Father David Mowry
Exodus 90 - Day 45
“Halfway in is all the way in.”
One of the other men in my Exodus 90 fraternity was encouraging all of us at our last fraternity meeting. Almost to a man, all of us had shared how we were feeling worn down by the disciplines of these ninety days. No great surprise there – we had come forty days already and we were about to start a second Lent and still not even be done when that was over! I was feeling discouraged about the lack of spiritual progress I was making. The designers of the program were careful to emphasize that all the ascetic disciplines were to be done for the sake of your relationship with Christ. The fasting, even the cold showers, were a means to an end. But halfway through, there was no end in sight for me. I didn’t feel any closer to Jesus. I felt much the same as I did when I began. I admit, there have been definite health benefits (over 10 pounds lost!) and social benefits (I was spending more time with the seminarians rather than alone). I was looking for something more, though. I don’t know quite what I expected. Perhaps a vision of God while taking a cold shower? For my water to change into wine? Somehow I had convinced myself that there would be some major spiritual shift after starting Exodus 90. Yet things were no different. What have I done?
Then I came to that fraternity meeting and heard how the other men were likewise struggling. That alone helped lift my spirit. I don’t mean this proved the adage “Misery loves company.” Rather, knowing the other guys were struggling meant that my situation was not unique, that I was not alone in having a difficult time with the program. In our conversation that night, one of the guys started to encourage us to keep going. “Halfway in is all the way in.” He helps to organize a charity fundraiser modeled on the Polar Plunge – teams pledge to jump into a local lake in the beginning of March and raise money for charity by doing so. This guy has been voluntarily going into freezing water for years for a cause greater than himself. No wonder he’s handling the cold showers like a pro! He said that you reach the moment when you’re halfway into the water and you realize that you have committed yourself to something. There’s a pressure that comes on you to see the thing all the way to completion. Whether you’re wading into a freezing lake or halfway through ninety days of fasting and prayer, that can be a moment of dread. You question your motives and find it difficult to move forward.
The beauty of that moment, however, comes when you embrace that halfway in is all the way in. It’s like the old joke about the person who tries to escape a deserted island by swimming. She makes it halfway to mainland but gets tired. So she swims back to the deserted island. If she had wanted, she could have made it home! It’s the same for us in our Exodus. We’re halfway in, which means that we know exactly what lies before us: forty-five days of no desserts, no snacking, prayer, and our fraternity with one another. We’ve done that already, so what’s another forty-five days? There’s a choice to be made when you’re halfway in, and I’m grateful for my brother for helping me to see that there’s a way to keep going after that halfway point.
At that meeting, I also took the opportunity to let my fraternity know that they didn’t need to do anything extra for Lent. Exodus 90 is already enough! In fact, I think it might be easier to be doing this program during Lent than it has been so far. Up until now, my fraternity and I have been going through fasting and prayer while the rest of the Church was in Ordinary Time. The Church always focuses on developing a deeper relationship with Christ no matter what the liturgical season, of course. But the emphasis Exodus 90 puts on asceticism and self-denial doesn’t resonate with the spirituality of Ordinary Time as well as it does with Lent. With the rest of the Church engaged in intentional penance and prayer, there’s a solidarity I have now with the other members of the body of Christ that before was mostly concentrated in my Exodus 90 fraternity. Now everyone is miserable – not just us! Of course, what I mean is that with every other member of the Church coming together in a season of self-denial, my own self-denial seems a more attainable challenge.
Whether you’re doing Exodus 90 as well or are just starting your Lenten journey, remember: halfway in is all the way in. When you reach that breaking point and the weight of your spiritual commitment fully settles on you, just remember that now you know the full scope of what you’ve undertaken. You’ve made it this far without breaking. That’s already a gift of God’s strength, not yours. He will see you the rest of the way there. I know He’ll do as much for me and the men in my fraternity.
Please keep all of us in your prayers, especially during this season of Lent.
St. Josemaría Escrivá, pray for us!