Exodus 90 - Day 90
Updated: Apr 16
In my prayer journal, I wrote down which day of Exodus 90 I was on when making notes about my holy hour. When I first started, writing down “Ex90 1” made me feel the whole weight of what I was doing. Could I really make it ninety days? Then, this past week, I wrote “Ex90 87” at the top of a blank page and thought, Eighty-seven? That can’t be right! Numbers don’t go that high!
Oh but they do. They do go that high. Today I and all the men in my fraternity reach Day 90. I admit to being skeptical of the benefits of Exodus 90 when I first heard about it. But now, at the end of three months, I cannot deny the change in my life. And what a change it is. I can understand the language of birds. I can read the hearts of men and the minds of women. I can jump tall buildings in a single bound. I can skate on the rings of Saturn and walk beneath alien suns. I can see through time itself.
Had you going there for a second, didn’t I?
Truth is, nothing that dramatic has happened to me after ninety days of prayer, asceticism, and fraternity. Superpowers were never the goal anyway. I started these months with the simple of goal of deepening my relationship with Jesus Christ and strengthening my freedom as a son of God. I wanted to make sure nothing was going to hold me in bondage when Jesus had gone through the cross and tomb to win my salvation. The Lord Jesus has done so much for me in the past ninety days. While I have no superhero exploits to look forward to, I do see how God wants me to exercise my freedom in His service. He has used the past three months to form me and prepare me for what lies ahead: not only the challenge of the COVID pandemic but all the hidden crosses that will make themselves known in due time.
On this last day of Exodus 90, then, I wanted to reflect on what God has given me, and on what He has taken away, in order to establish me in the freedom of His liberated people. Permit me to share with you what I’ve gained and what I’ve lost during my exodus.
First and foremost, I have gained self-discipline. Of course, I had self-discipline before. You can’t go through eight years of preparation for the priesthood and six years of ministry without picking some up. At frequent intervals in my life, however, I would be overcome with a desire to get rid of some bad habit or another: laziness, sloth in prayer, poor diet, overindulgence in TV and internet. In the past, when I tried to address these things, I would force myself to do better. I thought it was simply a matter of exerting my will to improve. If I just grit my teeth and squint my eyes and try harder, then I will be able to get rid of this bad habit. That kind of approach would work for a short time, but the effort of keeping up that strain on my will was too much. I would quit and relax back into a worse state than the first. Now I had both the bad habit and the guilt of not being able to get over it! Exodus 90 reminded me of the paradox of surrender. Christian freedom increases not with an increase of our own self-will, but with an increased surrender to the power of God already at work in us. The daily spiritual reflections would hammer this point home again and again. It is not my effort, but God’s grace, that will truly bring about maturity and integrity. The Father called me through those disciplines of cold showers, fasting, and prayer to let go of my own will and surrender to the will of Christ. By baptism I have been united with Jesus. When I surrender, I am not surrendering to something outside me. Rather I surrender to a power of grace already present in the innermost depths of my being. I’ve come to recognize the truth of what St. Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (cf. Gal 2:20). Looking ahead, I know that this self-discipline will last because its foundation is not laid upon my will. This self-discipline depends upon the unshakable foundation of Christ’s love.
In the course of that surrender, I have lost my fondness for YouTube. It had been my main source of entertainment for years. Many was the idle hour spent consuming all manner of videos online. Even when I had caught up with all my favorite creators, I would click aimlessly through various of the suggested videos, falling into rabbit holes that led me deeper into the maze of YouTube’s algorithm. After three months of being out of the loop, however, I have no desire to catch up with what I’ve missed. About halfway through the program I thought I would be getting ready for a massive binge, grabbing all the videos I had missed from the last three months and putting them into a huge playlist that would take me weeks to get through. Now I wonder why I would ever want to waste my time, especially when I know I can easily get sucked into videos the algorithm suggests to me. Going
passively from one video to the next is as appealing to me as eating an entire package of Oreo's. It sounds like it would be fun, but the nausea in my stomach reminds me there’s a very real cost I would have to pay. I’ve made the decision to unsubscribe from all the YouTube channels I follow (sorry Bishop Barron, that includes Word on Fire), delete the app from my phone, and keep a strict time limit on how long I spend on the site. Having had to entertain myself without it for ninety days, I know there are lots of other, healthier ways to spend my downtime.
One of the ways I want to use that downtime is in prayer. Thanks to these ninety days, I have gained more structure in my prayer life. I have always aspired to a regular habit of prayer. Unfortunately my motivation comes in fits and starts. There were seasons of my life when I was not taking an hour of prayer each day as I had been trained to do in seminary. Since returning from the Spiritual Exercises last July, my prayer life has been much more consistent. I show up for that hour of prayer. The content of that hour, however, has been leaving something to be desired. Without the structure of the 30 day retreat, my hour would often feel listless and unfocused. Thanks to the last three months, I have built up a habit of focused prayer. I committed to at least twenty minutes of silent meditation every day as part of Exodus 90. I incorporated that into my holy hour, giving me time for Scripture meditation that I had been missing before. Exodus 90 also calls for a nightly examination – called an examen prayer – before going to bed, praying over the day and asking for the grace to see where I have acted in accord with the will of God and where I have acted against it. The time of silent meditation and the nightly examen have formed a spiritual awareness of the presence of God I do not want to be without. I have ample motivation to keep up these habits.
