Modern man is not free. We have, of course, a large measure of political freedom, religious freedom, and economic freedom. These are all well and good. But beneath the surface, many people are enslaved. Original sin acts as a magnet. We become easily attached to things that don’t fulfill us — and sometimes even to things that destroy us. The struggle is different for everyone. Some people are addicted to alcohol or drugs. Some struggle with pornography. Some are attached to the steady drip of dopamine that comes from being constantly engaged with their phone. On another side, others might be discerning their vocation.
Exodus 90 is a program of fasting, prayer, and exercise, designed to lead men to spiritual freedom, and to be who they were created to be. I have embarked on this journey with 13 other men who I consider to be my brothers.
Those of us who grew up in a moderately Catholic household are used to giving up things for Lent. Things like chocolate, pop, and social media. The intention is there, but the sacrifice is often low impact, and doesn’t achieve the true aim of fasting. Fasting, by depriving us temporarily of worldly goods, decreases our attachment to them, and opens our eyes to spiritual realities. Our participation in Exodus 90 means that, for 90 days, we are to abstain from recreational screen time like social media, video games, TV and movies. No sweets or snacking between meals. No alcohol or sweetened beverages. Music must be uplifting. Showers must be lukewarm or cold. There are daily exercises and reflections. Participants must pray for at least 20 minutes a day. Everyone meets up regularly for fraternity, and everyone is paired up with an accountability partner.
If it sounds difficult, it is. For me, the cold showers are especially difficult. Being without social media has given me more time alone with my thoughts, which, without distraction, I compare to an untrained, overfed bear in a cage. Through prayer and the other disciplines, I will be able to keep a more watchful and diligent eye on this bear. Others might be having a more difficult time. Exodus 90 is designed to break habits, by reducing our attachment to pleasure. The more a habit or addiction is fed, the more uncontrolled it becomes. This is why things like drugs or pornography can become increasingly worse over time. People develop a tolerance; this is simply brain chemistry. But Exodus 90 is primarily spiritual, not an addiction treatment program.
The most important factors in Exodus 90 are the prayer and community building. Prayer increases our dependence on God. It humbles us, it slowly allows us to listen, and transforms us so we can live out God’s will. It creates an intimacy with the divine. The community building increases our dependence on our fellow men. It creates a real brotherhood, where success and failure are collective as much as they are individual. Being accountable means being vulnerable, and being open and honest about our own weaknesses. Our culture has created a climate of social isolation. Being independent is the ideal. Depending on others or being vulnerable, especially to other men, is considered a sign of weakness. Additionally, there is a great deal of shame attached to addictive habits, creating further isolation.
Junior Nate Taylor, who is completing Exodus 90 for the second time, said this of the program, “Before accepting the arduous challenge that this is, my faith consisted mostly of mass on Sundays and Wednesdays, and occasionally going to adoration. This fast required me to really bring prayer into my daily life. There were certainly times where I struggled, and times where I seriously considered dropping it, but, as I said, it has helped me along my faith journey far more than another other retreat, program, or anything of the like. While I would encourage everyone to consider taking this challenge, you must be committed to finish it.”
Exodus 90 is for men who are seeking greatness, not complacency. It is for men seeking interior freedom. It is for men seeking to be the best version of themselves. If you are interested in doing Exodus 90, you can join us for last 70 days of the program, or can start in the future. Contact FOCUS missionary Hayden Merkel at Hayden.Merkel@Focus.org, or visit the Exodus 90 website.