EAST DUNDEE, Illinois, OCT. 29, 2003 (Zenit.org).- When Steve Habisohn heard John Paul’s call for a new evangelization, he knew the fastest and most efficient way to change the hearts of the multitudes was to target men.
Through his study of the Pope’s teachings on marriage and the family, Habisohn had learned that wives and children naturally follow the example set by their husbands and fathers, and that problems in marriage often stem from a family’s lack of pursuit of holiness.
Habisohn, who is president and founder of an apostolate dedicated to the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality called The Gift Foundation, put his idea into action almost a year ago when he established e5 Men. Now, more than 5,500 members fast for their brides and the intentions of women at least once a month.
He shared with ZENIT how e5 Men attempts to promote growth in holiness for both men and women, and bring about the new springtime in the Church.
Q: What is the role of the e5 Man?
Habisohn: To be an e5 Man one must register and fast once a month for 24 hours on bread and water for the benefit of his bride, whether that be his wife, his fiancée or his future, unknown bride. A celibate man can fast for Christ’s bride, the Church.
An e5 Man joins his fast in unison with the thousands of other e5 Men around the world, usually on the first Wednesday of the month, for the sake of their brides, as well as for the e5 Women that have registered.
Many e5 Men join e5 Special Forces to fast more than the minimum once a month. The man who belongs to the e5 Special Forces can add fasts specifically for his bride, but also can fast for other women who are in great need.
Q: Why did you establish e5 Men?
Habisohn: Having been deeply affected by Pope John Paul II’s “theology of the body” [see Pauline], I have had a desire for years to find a way that people can incorporate this remarkable theology at a level beyond sexual morality.
What John Paul II has given us in the “theology of the body” is the theological DNA for the Christians of the new springtime. I felt a deep inner need to apply this theology to one’s faith life at every level. The obvious place to start was the heart of the domestic Church — the sacrament of marriage.
Q: Why is fasting such an important part of the group?
Habisohn: In Ephesians 5 — from which the group, e5, gets its name — St. Paul calls on men to “love their wives as Christ loved the Church.” He calls on men to be like Christ to their brides.
Besides the fact that Christ fasted, even more importantly Christ gave his very body up for his bride, the Church, on the cross. This idea of a groom giving his body for his bride is a basic tenant of married love. Ephesians 5:25 calls a husband to be like Christ in giving his body up for his bride: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
In a mystical way, fasting allows husbands to give up their bodies for their brides so that they can participate with Christ in making their brides “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish,” as St. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:27.
Fasting is a bodily act and hence a bodily gift. A husband can now say, like Jesus in Luke 22:19, “This is my body which is given for you.”
Q: Why do unmarried men need to fast and pray for women?
Habisohn: Many men, whether married or unmarried, have caused much harm to women. Therefore, a great reason to fast for women is for reparation for the sins committed against women by men — for both their own personal sins and the collective sins of men. I even recommend to single men that they fast for past girlfriends first before fasting for their future bride.
One of the first unmarried e5 Men who signed up fasted for his ex-girlfriend, unknown to her. She called him up that evening and told him how her experience at her Bible study that very night was amazing. She said that the words seemed to fly off the page and were seemingly written just for her. Needless to say, this new e5 Man started fasting more than the once a month.
Secondly, the practice of sacrificial love before marriage helps reorient a single man toward love and not self-love. Even good Catholic single men are so affected by our culture that they form deep habits of self-love. Fasting for a future bride and for other women that need it reorients them toward making a total gift of self when the time arrives, whether in the married or celibate vocation.
There is one e5 Man who is only 12 years old who has received permission from his parents to abstain from certain things for the sake of his future bride. This young man is practicing early what a true gift of self means. He is open to his bride being a woman or perhaps the Church herself. He may very well be a future priest. I think we can all be very happy that such a young man is starting on the road to sacrificial love early.
Q: What is the role of the e5 Woman?
Habisohn: Any woman of any faith can sign up to be an e5 Woman. The role of the e5 Woman is to accept the gift of spiritual healing and growth that she may need that is gained for her through the fasts of the e5 Men through the infinite merits of Jesus Christ. The e5 Man offers his fasts and prayers for any woman for her spiritual growth and happiness in her vocation as a woman, especially those who have been hurt, abused and sinned against by men.
For those women who want to participate in a particularly special way with the e5 Men, we ask that they go to Mass on the first Wednesday of the month to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. We, as e5 Men, will be fasting and praying that they will receive at that time the grace they need in their life.
Also, some women feel that they would like to fast with us. There is no special registration for this and no monthly requirement. They just sign up as an e5 Woman and can join us fasting as much or as little as they wish.
Q: St. Paul tells wives to be subordinate to their husbands in Ephesians 5:22 — a phrase that is often taken out of context and is unnerving for 21st century women. How does the e5 Men present this Pauline directive?
Habisohn: To put this directive by St. Paul into context we need to look to the verse before it, Ephesians 5:21, where St. Paul calls husbands and wives to “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Note that St. Paul calls both to be subject to one another. John Paul II calls this an “innovation” of the Gospel in “Mulieris Dignitatem,” 24. However, this Scripture verse is also often taken out of context to mean that husbands and wives are to be subject to one another exactly in the same way.
A full reading of Ephesians 5 shows clearly that this mutual subjection is complementary, not the same. Ephesians 5:21-33 details quite clearly how a husband is to make a total self gift to his wife and how she in response is to do the same, but in a complementary way.
A husband is to orient his will to serve his wife’s needs ahead of his — like Christ, even unto death. In doing this, he subjects his entire self to her needs. She becomes his body. St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:29, “For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it.”
In a complementary response of total self-gift, the wife orients her will to her husband’s to allow for his gift of self to be given freely. She becomes submissive — which literally means “under” his “mission” — to serve her needs. A woman who dominates a husband does not allow his gift to be given freely, and it becomes no gift at all. Her gift of her will — within right reason, as Pope Pius XI writes — is therefore a complementary total self-gift.
Amazingly, I have had more than a few e5 Men tell me that their wives did not want them to fast for them.
Q: What special problems do you run across today in marriages?
Habisohn: So often the problems in marriage stem from a lack of pursuit of holiness as the prime goal of the family. How the father goes, so go the wife and children. One reason I focus on men is because usually they have a much greater impact on their spouse and children when they convert and seek holiness than the reverse, when the mother is the only one seeking holiness.
The e5 is just seeking an efficient way to bring about the new evangelization. The fastest way to convert the world is to convert fathers.
Q: Where is the institution of marriage heading in the States? Is it growing stronger? or weaker?
Habisohn: I believe it is both. We all can see the destruction of marriage but underneath the ashes are fresh green sprouts of truly extraordinary marriages. Young Catholics today, because of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II, have at their disposal so much more understanding of the nature of marriage than their parents could have imagined.
I believe that this trend will continue and we will see many extremely strong marriages amongst many very weak ones. These strong marriages will be a very bright light amongst the darkest in the 21st century.