A habit that I had no trouble keeping up before Exodus 90 was staying updated on Facebook and Twitter. Now, after three months away from the social internet, I have lost my desire to keep running in that wheel. Posting, replying, liking, sharing, retweeting, commenting – all the busyness of the social internet does not hold the same allure to me as it did in January. I was not an avid Facebook user in the first place. Exodus 90 has simple given me the push I need to finally step back from what was, at best, a distraction. I will still be checking my social media accounts to keep tabs on friends I cannot connect with any other way, but I am going to keep my notifications turned off and the apps buried in my phone. I had toyed with the idea of creating a kind of public Facebook page, but then I would have to keep that up-to-date and cross-post stuff from this site over to Facebook, and all that sounds like work. I already have a job. I do not need another one maintaining an online presence.
A farewell to the social internet does not mean a farewell to friends. I have gained a greater Catholic fraternity. Obviously this means the seminarians among whom I live and work. I set out on this exodus with the goal of enriching my spiritual fatherhood among them. I have seen that come to fruition in powerful ways. I experienced a greater communion and fraternal freedom with the seminarians in this academic semester than I did in my first year as a priest at Mundelein. I know this gift was real because I grieved its loss when the seminarians went home early because of the pandemic. I hope that God will continue the good work He has begun in me when the seminarians return.
Of course, this greater Catholic fraternity is not limited to the seminarians. I also thank God for the gift of my Exodus 90 fraternity. Every day for the last ninety days has been another day when I am impressed by their faith, their perseverance, and their charity. Even though the program may be coming to an end, we decided to keep having a weekly check-in while we continue to wait out the pandemic. We all recognize the hand of God in bringing us together. We trust that the right hand of the Lord will continue to guide and protect us in the days to come.
Exodus 90 has had a tremendous impact on my spiritual and relational life. It has also impacted my physical health as well. I have lost 15 pounds since starting the program.
Lastly, for all the other benefits that God has given me through Exodus 90, the greatest and most important gift I have gained is self-knowledge. St. Teresa of Avila, the Doctor of Prayer, said that the soul will always have need of self-knowledge, even at the highest point of mystic contemplation. I have learned about my habits and hang-ups in an intimate way during my exodus. I have been shown by God what I turned into idols, even if they were small idols that I tried to hide beneath my worship of the true God. The Father has also made it clear to me that the self-discipline gained in these ninety days will be immediately put to the test as I come out of this program. I will need more discipline, not less, as I start to incorporate all that I set aside three months ago. I will have to ease back into desserts and alcohol lest I fall into gluttony. I will have to watch my Internet usage carefully so that I do not become trapped in passive surfing. I will have to plan what I watch and for how long so that I do not sit down at 3 PM to watch “just one episode” and then get up at 11 PM after finishing half a season! The asceticism of the desert was not for these days only. I am called to live this freedom for the rest of my life. As I reminded my fraternity, as Christians we are always a pilgrim people. We are always on exodus, seeking to enter into the Promised Land prepared for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our whole lives of discipleship demand care and attention. I hope I practice what I preach!
I am more confident of avoiding hypocrisy than usual, however. I have seen how the grace of God has been at work in my life and in the lives of the men who have been on exodus with me. All these gains, all these losses, are the result of grace. My efforts were inspired (in-spirited) by God. The Trinity invited me into a deeper life of freedom as a beloved son. The Father called me, the Son walked with me, the Spirit strengthened me. All I have done on Exodus 90 is a result of God’s grace at work in me. What is true of Exodus 90 is true of the entire life of discipleship, yours and mine. The triune God makes all that we do possible, and nothing is impossible for God.
I cannot finish my reflections on the last day of Exodus 90 without noting that the final day falls on Holy Saturday. The day forces us to reckon with the silence of the tomb, the reality of death. The whole earth seems to fall silent as Jesus descends to the realm of the dead. We ourselves would rather avoid the realm of the dead altogether. We do not visit cemeteries for fun nor go seeking out tombs when we are in a lively mood. We avoid death. When we cannot, such as during this time of pandemic, we seek to distract ourselves from its harsh truth. Exodus 90, as a program of spiritual exercises, runs counter to this very human impulse. It forced me to confront what I use to distract myself. It forced me to trust in God even as I embraced mortification through asceticism, prayer, and fraternity. Some people acted as if I was living in a tomb for ninety days. The whole thing seemed crazy to them.
Perhaps it is. If it is crazy, though, it is crazy with the same madness of the Cross and Resurrection. Only by surrendering Himself to the will of the Father could Jesus bring us to freedom. Only by dying could Jesus rise to new life and so lift us up also. Only by embracing that mortification can you and I share in the freedom of the children of God. There is no Promised Land without the Red Sea. There is no Easter without Good Friday. There is no resurrection without the tomb.
May the risen Lord grant peace, freedom, and joy to you and your family in abundance. May the power of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords be felt by every heart in our world. May the Sun of Justice warm all people with His healing rays, especially those who suffer from the coronavirus outbreak. May our loving God lead all of us through the exodus of our life of faith into the promised land of His kingdom. May God love and bless you all.
St. Josemaría Escrivá, pray for us!