Exodus 90 - Day 10
Updated: Feb 3
“It sounds absolutely nuts!!! Cold showers in January & February in Chicago??”
Such were the words of encouragement I got from my mother today when she learned exactly what it was I had to do as part of Exodus 90. Of course, she has every right to think it sounds nuts. I did too when I first heard about it. I thought the whole program was a short step away from being a performance of Catholic machismo: being a MAN for Jesus by doing TOUGH, MANLY things. It reminded me of the Muscular Christianity movement that gained some traction in American Christianity around the turn of the twentieth century. An attempt to draw men back to the Christian faith tied physical fitness to spiritual athleticism, resulting, in its moments of excess, to condemn physical frailty or weakness. One wonders what the Muscular Christians would make of the Suffering Servant or the dinner invitation extended to the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. St. Paul reported hearing the voice of God say to him that His power is made perfect in weakness. We hang an image of a man being tortured to death on a cross in our churches as a sign of divine love, a love we are called to imitate by taking up our cross daily. Whatever virtues the Muscular Christianity movement had, its weakness lies in its optimism about the human person and a failure to see weakness as a way in which God can enter the human condition. Good Christian living, seemingly, was the result of living the strenuous life. A Christian man had only to put in the effort and the victory of grace would be assured.
Well, after 10 days of Exodus 90, I can tell you definitively that had I tried to undertake being a manly man of Christ all on my own power, I would have failed the very instant my first cold shower started. My mother is right: it is nuts. All the asceticism of Exodus 90 – the cold showers, the fasting, the abstinence from TV, and the rest – makes no sense if its undertaken as a program of self-improvement. If I am just doing this for me, then there’s no reason to keep up these disciplines. It would be yet another self-indulgent practice that keeps me chained to my own ego.
Exodus 90 offers all these ascetical practices as a way out of that kind of self-centered thinking. Each man doing this program has to articular a “Why” statement, a reason for doing Exodus 90 that orients them toward deeper commitment to the relationships in their lives that are part of their God-given vocation. In marriage or priesthood, in family life or with friends, each of the men in my fraternity has been called to live as Christ did. That vocation to holiness requires discipline and Exodus 90 provides training in that discipline of the spiritual life. Each man’s “Why” statement helps them focus on the act of self-gift that is the core of Christian discipleship. For some, they are hoping to break self-indulgent habits of drinking so they can be more attentive to their kids. For others, its about worrying less about their position in the office so they can spend more time building their relationship with their wives. For me, I am doing Exodus 90 in order to break my habits of spending too much of my recreation time alone so I can be more of a spiritual father to the seminarians on my floor. The discipline of the cold showers helps exercise my will so I can be ready to give of myself more generously. If I can stand a couple minutes of cold water, then I can let a guy interrupt me in the evening while I am relaxing.
Of course I can see some personal benefits. I feel like I have more focus on my work as a seminary professor without the usual distractions of social media or YouTube. I feel more rested as a result of getting at least 7 hours of sleep at night, something that before only happened during the semester breaks. I take interruptions to my schedule in stride more often than not in the past 10 days. All these little things add up to a growing sense of peace and energy that allows me to be a better priest and professor.
I can even say (God help me) that at times I enjoy the cold showers. Maybe that means I am going nuts. If so, then my mother will have the satisfaction of once again being right. But maybe, just maybe, it means I am being trained to put up with a little bit of suffering for the sake of the Kingdom. We will see what the next 80 days bring.
Please continue to keep me and the men in my fraternity in your prayers.
St. Josemaría Escrivá, pray for us!