I completed the Exodus program this Easter as part of a fraternity at St. John Parish in Westminster. It changed my life.
If you are plugged into the Catholic world, you have probably heard of Exodus, and you might have preconceptions about it, perhaps even negative ones. You might think that it is too hard for you.
I once jokingly referred to Exodus as Catholic CrossFit. Participants in both programs undergo a rigorous challenge, which they can’t help but share with other people, and non-participants often feel mildly annoyed by constant references to it.
Whatever your opinion, bear with me as I make my case for a bold claim: every Catholic man needs to complete the program at least once.
The basic premise of Exodus is that most modern men are in slavery, and they need a rigorous program of prayer, fraternity, and asceticism to free themselves from their bonds.
The average adult, for example, consumes over eleven hours of media every day. We are all addicted, and that level of media saturation is brainwashing us and pulling us away from God.
Pause for a second and check your daily phone use. (Android users select “Apps & Notifications” in Settings and then “Screen Time.” On an iPhone, “Screen Time” is located directly in Settings.) What’s your average daily screen time? There is no magic number, but if you are spending hours on your phone, you are probably a slave to it.
If you are spending hours on your phone or computer, you must do Exodus. If you watch porn, you must do Exodus. If you are snacking throughout the day and can’t stop, you must do Exodus. If you use alcohol to deal with problems, you must do Exodus. If your prayer life is stagnant, you must do Exodus, and at this point, just about every man is included.
The program is built on the pillars of prayer, fraternity, and asceticism and lasts 90 days. Participants are asked to commit to an hour of prayer every day and to read a short scriptural reading and reflection. For fraternity, participants take part in a weekly meeting with a small group, and daily check-ins with one other individual. The asceticism, with its infamous commitment to cold showers, is the most well-known aspect, and participants also abstain from alcohol, sweets, eating between meals, soda, sweet drinks, television, movies, video games, and non-essential internet use. It’s super-Lent. Lastly, there is a commitment to regular exercise, a full night’s sleep, and fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays.
The beauty of the program is that it is focused on increasing your love for God. The disciplines garner a lot of attention, but they are not the focus of the program. They are merely a means to an end. They are designed to remove the noise from your life and open your heart in a new and profound manner. The commitment to daily prayer, especially quiet prayer, helps to fill your heart with a deep and personal love of Jesus.
The program also helps to strengthen your will. I am a pretty weak guy. I have sadly recited the same list of sins every confession for years. I know what I am supposed to do, but it is hard to tackle habitual sin. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The first time I went to confession during the Exodus program was different. Half the sins that I normally confess were gone. I had tried for years to work on them alone and failed, but through the program, fraternity, prayer, and ultimately, the grace of God, I eliminated those habitual sins from my life.
I learned a lot about myself over the course of those 90 days. You cannot master your weaknesses until you test yourself. When I began Exodus, I thought that food was going to be a big challenge for me as I snacked all day long, but food wasn’t a big temptation after the first week. Instead, I found my phone to be the biggest challenge. I started strong, but once the coronavirus struck, I was spending an hour every day reading news articles. I now know that phone use is my greatest weakness and the point at which the devil will attack me. That and cold showers. I hated them.
Outsiders probably think that going through this program makes you miserable. I found the opposite to be true. Freedom feels great! Imagine I have a free hour before bed. If I spent it scanning Facebook or watching a junkie TV show, I would feel depressed that I wasted an hour. On the flip side, I have never felt disappointed after spending an hour in prayer or reading a quality book. A life of prayer and asceticism might not look appealing from the outside, but it is a life of true joy and happiness.
I indulged in sweets and long, hot showers during the Easter Octave. After eight days, I missed the disciplines, and I resolved to keep Wednesdays and Fridays as Exodus days with all the disciplines, except the cold showers. Did I mention that I hated the cold showers? All the men in my fraternity did something similar. Once you taste freedom, you don’t want to go back to your old life of being a slave.
There are so many other benefits to the program. I lost ten pounds to get to my target weight, and all my clothes fit a little better. I made great friends in my fraternity, and we are still in regular communication. I also enjoyed the simple things a lot more. I am not a beer drinker, but about 70 days into the program, I wanted a beer. On Sunday, you can relax one discipline, and after two months of not having a beer, it was really, really enjoyable to have one. I was so used to having every desire fulfilled immediately that it was no longer a joy. Oddly, I received more joy from simple things by giving them up.
Last year, ten men at our parish participated in the Exodus program. From those ten, the program grew to nearly 40 this year. Imagine if 100 or 200 men completed it next year. It would spark an unparalleled revival in our Catholic community. I pray it happens not only in our parish but in all parishes across the world.