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Why young Catholic men are taking the 90-day Exodus challenge

Ian Dunn reports on a three-month spiritual exercise that is gaining traction among young Catholic men.

As we age, it becomes increasingly easy to get stuck in our roots, so it’s comforting that, even though it’s more than 2000 years old, there are still new things in Catholicism.

Several young Catholic men of my acquaintance have recently mentioned ‘Exodus 90’—something I was entirely ignorant of. Along with the snappy name and a very nicely designed app, it’s a regimented spiritual programme for Catholic men. Starting on January 13, it sees participants commit to giving the 90 days from then until Easter Sunday to prayer, fraternity and asceticism.

Each day should have at least 20 minutes of prayer, preferably an hour, and structured weekly meetings with other participants for prayer, responsibility and reassurance.

Practices

But it’s the ascetic practices that spark the most attention. For 90 days, the men who take part take cold showers, exercise vigorously, sleep seven hours a night, don’t consume alcohol, sweets, snacks, or sweet drinks, don’t watch TV or movies or sports and don’t play video games.

They don’t make non-essential purchases, they only listen to ‘music that lifts the soul to God,’ they only use computers and mobile devices when necessary, and they fast and abstain on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Which is a lot, in anyone’s book. Any one of those successfully accomplished over Lent I would consider a worthy effort. Yet I’d be lying if I didn’t find something appealing about it. I managed to track down a young Scottish man who was doing it this year and asked him why he’d made this commitment.

Challenge

“When I had heard of guys doing it I wasn’t keen,” he said. “I got asked by several guys if I was interested but, once I looked into it, it wasn’t that it was a challenge that I wanted to do it but that most of the stuff that you commit to are things that I wish I was doing anyway.

“Really, when you think about what it’s asking, I’m sure we’d all wish we could manage it. I think the act of signing up and committing makes concrete ideas that you’ve probably had come to fruition. I’d like to fast more often than I do, I wish I was exercising three times a week, how good would it be to do a holy hour every day? The list goes on. So, I think, once you’ve got that idea, it really has an appeal.

“Those things do take up a lot of time and I think the programme makes you prioritise them over the things it asks you to give up. I waste a lot of time watching TV and sports and especially on social media. It all ties in, less time wasted on things, healthier lifestyle, exercising more will all lead to more energy and more time for other things in your life.”

Fraternity and unity

Which all made a lot of sense. Reading more about it, I was encouraged that the organisers say it should not be attempted without being part of a group of men doing it. The fraternity and unity of that seem vital.

I was also struck by an interview I read with one of the founders of Exodus 90, James Baxter, in which he was asked why it was only for men.

He said: “We approached a religious order we respected. Their whole mission revolves around feminine identity. We asked them, ‘Would you study Exodus, and if you think this is a model of healing for women, would you write a programme, if you feel called to?’

Absence of suffering

“Six months later, they said they didn’t believe this structure is a model of healing for women. Suffering is increasingly absent from most men’s lives, but that’s not true for women. They are much more in touch with their own spirits than men are with theirs. It’s not that this is below women, but they’re kind of above this.”

I think there’s something in that. Certainly, men and women respond to different aspects of the Church and spirituality. And for men, as we move into a world that is changed in many ways, things that challenge us strongly may get a stronger response.

Certainly, Exodus 90 is not for everyone, but as we approach Lent it may be worth challenging ourselves to pray more and do more than we ever have before.

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