‘Desert’ retreat rallies men closer to Christ
Date: May 1, 2019
Author: Judy Roberts
San Diego Legate Owen Mossy thought he was signing up for an extended study of the book of Exodus when he agreed in January to take part in Exodus 90.
Little did he know that the invitation he received from fellow Legate Mike Sweeney meant that for 90 days, he would be making a daily holy hour and abstaining from alcohol, sweets, eating between meals, TV, and hot showers, plus limiting his Internet usage to essential tasks.
To his credit, the 46-year old father of six kept his commitment even after learning what was involved. He now says it has changed his life. Before beginning the regimen of intensive prayer and fasting designed for men, Mossy had been going to Mass only on Sundays – sometimes skipping if circumstances seemed to interfere – and to Confession only once a year on a silent retreat. Since embarking on Exodus 90, Mossy has become a daily Mass-goer and, 60 days into the program, had been to Confession three times.
Designed by a priest, Exodus 90 was begun in 2013 for seminarians who, having grown up in a sin dominated society, were seeking greater personal freedom. The 90 days are based on the book of Exodus, which recounts the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land, and during that time, participants enter a desert experience. The program since has been expanded to include bishops, priests, and laymen, thousands of whom have completed the 90-day endurance test after learning about it through friends, dioceses, apostolates, and Catholic leaders.
Inspired by his brother-in-law, a Catholic convert who insisted Exodus 90 was “the coolest thing he’d ever done in his life,” Sweeney sent invitations to members of the Catholic men’s formation group he and fellow Legate Byrnes Lambert lead. When Sweeney learned of his brother-in-law’s plans to repeat Exodus 90, he said, “I felt the Holy Spirit say, ‘Mike, you’ve got to do it and rally your spiritual brothers with you.’”
Eight of the 15 men in the group – five of them Legatus members – agreed to the challenge. “I’ve done silent retreats and Lenten fasts,” Sweeney said. “I’ve been on men’s retreats, men’s conferences, and fly-fishing men’s Bible retreats, and this is the greatest spiritual exercise I’ve ever been a part of.”
Lambert said Exodus 90’s time-tested practices of Christian asceticism have awakened in him a minute-to-minute awareness of Christ’s presence in his daily walk. “I desire Christ more. I need Him more when the comfort is pulled away.”
He added, “The world considers comfort a cardinal virtue and tells us that discomfort or pain is an evil that we must fight to eradicate. As Christian disciples and Legates, we know that the world is wrong here since discomfort is a key part of the cross. Because of Exodus 90, I now see the necessity of intentionally adding some discomfort to my day as an offering to Jesus to unite me to His sacrifice on the cross.”
More available to Christ
James Baxter, Exodus 90 executive director, said the program offers any Catholic man of good will a formation experience that will profoundly impact his life. Many of the participants find it to be just that. “People come up to us afterward and say, ‘You promised me this and you were right. I am a freer man, more available to Jesus Christ.’”
But Atlanta Legate Ryan Foley, who has made Exodus 90 twice and has worked with Baxter to promote it, said the experience is more than about achieving freedom from personal attachments. “This is a powerful moment to become a man of prayer for others, but specifically for the Church.” Foley has used Exodus 90 as an opportunity to offer his time of fasting and intensified prayer for the intentions of friends and others.
Although every man’s journey is different, a common benefit participants cite is that of gaining time by giving up TV and unnecessary Internet usage. For example, Rich Cronin, a member of Legatus’s Genesis Chapter, has noticed that he has more quality time with his wife, Connie. Because they are not watching TV in the evenings, they may read a book together or listen to music. They also have added a Friday date night to give Connie a break from having to cook meatless meals on one of the two fasting days.
Sweeney said the absence of TV viewing also has given him more time with his wife, Shara, and their five children, opening up opportunities to draw and color with his daughters or play catch with his sons. “There’s definitely more time every day and week with family and that’s been the greatest blessing.”
New “fraternity” brothers
Likewise, Erik Jorgensen, who is in an Exodus 90 “fraternity” that includes Mossy, Sweeney, and Lambert, said the biggest benefit for him has been the ability to focus on more important things such as undistracted time with his family and quality meditation and prayer during the day. “Even the little things like not listening to the radio in the car have led to much more time over the course of the day spent in conversation with God. I’ve come to realize how much our modern media inserts itself into the free moments of the day that are now spent in silence and reflection. It has had a huge impact on what I’m thinking about during waking hours.”
Those who take up the Exodus 90 challenge say they also benefit from the requirement that they complete the regimen as part of such a fraternity that meets weekly.
Jorgensen said he hadn’t realized how much inspiration and support he would draw from the group. “That’s been critical to staying in it. You’re never alone in the process. The value of the fraternity cannot be understated. You learn to cherish the time spent sharing your experiences, your highs and lows, and challenging each other to drive on.”
Jorgensen’s fraternity meets every Friday for Mass and then spends about an hour afterward discussing the week and what lies ahead. Members also get and give regular updates on how they are doing through a group text.
Sweeney said for him, the fraternity has been the easiest part of the Exodus 90 regimen.
“It just is so natural to come together once a week and look your brothers in the eye and share your victories and encourage one another through the times we stumbled. It’s beautiful.”
Cronin said when he first heard about Exodus 90 at the SEEK 2019 conference in January, he thought it would be good to do, but he knew he didn’t want to go it alone. A few weeks later, a fellow parishioner at St. Joan of Arc in Toledo, Ohio, invited him to make Exodus 90. “The next thing I knew, I was part of a group.”
Strength-training, clearing obstacles
Before beginning Exodus 90, Cronin had never done any intensive fasting and acknowledges he wasn’t very good at it. Now, he said, by fasting every Wednesday and Friday using the Church’s guidelines for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, he has learned to deal better with his hunger pangs. “In the past, what I would do is always try to satisfy those hungers, feeding them with junk.” Through Exodus 90, he said, he has learned to overcome his hunger pangs, adding, “After a while, they kind of go away.”
Cronin said the program also includes an exercise regimen that has been good for him because he was out of shape after going through cancer treatment last year. “When I first started, I couldn’t run a quarter mile. My weight was only 160 pounds, but physically, my body was just racked. Now, I’m running four to five miles several times a week.”
Asked why Legates should make Exodus 90, Cronin said, “I think no matter who we are, everyone’s got addictions and this program teaches you how to deal with any addiction you have and even your obsessions that are not good. With any addiction or obsession, you’re putting something in front of God. This whole thing is designed to say that God is number one in everything we do and if something is hindering us from putting him number one, we’re going to face that in these 90 days.”
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