The Book of Exodus is one of people being freed from bondage. The Israelites have been enslaved under the Egyptians, and God leads them out into the desert so they can eventually find the Promised Land. That journey is far from easy, but it is one, the U.S. Bishops remind us, that “made Israel a nation and confirmed their unique relationship with God.”
For the Israelites, bondage came in the form of slavery, but today, it can exist in other forms. It may include addictions, distractions, or a focus on acquiring material possessions.
While there isn’t a pillar of cloud or fire to lead people out of these modern forms of bondage, Catholic men may find the Exodus 90 program can serve as a suitable guide. It was founded out of discussions between a priest and five seminarians who wanted to find a way to support each other as they strove toward more Christ-like lives. Since 2013, more than 30,000 men across 65 countries have participated in Exodus 90 spiritual exercises.
For the past year, a group of fathers from St. Patrick Parish has been among that number, and now they are inviting other men to join them.
Three Pillars to Support Catholic Men
Jeff Westbrook, a father with three children at St. Patrick School, discovered Exodus 90 about three years ago and found the program helped him break free of habits that were holding him back. “I have really enjoyed being freed of those chains,” he says.
To create that freedom, Exodus 90 relies on the following three pillars that men are invited to immerse themselves in for a 90-day period.
Prayer is an obvious inclusion to the program, and fraternity provides support for men to stay the course. “It’s having another guy who is there to have your back and pray for you,” Jeff explains.
The asceticism is the part that trips up some would-be participants. “People are like, wait, what?” Jeff laughs. As part of Exodus 90, participants are asked to follow 14 practices for 90 days, including fasting twice a week, giving up alcohol, sweets and snacking, and avoiding non-essential purchases.
“So many things consume us,” Jeff says. Asceticism is about disconnecting from the things of this world – at least temporarily – to be able to focus instead on what really matters. Jeff likens it to “sharpening your ax” and adds, “By not indulging in those things, you are emptying your cup so you can have more time for your family.”
Bringing Exodus 90 to St. Patrick School
After completing Exodus 90 the first time, Jeff felt an incredible sense of accomplishment, but it doesn’t take much to fall back into old ways. He wanted to continue the momentum started with those 90 days and that led to a conversation with School Principal Scott Czarnopys. The two decided to launch a modified Exodus group that wouldn’t end after 90 days but continue to meet and offer support year-round.
Currently, eight men make up the St. Pat’s Exodus 90 group. In addition to completing the Exodus 90 spiritual exercises once per year, they participate in shorter, less intense periods of asceticism. Then, year-round, they meet weekly for prayer and conversation, usually while climbing stairs at a site in Grand Rapids.
“It helps us be better parents and husbands,” Jeff says. It also provides a place where men can discuss their shortcomings and weaknesses without fear of judgment. “We learn from each other and each other’s mistakes.”
The group will be starting their next “mini Exodus” on September 12 and invite other men and fathers to join them. “With all the COVID stuff, there are men who need this more than ever,” Jeff notes.
For more information or to join the group, contact Scott Czarnopys through the school office at 616-691-8833.