‘Exodus 90’: Brutal, demanding, life-changing

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OK, men: Want a modern desert experience? Give up alcohol and sweets, social media, pastimes like video games and televised sports for 90 days. Don’t spend any money except for necessities. Take only cold showers and commit to a program of strenuous exercise. Engage in serious daily prayer and twice-weekly fast days. And to make sure you stick with it, meet at least once a week with a group of three to five guys who are doing the same thing.

That’s the gist of Exodus 90, a program being offered by Those Catholic Men Inc., an Indiana-based nonprofit that aims to help Catholic men understand and live their faith more fully.

“We see men struggling with lots of addictions,” said James Baxter, executive director of Those Catholic Men, “porn and chastity being at the top of the list. But they’re also binge-watching Netflix and indulging in unhealthy spending habits and always on their phones. This is a way for them to free themselves from all those things that are possessing them. That can be a form of slavery. … This is all about freedom. It’s the freedom for men to experience their sonship in the Father.”

Thus the name, Exodus, recalling the flight of the Israelites from Egypt, finding their freedom by traversing the desert.

‘Super demanding’

Father Brian Doerr, who started Exodus 90 with seminarians at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, said he did it in response to a culture that bombards men with unhealthy and un-Christian messages.

“Not everything falls in the area of chastity, but every man struggles with it because we live in a very sexualized society,” Father Doerr said. “In the seminary, guys desired greater purity and greater self-mastery. We turned to what the Church has always offered us: fraternity, asceticism and prayer.”

He settled on a 90-day program because, he said, 90 days is long enough to change brain chemistry, to help break bad habits and form new ones.

Many of the things men give up — from watching sports on TV to spending time on social media — give them more time not only for prayer but also to be really present to their families.

Now, between the seminarians and the lay men who have participated, Baxter estimates that about 500 men have done Exodus 90.

“It is super demanding,” Baxter said. “It’s not for everyone, and not every time is a good time. We’re not trying to sugarcoat it.”

Lasting changes

While some did not complete the program, many of those who have say they want to find ways to keep the changes they made to their lifestyle while in the program.

That was the case for Ron Pereira and Mike Short, parishioners at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Keller, Texas.

They and two other parishioners started Exodus in Lent of this year, when Those Catholic Men first made the materials available, and they are still reaping the benefits, as well as keeping up with some aspects of it.

“We decided one of the most important things was fraternity, our weekly meetings, so we decided to keep doing that,” Short said. “And recently, we decided we might be slipping a little, so we all decided to do an Exodus week. It was really good.”

Pereira and Short have been together in several Catholic men’s groups and groups for boys and their fathers over the years, and they both had been following the Those Catholic Men blog, so they heard about Exodus 90 before its release.

Pereira, who has seven children, said he struggles with the use of media, and then being annoyed when people interrupt him. He also knew that, given his family history, he should take better care of his health if he wanted to be a responsible husband and father.

“For me, I’ve had situations where I was falling in the same struggles again and again,” Pereira said. “This helped me gain more freedom over some of those issues. For me, the hardest thing was giving up media. I’ve long had an addiction to sports, whether it’s baseball or college football. I’d be cutting family prayer short to make it to watch the seventh inning. Now, I still watch baseball, but it’s not like that anymore. I’m not owned by it.”

Starting was hard, but now that the 90 days are long past, Pereira said he’s glad he did it, and glad he had the support of his group. “When you’re suffering, you need those other men who are also suffering,” he said.

Permanent wellness

Father Doerr agreed that the connection between men in Exodus is what makes it doable.

“In this day and age, there’s only one way this is going to happen, and that’s through brotherhood,” he said. “When your brother’s doing it, you’re going to want to do it. When they’re helping you, you’re helping them, and that makes it enjoyable, even.”

Father Doerr said the program is designed to be challenging to make it both attractive to men and to make a significant enough change in their lives.

“Whenever the program is introduced, the initial reaction is trepidation,” Doerr said. “Toward the end of it, there’s a happiness knowing you’re self-mastered and you have greater freedom.”

“Prayer, fasting and brotherhood — those aren’t things for a 90-day program,” Baxter said. “Those are things for shaping my life. This is how we should be living all the time.”

5 steps to accomplishing Exodus

According to Exodus90.com, these steps will help men begin their journey: