fast taking the principal place.

Pope Benedict XIV in the 1700s warned us using these words which we cannot forget: "The observance of Lent is the very badge of the Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of the cross of Christ. By it we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help. Should mankind grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God's glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. Neither can it be doubted that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe."

I sincerely and truly hope to help spread a movement to restoring fasting and abstinence to its former glory. I fear that without it, many souls cannot be saved.

11) What is your personal fasting routine like these days? How has it changed over time?

I personally follow the tier 3 fasting routine mentioned in my Fellowship of St. Nicholas which I founded and can be viewed at https://onepeterfive.com/fast/ which involves fasting in not only all of Lent but the Advent Fast, the Assumption Fast, Vigils throughout the year, and Ember Days among others.

Over time I’ve managed to do more fasting and added some of these forgotten fasting periods to my routine. And over time, I’ve also gone from abstaining from meat all of Lent to abstaining from all animal products including dairy, eggs, cheese, and fish during Lent. I strive to more closely follow the fast which our forefathers knew and observed in Lent. And this year, I’m also striving to wait until sunset to break the fast. I hope that each year everyone is able to intensify their prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to grow more and more like Christ. And the example of our forefathers, seen in the chart at https://acatholiclife.blogspot.com/2023/02/lenten-observance-over-time-comparison.html shows the rigors of a prior age that truly loved God.

May we all return to the devotion of that time and, in so doing, make reparation for our sins and those of others while also striving to conquer all of our own sinful passions.

I want to thank Matthew for taking the time out of his schedule to do this interview with us. I would highly encourage you to check out his blog located at https://acatholiclife.blogspot.com and to get his book on fasting from Amazon (I'm not an affiliate): https://amzn.to/3uujZzl

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