No dessert. No alcohol. No snacks between meals. Intense exercise. Cold showers.
No, it’s not the latest diet craze. These are just some of the elements of Exodus 90, a program designed to help Catholic men re-prioritize their relationship with God and their families by leading them through 90 days of fasting, prayer, and fraternity. All the sons and daughters of God are called to a life of freedom. This means both a freedom from unhealthy attachments and a freedom for God’s will in their lives. Exodus 90 aims at providing growth in the life of Christian freedom for men who are ready to accept the challenge of serious spiritual discipline.
This spring, I will be serving as spiritual director to a group of men going through the spiritual exercises of Exodus 90. We had a great time together last Thursday getting to know each other better and laying the foundations of the fraternity that will be a support to us for the next three months. We also said goodbye to some good friends (I’ll miss you beer and brownies). As spiritual director, I’ll be joining them in all their fasting, prayer, and fraternity to truly walk with them on this exodus. I also want to take advantage of what Exodus 90 has to offer for my own spiritual life.
It starts with asceticism, the spiritual practice of willingly forgoing certain things for the sake of deepening one’s relationship to God. In Exodus 90, the asceticism extends beyond the usual Catholic practices of fasting and abstaining from meat. Movies, television, video games, social media: any non-essential tech usage is put aside for three months. More and more of our lives are defined by the screens of our smartphones, which can lead to an unhealthy attachment that distracts us from relating with the people right in front of us. To keep us all focused on being present to each other, my friends and I had a rule in seminary that the first guy to look at his phone during dinner would pay for everyone’s meal. Without that kind of intentional discipline, it can be so easy to fall into the habit of frequently checking the phone for any little update. Exodus 90 helps men form new habits of tech usage so that they can be in control of their phones, not the other way around.
But Exodus 90 is about more than changing habits, more than gaining freedom from unhealthy attachments. The program also pushes men into a regular program of prayer: one hour a day, with at least twenty minutes of that dedicated to silent, contemplative prayer. The asceticism helps reduce distractions in a man’s life so that he can be more present to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The program provides daily meditations themed around Israel’s exodus from Egypt. The whole program keeps the idea of spiritual freedom front and center. A nightly examen prayer, wherein the Christian reviews the day in the light of God’s love and asks for the strength necessary to face tomorrow, cements the daily practice of prayer during Exodus 90. The examen helps each man grow in spiritual self-awareness by revealing the patterns of sin and grace in his daily life.
But it is not good for a man to be alone. The Exodus 90 program also calls men to come together as brothers in Christ. The Christian fraternity of a small group of men who have decided to go through these 90 days together keeps each man honest about his own successes and failures. Each week the fraternity meets to hear how the exodus has been for each man, providing encouragement to those who are stumbling. Each man also has an anchor, a spiritual accountability partner, with whom he checks in daily. The Catholic imagination sees the Christian journey as a communal experience. To do Exodus 90 on one’s own would be like setting off for a trip through the desert with no water. As in Exodus 90, so in the Christian life: we need our brothers and sisters.
That need for community between men and the way Exodus 90 meets it impresses me most about the program, I think. So often in the parish I see upright Christian men doing the good and holy work of supporting their families at home and at work who have no serious Christian friendships. The demands of the office and the family take up so much time that Catholic men can feel they only have the energy to zone out in front of Netflix at the end of the day, or who satisfy their need for friendship with their poker buddies or the guys in their fantasy football league. Exodus 90 pushes for the formation of the kind of friendships that existed among the apostles: men who support one another and call one another on to greater things because of the awareness of their shared spiritual journey. There’s a reason Jesus gathered a whole troop of disciples around him rather than training people one at a time. As human beings and as Christians, we need one another if we are to flourish according to the will of God.
Between tomorrow and Easter Sunday, I ask you to pray for me and the men in my Exodus 90 fraternity. Pray that we all experience a new flourishing of life in Christ through prayer, fasting, and fraternity. We’ve taken St. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, as our patron saint. As is usually the case with patron saints, it was more a case of him choosing us. When we got together last week, we ended up talking about his writings and spirituality and thought him to be a great teacher for men going through Exodus 90. Little did we realize that we met on January 9th – St. Josemaría’s birthday! Once we discovered that, it seemed obvious that he was a good friend and spiritual father to have. Going back over his writings brought me back to my college seminary days, when my floor in the dorm took him as our patron saint and one of his rallying cries as our motto: “Esto vir! Be a man!”
If you are a Catholic man and you want to take the challenge of Exodus 90, I encourage you to get a small group of your own together and start your own exodus. You can find more information on the Exodus 90 website. For those of you who want to have more of a spectator experience, I’ll be dropping updates on my progress every ten days. I don’t expect the first few weeks to be pleasant of course. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the cold showers! But my hope is that I and the men in this small group will be able to discipline our bodies and souls for the sake of the prize of eternal life, a life that begins here and now in the vocation to which God has called us, whether as priest or husband.
St. Josemaría Escrivá, pray for us!