By Someone Who Completed it in 2020
AUTHOR Philip Campbell
You may have seen discussion about Exodus 90 recently but are unsure what it entails or whether is for you. Perhaps it is not something you have come across before. Exodus90 can be summed up as a ninety-day spiritual exercise for men based on three main pillars: prayer, asceticism, and fraternity.
When many of our liberties have been taken away from us over the last year, why would you want to give up even more freedom? John Paul II is often credited as saying “freedom isn’t the right to do what you want but to do what you ought”. It is only by stripping back, getting rid of all of those distractions in our life, do you then discover true freedom - in Christ.
Back in September, at the last minute, I posted on the Catholic Man UK & Ireland Facebook group whether anyone wanted to undertake Exodus90 leading up to Christmas. I had recently had a heavy evening at the pub and decided it was time for a break from alcohol for a bit. My reasoning was, if I was giving up alcohol, why not accompany it with some other spiritual disciplines too? I had always wanted to do a more penitential Advent and this seemed like a good way to do it. To my pleasant surprise, many other men in the group showed interest in my post (despite it being last minute) and within a few days I was leading a virtual fraternity of men from across the UK and Ireland on their Exodus journey!
The group was initially around eight or so men, from both Ireland and the rest of the UK. We had a few drop-outs at the start, but this was to be expected, as we hadn’t had long to discern before starting the programme and some of the men decided the time just wasn’t right. We ended the 90 days with 6 men (this included one late comer). While Zoom is no substitute for real life, we were able to form a strong fraternity through weekly virtual meetings and the occasional virtual “Holy Hour”. Even if we couldn’t meet in person we were united in spirit.
So what advice would I give to those men thinking of starting out on their own Exodus 90 journey in 2021?
1. Prior Discernment
Fully discern before starting, speak to your wife and make sure you know the field guide inside out! Exodus90 is hard. There is no denying that. And I’m not just talking about the cold showers. It’s not for everyone and it may not be the right time. If you are going through a lot in your life right now, perhaps extra penance isn’t what you need. If you have a hectic life (and I mean hectic not just created busyness), perhaps taking an hour out for prayer isn’t realistic. Whatever your life circumstances are, you must discern whether doing Exodus90 is the right thing. If you are married man, your wife will play a big role in this decision - make sure she is onboard too. If you have a spiritual director, check with them too. If you or your wife think now isn’t the best time then that’s fine, this programme isn’t going away and there will be plenty of opportunity to do it again in future.
2. Take it Slowly
Slow and steady wins the race. Virtue is to be found in the mean between two opposing vices. For Exodus90, there is a temptation to pride and pride comes before the fall. 90 days is a long time - there is a temptation to go all out at the start with the zeal you have mustered - long fasting periods, vigorous exercise, extra cold showers - only to burn out half way through. Take it easy, follow the disciplines that are provided and don’t be tempted to add to them. At the start I was also doing intermittent fasting - this got too much and I had to stop. My wife got concerned I was losing too much weight. Exodus is an ultramarathon not a sprint - endurance is key.
3. Carefully Choose Your Physical Activity
Find a physical activity and stick to it. I didn’t have a physical exercise that I did regularly at the start of Exodus90 and found myself daunted by the requirement to exercise properly three times a week. The best decision I took was to find a form of exercise, running, and stick to it. I then gave myself goals and built up to them, the first being to run 5k in October, then 10k in November. By the end of the 90 days I managed a 13k run. Before Exodus I struggled to run 2k. A few of us in the fraternity also undertook a “Virtual Camino” to Santiago de Compostela collating all of our collective miles to one common goal. We “reached” Santiago in time a few days before Christmas. This was a great way to focus the mind.
4. Be Prudent
Make any necessary adjustments to the programme for lockdowns. Exodus90 was written for very different times where you could meet up with your fraternity brothers easily, attend Mass or holy hours with no bother, and you didn’t have to regularly follow the news to see whether you were going to be locked in your house for the next month.
Our experience of Exodus90 involved one national lockdown, with no access to Mass, and ever changing regional lockdowns, one of our E90 brothers being hospitalised with Covid-19 (he now seems to be on the mend - Deo Gratias), and some of the brothers working in front line roles in schools, social work and prisons... all in trying circumstances. Many of us hadn’t seen family and friends for months.
We therefore agreed as a group to allow a certain level of use of WhatsApp and Facebook messenger as this was the only way of communicating to the outside world for many of us. We also allowed YouTube videos of homilies and talks on religious topics as attending these in person would have been allowed in normal circumstances. We maintained a complete ban on personal use of social media and non religious media however. Other groups may choose differently, but you should be prudent and prepared to be flexible to changing circumstances in this strange time. This is where anchors* are critical, and can help make prudential decisions in your personal life.
*An anchor is like a mutual accountability buddy who you check in with every day.
5. Make Time For Prayer
One of the areas I found most difficult was finding time for prayer. Between a 2 year old and 1 year old, working long hours from home, and other demands on my time, finding an hour a day for prayer was hard. I chose to aim for the bare minimum - 20 minutes of silent prayer (plus a rosary with my wife in the evening and other prayers throughout the day) - and committed a consistent time to do this every day. I tended to do my silent prayer every morning before work, and I even made a schedule with my wife where she would do 20 minutes after me and I would take the kids. Whatever works best for you, create a routine so that the prayer slots into your day. Without prayer, Exodus would just be like any other self help course, and would lead to a form of tick-box Pelagianism.
So what started as a single Facebook post grew into quite a transformative journey.
I would recommend Exodus to anyone who wants to go deeper in their faith and create good spiritual habits for the rest of their life. But doing it during these trying times is tough and requires much discernment before taking the plunge. If you do decide to undertake this challenge, you will come closer to discovering true freedom.