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Tuesday 28 November 2023 Dublin: 4°C
gifrancis via Creative Commons

Column Cardinal Rules - What NOT to do on your Lenten fast

This week, the (not) Primate of All Ireland tracks his colleague’s ‘progress’ with his sponsored fast – including an awkward incident with a chocolate Swiss roll…

LENT IS A TIME for repentance and abstention. But sometimes one has to have more than just willpower alone to commit to such a path.


An energised Fr Caffrey announces that he will be starting Lent early this year with a sponsored fast: “As a demonstration of faith and penitence, I will be fasting for forty days and forty nights, just like our Lord.”

“Except our Lord didn’t ask people to sponsor him so the local primary school could get a new computer,” interjects Fr Lawlor.

“This is true,” responds Fr Caffrey.

“Will you be having dinner so?” asks Fr Deegan.

“No,” replies a determined-looking Fr Caffrey.

“It’s chicken and chips followed by chocolate swiss roll for dessert,” says Fr Deegan.

For a brief moment Fr Caffrey looks panicked and conflicted, then he takes a deep breath. “I am steadfast in my resolve,” he replies.

“Are you sure you’re up to this? I mean physically, psychologically, and emotionally?” I ask him.

“Absolutely,” he says puffing out his chest.


Chicken and chips followed by chocolate Swiss roll for dessert. Fr Caffrey sits near the dinner table. He is calm and aloof.

Then Fr Deegan drops a slice of Swiss roll on the ground. He is inconsolable. It takes twenty minutes to calm him down.

“That’s a shame,” says Fr Lawlor looking at the slice of Swiss roll.

Meanwhile, a wide eyed Fr Caffrey eyes it with something akin to terror.

We watch the bittersweet news footage of the Chinese vice president leaving after his visit. We decide that the feeling of loss we are experiencing is somewhere between how we felt about the Queen and Barack Obama leaving, along with a nice warm feeling of pleasant bemusement.

“He was well fed and watered anyway,” says Fr O’Neill winking at Fr Caffrey. Fr Caffrey says nothing and keeps doing his crossword (Irish Times simplex).

Bed time. There are reports that Fr Caffrey has been spotted in the kitchen sniffing the empty Swiss roll box. Nevertheless we all have faith in his desire to succeed.


Fr Caffrey has decided to “up his game” by wearing sack cloth. He has a gleam in his eyes (Fr O’ Leary describes it as “feral”, Fr Quinn claims it is “euphoric”). Regardless, we are all moved by his determination.

Fr Caffrey has taken to pacing the hall and muttering to himself, only stopping occasionally to ask people to sign his sponsorship card.

Pancakes for tea! And very enjoyable they are too. While we eat, Fr Caffrey rocks in a corner and tells us about a dream he had in which the Chinese vice president scored a winning goal in a football match in Croke Park. Everybody laughs. Fr Caffrey winces and puts his hands over his ears.

Al Pacino is on the news after his visit to the Dublin Film Festival “Looking well looked after,” smiles Fr O’ Neill as he looks pointedly at Fr Caffrey. Fr Caffrey ignores him as he lies in his chair breathing shallowly and mumbling about cake.

Fr Caffrey is hearing voices. We are all delighted, because this means he is approaching the “vision phase” of his fast, albeit probably a little bit earlier than experienced by our Lord in the desert.


A typically frugal Ash Wednesday lunch is interrupted by Fr Caffrey ranting about his musical career. He is now convinced he is a member of a Grammy award winning mariachi band called “Los Diablos.” Apparently he plays the trumpet. His ravings only stop when he spies an ad for Creme Eggs in the paper and he starts crying.

Sleep slightly disturbed by Fr Caffrey somewhere in the house shouting “I’ll get you your computer! You see if I don’t!”

Shouting stops after the sound of something being knocked over. Silence descends.


News on local radio reports that a man wearing sackcloth has climbed onto the roof of the local primary school wielding an abacus and shouting “I’ve got your computer like I promised. See? See?”

Nobody says anything.

Further news reports that frightened children and teachers have been taken out of the school.

Fr Quinn comments on what a lovely spring day it is and everybody agrees, and we talk about spring really loudly for a few minutes because we are all so excited about spring.

“Spring is brilliant,” shouts Fr Deegan in an attempt to be heard over the radio.

The abacus wielding gentleman has been coaxed down from the roof with the promise of a Twix bar.

Nobody wants to talk about spring anymore.

A dishevelled Fr Caffrey arrives at our door with the help of two gentlemen in very nice uniforms.

Fr Caffrey refuses food, not because he is fasting (that idea has now been delicately rejected) but because he has already eaten a Twix and his sponsorship card.

(Not) Cardinal Sean Brady
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