Why I Will Not Be Doing Exodus 90 Anytime Soon
There is always a certain amount of fear and trembling when I begin writing a piece on a somewhat unfamiliar subject. Perhaps all that will be demonstrated here is my ignorance and incompetence. To which I suppose my wife would reply: “You’d think you’d be used to that by now.” But I write this piece simply for the fact that Catholic trends, even good ones, need sober reflection and refinement.
Earlier in 2020 – simpler times to be sure - I listened with interest to a podcast on Exodus 90. In it I heard that this program, which was founded in 2013, is an intense 90 day program based on prayer, asceticism, and fraternity. For 90 days men take cold showers, abstain from alcohol and most media, fast twice per week, give up snacks and desserts, meet weekly with a small group of participants, exercise regularly, all the while following a regimented prayer schedule. I applaud such a penitential spirit (though it seems that cold showers in the dead of winter in Saskatchewan is a recipe for a 90 day sickness).
Nevertheless, I still wish to explicate some of the uneasiness I get from the Exodus 90 program.
Living the Liturgical Life
Prior to the post-Vatican II revolution which blasted away many laudable disciplines, traditionally the Church had a wise, if not perfect, system of fasting and feasting. Even in this post-conciliar age, traditional-minded Catholics still know it is proper to do penance, particularly fasting, on Wednesdays and Fridays. In addition, there are specific periods of penance such as Lent, Advent, and Ember Days. Meanwhile, feasting occurs on Sundays, major Feast Days and Solemnities (e.g. the Assumption of Mary), and throughout special segments of the liturgical year, such as the Easter season. There is a built-in balance to the liturgical life.
My concern with Exodus 90 is that the liturgical life is superseded by the propositions of the program – the wisdom of the Church is not properly embraced. For instance, suggested time frames in initiating Exodus 90 are for an early Lent start-date, with the goal of completion being Pentecost Sunday. To fast throughout the entire Easter season is a disturbing inverse of the Church’s liturgical life. And what of Sundays and Feast Days? While these days may have a relaxed discipline in Exodus 90 (i.e. setting aside one of the practices, such as dessert), they are not fully celebrated as is befitting. For example, the Presentation is a joyous day in the Church’s liturgical year, an occasion calling for food, drink, and, I suppose, even a warm shower. To withhold such innocent pleasures seems contrary to the festive nature of the day.
Recall the story of a young St. Benedict who, in attempting to shed the spirit of the world, was consumed with a solitary life of fasting and praying. As accounted by St. Gregory the Great, God spoke to a nearby priest and had this priest visit St. Benedict on Easter Sunday. As St. Benedict had no idea it was Easter, the priest gently reproved him, saying, “Verily, today is the feast of our Lord’s Resurrection, and therefore it is not right that you should keep abstinence. Besides I am sent to that end, that we might eat together of such provision as God’s goodness hath sent.”
Willingly choosing to set aside the wise liturgical heritage handed on to us (hello Paul VI) is not, I believe, prudent. Hard penance on an obviously joyful Feast Day is malapropos. We must, as did St. Benedict, humble ourselves to the liturgical life of the Church.
I will admit that I had to pick up my jaw from the floor when I found out participants in Exodus 90 are charged $10/month - $30 for the 90 days. Must everything cost? Even fasting? It seems that the Scripture passages of Jesus’ fasting and Judas’ 30 pieces of silver somehow got mixed up.
Yes, I understand that it costs money to run a website, have a coordinator, and develop a suitable app. Still though, I do not recall ever spending $10 to utilize an app, much less $10/month on one. Perhaps seeking donations would be a better approach. As it stands right now, charging $10/month just leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Fraternity vs. Family
Many questions come to mind when pondering how Exodus 90 affects an entire family. What does it mean to have a husband go to weekly meetings to discuss the program? Is the wife resentful of this? Does such free time really exist? What does it mean to have a man check in daily with another “anchor” man? Is there tension between his familial role of headship versus his deference to a group of men? - “I am the head of my household, and I make basic decisions… with the approval of my men’s group.” And do children notice what is going on? Would a young girl find it strange that her dad would ask another man’s permission before she could share in a cup of hot chocolate with dad? Or that her father is constantly fighting the beginnings of cold-shower induced sickness?
Perhaps these questions are easily remedied in some families. Not mine, but in some. I will only say that a small group of men is not a replacement for a spiritual director, family trumps fraternity, and men, active creatures as we are, like to do things together - talking is merely a byproduct.
The topic of trendy-Catholicism is more of a general concern. I will not suggest that doing Exodus 90 will make a man want to build a tiny home, start the Keto diet, purchase a Tesla, or even join the Greta Thunberg fan club. How dare I? But trends, cliques, fads, and innovations need to be looked at with prudence. The truth is that there are always new books, ideas, and programs within Catholicism requiring thoughtful discernment - I think of Fr. Don Calloway’s Consecration to St. Joseph, Dan Burke’s Avila Institute, or even the plethora of Catholic YouTube channels available. Exodus 90 certainly is a trend. This doesn’t make it wrong, but it is still a trend requiring judicious thought in the manner of St. Paul, “And be not conformed to this world; but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and the acceptable, and the perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).
I only add pride as a concern for Exodus 90 insofar as any worthwhile spiritual practice can lead to pride (especially when not done with the approval of a spiritual director).
Yes, I believe Exodus 90 is an opportunity for men to pat themselves on the back for their accomplishments. “I’m doing Exodus 90,” a man might be too eager to share with others (as has been shared with me). The temptation for spiritual pride is apparent. I mean, they even sell Exodus 90 merchandise on their website.
But in fairness, the temptation to pride can be everywhere, and it is for a properly disciplined person to spurn such a temptation.
It bears repeating that Exodus 90 contains many praiseworthy practices which the Church needs to recover. I applaud the penitential spirit. Further, I sincerely hope that the men involved with this program gain significant spiritual benefit. At the same time, there are aspects of Exodus 90 which, I believe, require sober second thought.
As a parting thought, I will only float the idea that Exodus 90 is not being open about their history. For instance, they used to publicly list Regnum Christi, the secular branch of the odious Legionaries of Christ, as sponsors. Further, I have heard it said that many of their meditations come from the Legionaries. Is this true? What is the connection between these two groups? Have they addressed this openly? If so, I haven't heard it.
And so, do Exodus 90 if you wish. But I won't be doing such a program anytime soon. I believe the Church already has a program, a much better program: traditional Catholicism.
And it's free.
[i] If there are any misrepresentations of Exodus 90 here, they are unintentional. I asked several men about their experiences with Exodus 90, and received differing answers on most issues, such as the role of Sundays, recourse to a men’s group, and the quality of the daily prayers. A consistent answer was difficult to attain.