The first part of January we had more than 60 college students from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and Black Hills State University that took two buses to Indianapolis for the SEEK Conference, in Indianapolis, Indiana, which is put on by FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students).
It was through the dedication and hard work of the FOCUS missionaries evangelizing and constantly inviting college students to SEEK that we were able to take this many people from these two small universities in Western South Dakota. God is good!
SEEK was a five-day gathering of thousands of college students from around the country who met to learn more about their faith, to share in friendship, to be encouraged in their unique vocation and to experience the love and hope that comes from a real, personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ in his church. The theme for this year’s conference was “Encounter Something More.”
From my experience, those who went to SEEK or those who have encountered someone who went to SEEK are still “Encountering Something More” — in the person of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit two months later.
In Matthew 7:20 we hear, “By their fruit you will know them.” For me personally, this fruit can be seen in the six small groups made up of 20-plus college students and young adults, three FOCUS missionaries, two priests, and one director of campus ministry participating in Exodus 90.
Exodus 90 is a spiritual exercise — at times it feels more like a spiritual boot camp — that is rooted in the great story of the movement from slavery to freedom in the Book of Exodus. Exodus 90 is comprised of four pillars: prayer, asceticism, fraternity and 90 days.
The Exodus 90 program makes prayer foundational in this spiritual journey. Each man is called to do a daily holy hour with at least 20 minutes of contemplative prayer, listening and pondering on the word of God. St. John of the Cross calls contemplative prayer “Silent Love.”
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read that it is in silent prayer coming before the face of God that “we let our masks fall and turn our heads back to the Lord who loves us, so as to hand ourselves over to him as an offering to be purified and transformed” (No. 2711).
As part of the prayer pillar, each man is also encouraged to pray the morning offering, go to daily Mass if at all possible, pray at meals, frequent confession, pray during Eucharistic adoration and pray a daily Rosary. One of the great fruits of the prayer pillar is that I offer Mass at 6 o’clock on Saturday mornings and usually have two or three that will show up, which always warms my heart.
The second pillar, asceticism, helps participants acquire self-discipline. This self-discipline gives men back their interior freedom — the freedom to give up “the things of this world” so as to receive in exchange a blessed freedom which allows us to love our “neighbors” and our God.
The goal of asceticism is to give us the strength to reorder our life. In the catechism it speaks of repentance in this way: “Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all of our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance towards the evil actions we have committed” (No. 1431).
The ascetic disciplines within the Exodus 90 program include: cold showers, no alcohol, no desserts and sweets, no eating between meals, no soda or sweetened drinks, no television or movies (without the permission of the fraternity), only music that lifts the soul to God, no televised sports (without the permission of the fraternity), computer and phone for research and communication purposes only, regular and intense exercise, no major material purchases (without the permission of the fraternity), fasting on Wednesday and Fridays by eating one regular meal and two smaller meals while abstaining from meat, and minimum of seven hours of sleep each night.
The small group/fraternity that I am a part of decided at the beginning of Exodus 90 journey that if one of us falls or breaks one of these ascetic disciplines that we all agreed to sleep on the floor. To be honest, sleeping on the floor has been a difficult and a challenging one for me, more so than the cold showers every day — so far it is been six nights on the floor.
Small group fraternities are a real gift to the Exodus 90 program. These fraternities build a band of brothers who help to keep each other accountable in this intense journey to freedom. These fraternities meet three times a week, allowing each brother the opportunity to give a self-report for accountability and to receive encouragement from the brotherhood.
Why the 90 days? It is the length of time needed to re-learn or reboot the spiritual life. Researchers have found that it takes about 90 days for the brain to reset itself. That is why most rehabilitation programs, including Alcoholics Anonymous, use the 90-day model. There is a saying in AA, “90 meetings in 90 days.”
Prayer. Asceticism. Fraternity. We are discovering these are indispensable practices that build one on another as they lead us to true freedom and a transformed heart in Christ.
Black Hills State University Newman Center members taking up the Exodus 90 challenge with Fr. John Paul Trask at Spearfish. (Courtesy photo)
S.D. School of Mines Newman Center members taking up the Exodus 90 challenge with Fr. Mark McCormick and on the end at right, Jacques Daniel, center director. (Courtesy photo)