This winter, a few members of DeSales Media started an Exodus 90 fraternity. Exodus 90 is a program for men that originated at a seminary in Indiana. A priest met with a small group of seminarians for faith formation and saw that the men under his care were suffering from spiritual enslavements and feelings of isolation. This priest created a program of prayer and discipline for the seminarians that evolved into the program now known as Exodus 90.
As soon as I heard that members of DeSales Media were starting a fraternity, I was intrigued. So I sat down with Dave Plisky, Director of Product & Innovation, to ask about his experience. Exodus 90 is a ninety-day program built on three pillars: prayer, asceticism, and fraternity. The really attention-grabbing hook of Exodus 90 is the long list of items to be given up for three months in the name of ascetic discipline. Participants in Exodus 90 have to forego hot showers, watching TV, sweets, alcohol, and texting, to name a few.
When I sat down with Dave last week, the DeSales Media fraternity was three weeks into their twelve weeks, roughly a quarter of the way through the “desert.” I asked Dave for insight into his experience of the program.
So, how is it going so far?
Dave: We’re one month in—well, actually, three weeks, but it feels longer!
Why is Exodus 90 called “Exodus”?
Dave: The program narrates your three-month journey through the story of Exodus. A big theme of Exodus 90 is becoming free from enslavement. It’s called “Exodus” to harken back to the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt. Not only were they literally enslaved by Pharaoh, but they were also enslaved to the fake idols of the Egyptian religion. Even when they left slavery in Egypt, their hearts were still enslaved.
And the 90?
Dave: Exodus 90 is based on scientific research that demonstrates that it takes 90 days to break old habits and form new ones. Exodus 90 asks Catholic men to work on liberating themselves from attachments that may be eating up more of their minds and hearts than they intend. By giving up small material comforts, like video games, music, or alcohol, we make ourselves constantly aware of how we are spending our time.
What is one of your biggest takeaways so far?
Dave: So, let me start with the first pillar, prayer. An hour is a lot more time than I was used to dedicating daily for prayer!
But that’s been one of the greatest parts of the program so far. The program suggests that you do a holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament each day. I can’t always get to a church, but I do devote a lot of time to contemplative prayer. Contemplative prayer really emphasizes making yourself quiet, setting aside time to listen to God.
I’ve already felt the change in my prayer life. I experience both consolation and desolation, but the times that I’m consoled are really dramatic. I can really hear the Lord speaking. This practice of listening to God kind of leads into my second big takeaway: giving up control.
Doing Exodus 90 means having my day dictated to me in so many ways. Really, for me, it means giving up control. When I told him about my decision to do the program, Fr. John [Gribowich] at DeSales reminded me, “You know you can’t do that on your own.”
[Ed. Note: After talking to Dave, I listened to Catholic vlogger and blogger Matt Fradd interview Exodus 90’s co-founder James Baxter. During the interview, Matt admitted that he “failed Exodus 90.” But I noted that Matt had been doing Exodus 90 alone, without a community. It supported Dave and Fr. John’s point that it’s pretty impossible to do alone! ]
Tell us about the Exodus 90 App Experience.
Dave: The Exodus 90 app is supposed to be your go-to app for the program, the only app you should need to use on your phone: it includes a messaging service with other guys in your fraternity, a field guide to the program, and readings.
Each day begins with a set of readings via the app. We’re given Scripture readings and our daily bearings—things to focus on for the day or the week. The app reminds us to “Remember your why”—to re-read what you wrote down at the beginning—why are you doing this program in the first place? Why are you on this journey? Why are you choosing this program?
In addition to the daily Gospel reading, we read the next excerpt from Exodus and receive a reflection, so that we can see the idols God is trying to deliver us from, just like the Israelites. How are we not treating God as God? What are we putting in God’s place instead?
What did you anticipate would be the hardest thing to give up? And what actually has been the hardest?
Dave: I really thought that cold showers would be the worst—and alcohol would be the second worst. The cold water isn’t great. I have a really hard time warming up after swimming or showering in cold water anyway. So, honestly, I just take fewer showers. TV, I’ve hardly missed, and not drinking or eating sweets is fine.
But one of the hardest things to give up has been music.
You’re allowed to listen to music that “lifts the soul to God.” The Exodus 90 team provides you with curated playlists of music that you can listen to. A lot of it is singer/songwriter folk stuff and I’m not into that kind of music. I’m a rock guy. I come from rock and punk, and I don’t like Christian Rock. I’m appreciative of the message, but it comes from people who put being Christian above making music, and it suffers.
Sacred Music for me is far superior to contemporary Christian Music, so I’ve been listening to a lot of Gregorian chant and classical. Also, I’ve started singing the music I can’t listen to. Instead of putting the song on, I find myself just singing it.
I think one of the hardest aspects of the program is that the good days are really good—it feels easy and joyful—but the bad days are really bad. If I’m having a bad day, all the ways I’ve taught myself to relax and destress aren’t allowed on Exodus 90. The goal of this program is to be living with joy, and some days I don’t have that. Which I guess means that I’m still on the journey.
What’s one way in which the program could change or improve?
Dave: It seems to me that Exodus 90 was designed for men who aren’t paying enough attention to the people around them: their friends, their families, their seminary classmates. That Exodus 90 assumes that you always have the opportunity to be around people, that there are people around you that you could be paying attention to, but you’re not.
One caveat for people thinking about the program is that if you don’t have a solid community of people around you then maybe Exodus 90 isn’t the right thing to do right now. Yes, Exodus 90 emphasizes your fraternity meetings, and you talk with your “anchor” [another member of the fraternity] once a day.
But even beyond the fraternal framework Exodus 90 requires, I recommend that you be in a place of stability. Personally, I recently moved to a new area. On top of making friends and building a community here, I’m planning my wedding and settling into a new home. It’s a lot of change to manage at once even without going cold turkey on pretty much all of my earthly comforts. But I don’t need Exodus any less. It just made the beginning that much tougher, as I struggled with both the challenge of asceticism AND feeling like this program wasn’t for me right now.
So what’s the goal of this program? What will happen on Day 91?
Dave: I mean, we do talk about day 91! And the program asks you to think about what will happen after Exodus 90 is over. Exodus 90 is not about never eating sweets or playing video games again. The things you give up are not intrinsically bad things. It’s about cultivating intentionality towards what you’re choosing to do.
As Msgr. Harrington (a member of the DeSales Media fraternity) reminded us, the life of the Christian is not choosing between evil and good, but choosing between goods. This program forces us to be intentional about what we’re choosing. Exodus 90 talks a lot about our “slave life,” about the lives we live in the thrall of habits and addictions. It’s not asking us to abstain from hot showers forever. It’s asking us to ask ourselves: “how can I ensure that I am letting God be God?”
Thank you, Dave, for sharing your experience. Stay tuned to hear how the DeSales Exodus 90 Fraternity feels on Day 91!