By Tony DeGol
James Yonushonis remembers the days when just about all he did for Lent was give up something like watermelon.
Recent Lents, however, including this one, are dramatically different.
“Starting 45 days before Lent and finishing at Easter, it’s kind of like a double Lent,” he stressed.
Yonushonis is talking about Exodus 90 – a 90-day Catholic program for men rooted in prayer, fraternal support, and asceticism – also known as self-discipline or self-denial.
“It’s way more difficult than any Lent I’ve ever experienced,” he added.
Yonushonis and his pals Christopher Smith and Matt Freeman, are among a bunch of guys embracing the program at Our Lady of Victory Parish in State College.
The name Exodus 90 is rooted in the Book of Exodus in the Bible.
“The exodus, of course, is when the Israelites escaped from the slavery in Egypt,” explained Father George Jakopac, Pastor of OLV. “And the plague, of course, came, and the pharaoh let them go, and they escaped, and they went through the crossing of the Red Sea. It was the exodus to the Promised Land.”
The escape from the slavery of Egypt is a reflection of the Christian escaping from mortal sin, Father Jakopac continued. The blood of the lamb was replaced by the Blood of Jesus so that we can escape and go through the parted waters of Baptism. The Promised Land is not the nation of Israel, but Heaven.
“Lent is a time to reflect on the real purpose of life, which is to get to Heaven and escape sin,” Father Jakopac reminded.
Make no mistake – Exodus 90 isn’t for the faint of heart.
Requirements include a daily holy hour and reading from the Book of Exodus.
The self-discipline and self-denial portion includes taking ice cold showers, intense exercise, getting at least seven hours of sleep each night, abstaining from alcohol, desserts, snacking, sweet drinks, television, movies, televised sports, and video games. Guys must only listen to music that uplifts their soul to God and only use a computer for work or school. That means no surfing the internet. Also, no texting or apps, and only using cell phones for essential communication. Plus, abstaining from meat and fasting every Wednesday and Friday.
Christopher Smith is married and a dad to three children. He’s up for the challenge.
“You cast off things of the world that tend to distract us from Jesus, and you take on Jesus, Himself,” Smith stated. “You take on prayer, fraternity, and asceticism just like Jesus did. You walk in the footsteps of Christ to be with Him. In that way, you’re trusting in God in a radical way. The long list of disciplines is impossible to do on our own, and that’s one of the points: we cannot follow Christ without Christ himself.”
Matt Freeman is a husband with two children and one on the way. This is his second go-around with Exodus 90.
“I was looking for a way to meet people at the parish, and Exodus 90 provided me with that in the first year and inspired me to see other like-minded men looking for the same thing – to get to Heaven and get closer to God,” he said.
“Exodus 90 works by breaking up into smaller groups of six to eight or ten guys, but then on a larger scale at OLV we organized three of those groups last year and we have another three this year just to build a larger fraternity to support one another,” Smith noted. “If we can build strong men that follow Jesus, then our parish will be filled with strong men over time.”
So just how does Exodus 90 make guys better Catholic men, husbands, and fathers?
“I think the answer to that is ‘how has it not,’” Freeman responded. “It’s like a fitness program for your faith. It gets you trained and physically fit to be able to handle what the world puts in front of you and be committed to God and always look to Him for guidance first.”
For Freeman, the most difficult hurdle of Exodus 90 is the ice-cold showers, but overcoming the challenge certainly has its rewards.
The fraternity aspect is key for Yonushonis, a husband and father of six.
“I’m somebody that would want to try to do it by myself and try to be the tough guy who could tackle all of these disciplines and extra prayer by myself,” he admitted. “It has never gone well for me in the past to do it alone. It’s very clear that I need the brotherhood.”
Yonushonis and the other guys are especially grateful to their wives for supporting them on their journey.
Seeing the level of commitment and enthusiasm for Exodus 90 at Our Lady of Victory Parish delights Father Jakopac. He is especially impressed by the high number of young, professional men taking part, and it makes him feel pretty optimistic for the future.
“There is definitely something going on with the under-40 crowd where they’re having big families, and they’re really committed to their faith,” Father stated. “They are a renewal.”
[Photo: (left to right) Matt Freeman, James Yonushonis, and Chris Smith, members of Our Lady of Victory Parish and participants in Exodus 90.]