Happy Easter! He is risen!
Two months ago, I was interviewed here on the blog about the beginning of my journey so far in Exodus 90. We promised a follow-up post at the end of the program, and this time gave the proverbial microphone to my Exodus fraternity brother, Rafael PiRoman.
Rafael is a parishioner at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph and the host of MetroFocus on PBS. We talked to him on Day 74. With just 16 days to go, Rafael shared his experiences with us.
How did you hear about Exodus 90?
Rafael: I heard about Exodus 90 through interviews and articles online and through various outlets of the Catholic media. I was interested, but I didn’t know how I could get involved with it and who I could gather into a fraternity. In January, I heard Msgr. Harrington mention in a homily at the Co-Cathedral that he was starting a fraternity at the Co-Cathedral. I reached out to him and joined the fraternity. The challenge started that Monday! It was a quick turnaround.
What did you think was going to be the hardest thing to give up during Exodus 90?
Rafael: You’ve heard about the cold showers? (laughs) So that’s what I thought was going to be the hardest. I work in media, so I was going to have to make an exception for screens and communication for work, but it was easy to give up TV outside of that. But then everything changed for me on the 42nd day.
Part of Exodus 90 is rigorous exercise each day. On the Monday before Ash Wednesday, I went to the doctor, as I had the biggest muscle spasm of my life from exercising the day before. I had overdone it. The doctor prescribed pain medicine for me and also gave me steroids. The steroids affected my brain and my mood, and I had sort of a “dark night of the soul.”
Previously, up to the 42nd day, this whole process had been extreme consolation. I said to a priest that this experience of asceticism and dedication to prayer, particularly the 20 minutes of silent prayer, was opening up my eyes to the faith. I was beginning to understand the faith, understand who Jesus was for the first time.
I only returned to the faith about two or three years ago. Previously, a few times before, I’d wanted to get back to the faith, but it felt like nonsense, wishful thinking. When I heard believers talking about God, I felt like I was behind a glass wall and not in there with them.
But, throughout the first few days of Exodus 90, I truly felt God’s presence, that I was in God’s palm, that heaven is where we are, we just can’t see it. I became convinced that Jesus really is God—God became a human being, and continues to dwell among us.
After being prescribed the steroids, I felt mentally weak and experienced strange symptoms. I reached out to my “anchor” [DeSales Media CEO Bill Maier] in the Exodus 90 fraternity, and he not only was completely supportive, he understood and shared a similar experience.
With my anchor and the fraternity, I was able to get through this distressing physical and mental pain. I felt that God was sending me a message. Even though I had been undertaking ascetic practices, I hadn’t really been uncomfortable—I had been secure in my own ability. I felt, oh I’m good, I’ve got this. I thought I was giving up myself when I was not.
We can’t do asceticism without confronting discomfort and evil. I felt that this pain was actually a prodding from God to surrender myself more. God was sending me a message; when we give up our lives, that is serious business. We have to accept daily pain, chronic pain. But we can’t do it alone. We need to rely on others. Ultimately, we have to acknowledge—and this is the whole point of Exodus 90—that we cannot lead ourselves to freedom. We have to hope in Christ. Not ourselves.
How has your experience of the fraternity impacted your experience?
Rafael: If this series of mishaps hadn’t happened, I might have told you, “I’m prepared, I’m ready, I can do it. I can change my life around after the 90 days.” Now I know that I couldn’t do it without the fraternity. Every meeting we’ve had has always made this experience better for me.
It is Jesus who saves us, who leads us out of the dark wood, but he does that through the intervention of other human beings.
How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your experience of Exodus 90?
Rafael: I mean, talk about not being in control. I lived through a revolution in Cuba, through the 9/11 attacks, through the Vietnam War, but nothing compares to this—we truly are out of control.
This new virtual and digital society we’ve become has really exposed my tech ignorance. I’ve had to surrender myself in a new way by asking for help. I’ve been asking people in my company, younger coworkers or colleagues, to help me. I’ve found that people have been absolutely kind and generous and patient with me.
One of my coworkers told me: “Listen Rafael, in a time like this, we just have to be a little more patient and kind to each other.”
Isn’t that the truth?
In my own experience, my favorite music never got any easier to be without, and the cold showers stayed jarring. But what was revealed to me over the three months was that so much of what I felt was an important part of my life, isn’t. That things we think we need, we don’t. And that becoming less attached to stuff like this is only the beginning of living a Christian life.
I am grateful to have had this experience, and I give glory to God for bringing me through it. The program focuses on turning us from selfish guys who are attached to our comforts into men for others. It is about treating Day 91 not as a finish line but as a new beginning. And I am invigorated to live for Christ.
He is risen indeed.