Exodus 90 - Day 80
Updated: Apr 16, 2020
I didn’t realize how easy I had it. The first day of Exodus 90 was also the first day of Mundelein Seminary’s spring semester (a semester so named for its aspirational quality in the dead middle of Chicago’s winter). The buildings bustled here with 160 men, not counting the faculty and staff who were dedicated to their formation. Sure, I had to forgo TV, YouTube, Facebook, even my beloved trips to the movie theater, but I was surrounded by a huge community of dedicated Christian disciples who were eager to have any excuse not to do their homework. If Father drops by to chat, well, it would be rude to study when the priest pays a visit! I had ample opportunities for socializing without leaving the comfort of the dorm building. I remember writing earlier about the game nights that I was enjoying with the seminarians. All that social contact made the disciplines of Exodus 90 that much easier to bear. I didn’t feel the pinch of losing TV, video games, YouTube, or even my trips to the movie theater quite so badly. There was plenty else to fill my recreational time. I didn’t realize how easy I had it. These past ten days have pushed me in a way I wasn’t expecting. The new normal has set in. Though I am getting used to the physical distancing and the quarantine-like protocols, I don’t like it. Add on top of that a rigorous program of asceticism, prayer, and fraternity (by Skype, of course) and my life starts to feel similar to my 30 day retreat last July. The difference, though, was that I undertook that month of silence and prayer of my own free will, making an offering of my time to God through the Spiritual Exercises and the counsel of my spiritual director. This month of social distancing was not something I chose, but rather something forced upon everyone. Being forced to do something rather takes the fun out of it. I don’t have the sense that I’m exercising the freedom that’s mine as a son of God like I did when undertaking the Spiritual Exercises or Exodus 90. Making those sacrifices in freedom made everything about those sacrifices easier to bear. That’s not because I was the one doing it. The sacrifices necessary during this coronavirus pandemic aren’t harder just because I didn’t have a choice. Rather, it’s because I was making an offering of what I had received from God and giving it back to God in order to grow closer to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What I’ve come to see during my days in the hollow halls of Mundelein Seminary was that need for making a free offering of my experience. I was putting on a brave face when confronted with the challenges of the outbreak. Wash your hands? No problem. No groups over 1,000? Easy. Shelter in place? I laugh in the face of isolation! All this was bravado, an act I was putting on for myself, my loved ones, even my seminarians. In reality, I’ve been scared – scared and anxious about what tomorrow may bring, scared for myself, scared for my loved ones. All that fear sprang from my desire to do everything myself, to prove how strong I was. If there’s one thing Exodus 90 is good for, it’s that it shows you just how weak you are without God.
That hit home for me on March 27th, when Pope Francis offered an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing, a blessing to the city of Rome and the whole world usually only given at Christmas and Easter. The pope understands the severity of this crisis, and decided that he should do what only the pope of Rome is capable of doing. I watched the event on TV along with millions of others around the world. I gasped when I saw him walking alone through an empty St. Peter’s Square, looking as though the weight of the world was on his shoulders. I was stirred as he preached on Mark 4:35-41, when Jesus slept through a terrible storm on the Sea of Galilee, woken by his disciples who cried out, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” The selection of the text was perfect for this moment when we are all caught in the storm of infection that sweeps throughout the world, and seemingly, Jesus sleeps through it all. The pope’s words of encouragement were exactly what I needed to hear: “‘Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?’ Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we flounder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them.” In the face of this storm, in the face of all these difficulties, I had forgotten my need of salvation. I was floundering and my bravado was only making me sink faster. After his preaching, Pope Francis led the whole world in adoring the Blessed Sacrament, the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. In that sacrament, though not celebrated publicly in vast swaths of the world, Jesus is present to His people even as priests like me say their Masses privately or for very small groups. That time of adoration forced me to stop trying to save the boat of my life myself. I realized that I needed to turn all the more intentionally to the Lord Jesus, not with a cry of doubt, saying “do you not care…?” but rather with faith and hope, saying “Lord Jesus come and save us!” Such were the words that came unbidden to my lips as the pope lifted the monstrance in benediction over the city of Rome and the world. “Lord Jesus come and save us!” It is only by faith in the Son of Man, who unites Himself fully with our human condition, that we can have any hope of reaching a safe port after this storm. In the days that followed that time of prayer with the pope, I’ve increased the amount of time I spend praying. I’m blessed to be at the seminary where our chapels still reserve the Blessed Sacrament, where I can go to pour out my fear and my anxiety. I go there also to lift up all those who are dear to me: family, friends, seminarians, and of course the readers of this blog. I rest with Jesus a little bit more than before. I’m more honest about how I’m feeling now that this new reality takes hold of all our lives. I am so grateful to the Lord for all the blessings He continues to gives to His people. The disciplines of Exodus 90 helped me to be clear-headed enough to recognize the invitation of grace that’s given in this time, and those disciplines are helping me to establish healthy habits in my spiritual life as we brace for a longer time of isolation and quarantine. I intend to make an offering of my time during these days of social distancing. After these last ten days, I’m now in a place of greater freedom to do so than when things first got crazy. My experiences of detachment on the 30 day retreat and throughout Exodus 90 have prepared me for this. That month in Jerusalem, these three months on Exodus – they were prologue and preparation to something I would have never imagined when I started writing my little blog updates. I’m all the more grateful to God for His providence in setting me up to succeed as His servant, to enable me to do what needs to be done for the seminarians and the faculty still here at Mundelein. May God grant me the faith necessary in this storm and the hope to see it through to the end. I continue to offer prayers for all the readers of my blog, and in your charity I ask you to continue to pray for me and my Exodus 90 brothers. We’re entering the home stretch! Let us all pray that we have an Easter full of the life of the Resurrected Jesus. St. Josemaría Escrivá, pray for us!