Father Mike Eckley (left), executive director of Catholic Charities of Omaha, John Dickinson of St. Peter Parish, Peter Henning and Adam Crnkovich – both of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish – engage in conversation before Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes. The men meet here weekly with eight others for encouragement and accountability in their journey through Exodus 90. KIMBERLY JANSEN

News

Exodus 90 journey leads men to spiritual freedom

By KIMBERLY JANSEN
For the Catholic Voice

In 2018, Jeff Palzer invited a few friends at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Omaha to accompany him on a spiritual journey called Exodus 90. His buddies turned him down flat.

He tried again a year later, and only two men said yes.

The hang-up?

Cold showers.

The Exodus 90 program does indeed ask participants to refrain from warm showers for 90 days, in addition to giving up sweets, alcohol, snacks and TV/video games, plus meat on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Palzer admits that this particular sacrifice can be challenging, but he has slowly come to appreciate it.

“Most of the world doesn’t even have clean running water, let alone hot water,” he said.

Furthermore, Palzer learned that acts of self-denial hold an even deeper meaning.

“They reawaken the inner strength that God gives us and remind us that we weren’t made to be creatures of absolute comfort,” he said. In fact, these “ascetic” (from the Greek word for exercise) practices give men an opportunity to say no to lower desires so they can say yes to a higher calling – a deeper relationship with God.

At the end of 2020, Palzer took another crack at gathering a group of men for Exodus 90.

Father Mike Eckley, executive director of Catholic Charities of Omaha, not only joined the group but recruited from the pulpit at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, where he is in residence. Twelve men accepted the invitation to meet weekly from Jan. 4 to Easter Sunday.

Just a few weeks into the program, Father Eckley said he has recognized a growing capacity to offer himself entirely to the Lord.

“My tendency is to say, ‘OK, I’ll take the cup, but let me tell you what I’m going to put into it,’” he said, referencing Jesus’ prayer to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. “But embracing the ascetics of Exodus (90) is surrendering unconditionally.”

Not all of the practices involve penance, however. Father Eckley emphasized that the body needs care in addition to discipline – hence the Exodus 90 commitment to get at least seven hours of sleep.

“Our spiritual life is not disconnected from our physical bodies,” he said. “The more we are well physically, it helps spiritual wellness (too).”

DESTINATION: FREEDOM

According to Mark Pica, Exodus 90 development officer and member of Christ the King Parish in Omaha, the ultimate goal is freedom.

“Most of us aren’t as free as we could be to receive the Gospel and to be formed by it,” Pica said. As such, the 90-day journey offers an intentional structure – “a roadmap” – toward purification from unhealthy habits that block God’s grace.

This purification flows from Exodus 90’s three pillars: prayer, fraternity and asceticism. Pica noted that Jesus’ own ministry provided this model: going up the mountain (prayer), walking with his disciples (fraternity) and laying down his life (asceticism).

Equipped with an attractive and user-friendly app, participants receive daily Scripture reflections in addition to a mode of communication with other men in the group. Each man commits to daily prayer and contact with his “anchor” (a fellow participant) for mutual accountability, plus a weekly meeting.

Pica said the program was originally developed in a seminary setting in 2013, but its founder, Father Brian Doerr of the Diocese of Lafayette, Indiana, felt that laymen could surely benefit from the exercises as well. In fact, over 35,000 men in 65 countries have completed them to date.

Pica did not contest the program’s rigor but emphasized that third-party studies have confirmed its effectiveness.

“When men do Exodus 90, they pray more, and they’re relating more with their wife and children,” Pica said. “What used to be anecdotes is now real research.”

At the same time, Pica acknowledged that Exodus 90 isn’t always the right fit for a particular season of life.

DISCERNING THE COMMITMENT

In the face of discernment, Pica offers two recommendations. First, he advises a man to consult with his wife, because the commitments do impact the family.

Sometimes tensions can arise from the ascetic practices, he said, such as the twice weekly fast from meat (Wednesdays and Fridays). For example, what’s a guy to do if his wife is cooking dinner on Wednesday and forgets the fast from meat?

“More often than not, (he) should just eat the burger,” Pica said. “Exodus 90 is at the service of the family, not the opposite.”

Palzer experienced a similar experience while fasting from TV.

“I’m not going to sit in the other room while my family is watching a religious program just because it’s TV,” he said. In fact, Palzer even chose to watch the Super Bowl with his family during his Exodus 90 experience in 2020. However, when his wife and children wandered away after the third quarter, he turned it off.

“It might have been different if the Packers had been in the Super Bowl, but the Lord prevented me from that temptation,” Palzer quipped.

Pica also recommended that men clarify their motivation for embarking on the 90-day journey.

“If you don’t have a ‘why’ you certainly will be tempted to be angry in tough moments,” he said.

Grant Haynes, another Christ the King parishioner, leaned into his “why” when he was tempted to give up.

“Don’t look at (the sacrifice) as pleasing to yourself, but offer it up for someone who is struggling in their day-to-day life – for a burden they have,” Haynes said. “That helped me find strength to go on.”

A NEW DAY

Haynes completed Exodus 90 in April 2020, and as a busy new father, he took a break from the ongoing fraternity. Haynes said “everything fell apart,” and he struggled to maintain habits of prayer and exercise without accountability.

The Exodus 90 app provides user-friendly tracking of a man’s participation in prayer, community and sacrifice. The 90-day “spiritual roadmap” was initially developed for seminarians in Maryland but has grown to a worldwide movement for clergy and laymen. KIMBERLY JANSEN

Six months later, he recommitted to what’s called “Day 91” – ongoing access to the habit-tracking app, plus weekly meetings and additional formation in Scripture. He said Day 91 participants also receive a more relaxed set of ascetic practices.

To continue serving the needs of Catholic men, Exodus 90 recently added a YouTube channel, a podcast and a 40-day Lenten program to its menu.

Pica encouraged men to consider the positive impact Exodus 90 could have in their lives.

“It can be an absolute gift for your spouse, your kids, your coworkers and your parish,” he said. “There’s a fear of failure, but if you don’t try it, you won’t know.”

* * *

WANT TO JOIN?

Prior to Ash Wednesday (Feb. 17), it’s not too late to join Exodus 90’s Lenten exercises. The shorter 40-day format provides the same emphasis on prayer, fraternity and asceticism but permits warm showers, alcohol consumption and watching sports (with others).

To sign up:

  • Download the Exodus 90 app or visit exodus90.com. (Membership is $90/year or $10/month, and the first week is free.)
  • Follow the prompts to invite other men into your fraternity via text, email or QR code.
  • Choose a time and place for your weekly meeting.
  • Utilize the app for daily reflections, habit tracking and communication with your fraternity.

While the start of a new year is a popular time to begin Exodus 90, the exercises can begin on any day of the year. It is customary to finish on a celebratory feast or holiday such as Easter, Christmas or Thanksgiving Day.

For more information, visit exodus90.com.