Men strengthen marriages through fasting

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church indicates, fasting is a penitential practice recommended in Scripture and by the Fathers of the Church. And, as many saints have said, penance is an essential component of a successful prayer life.

In our era of high divorce rates and attempts to redefine marriage, one Catholic apostolate, e5 Men (, has combined fasting with prayer to revitalize marriages. Its benefits have been experienced by many since its founding in 2002.

Catholic layman Steve Habisohn, a married businessman from the Chicago suburbs, launched e5 Men as an offshoot of another of his apostolates, The GIFT Foundation, which promotes Church teaching on marriage and sexuality. Habisohn had many discussions with men about problems in their marriages, and stressing that he was no professional counselor, suggested they begin seeking solutions with the tried-and-true Catholic method of prayer and fasting.

Hence, e5 Men came into being, in which men fast on bread and water once a month for the benefit of their wives. The name e5 comes from Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her.”

Men register through the website, and Habisohn sends them a monthly reminder to fast. Men can also be e5 “special forces,” and fast more than once a month. Participation has grown tremendously over the past 13 years, with 17,000 men in more than 150 countries currently on his email reminder list.

Though the ministry has a Catholic identity, many non-Catholics are also involved.

Habisohn can attest to its benefits in his own life: “When I started fasting, I noticed improvement in my home life right way. I found I was more even-tempered and had more self-control.”

Sacrificing for her

Edward Martin, 51, is a married Catholic with three children in a small fishing community in eastern Canada. He began participating in e5 Men five years ago, after his wife developed a chronic illness. Watching his wife struggle with sickness, he said, made him feel helpless “like a man witnessing his wife going through childbirth. The only thing I can do is fast and pray ... it gives me a measure of peace to make a small sacrifice for her.”

He has not found the fast difficult, except on occasion. One year, for example, the first Wednesday fast fell on a scouting night in June, a national holiday in July and a provincial holiday in August, “so keeping with the plan took a little more determination.”

Tony Stelly, 52, of Spring, Texas, is a Catholic, married to his wife, Collette, for 20 years and the father of two children. He began participating in e5 Men in 2008 as a means of strengthening his marriage.

“I firmly believe that without God my marriage would not have survived; e5 Men, the rosary and novenas are the tools I use to remain focused on what is important in life: my faith, my wife and my children. I would not know how to do it any other way,” he said.

Stelly has found the fast a challenge, but he recommends it to any man who believes his marriage important, because “there are too many forces out there to break you down, to destroy you.”

Strengthening families

In addition to Catholics, e5 Men draws many non-Catholic participants. Tim Heaton, 56, is an evangelical Christian from Welland, Canada. He joined e5 Men while going through his divorce a few years ago, and today fasts for the benefit of his three daughters. He does his own version of the first Wednesday fast by giving up electronic media, such as texting, watching television or using the computer.

He explained, “We live in a world consumed by media, so I believe it’s more applicable to today’s society than food; as today more time is spent in front of media than is spent around the kitchen table.”

Habisohn advertises e5 Men through word-of-mouth, and once posted Internet ads. Membership has grown as men come to appreciate the benefits in their lives. He concluded, “Fasting is something nonsexual that men can do with their bodies to improve their relationships with their wives.”

Pat Mooney, 56, is a Catholic, married to his wife, Joann, for 34 years. They live in Nokesville, Virginia, and have nine children. He has “expanded” the e5 program to fast every Wednesday for his wife and all his children. He’s proud of his family, and notes of his adult sons, “They’re stand-up young men. It wouldn’t have happened without [prayer and fasting].”

He joined e5 Men a decade ago when he discovered a friend was participating. He likes the camaraderie of praying and fasting with thousands of other men worldwide, and considers it a contributing factor to the success of his marriage and family life. His prayer and fasting, for example, led him to abandon jobs that took him away from home for extended periods of time.

He recommends e5 Men to his own sons and friends: “I’ve been through those wars ... I tell people this is something you ought to do if you want your home life to be a success.”

Jim Graves writes from California.

Popes on Fasting
Blessed Pope Paul VI: “The exercise of bodily mortification — far removed from any form of stoicism — does not imply a condemnation of the flesh which sons of God deign to assume. On the contrary mortification aims at the ‘liberation’ of man, who often finds himself, because of concupiscence, almost chained by his own senses. ’”