Making Room  for God
Exodus 90 is a spiritual boost " and ‘boot camp’ " for modern Catholics
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
July 25, 2019
‘I t is the will of God that the soul should be empty of all created things, so that it may become a fitting altar of His Majesty.’
 
So said St. John of the Cross, who would likely approve of Exodus 90, a sort of spiritual fat farm and boot camp designed by seminarians for seminarians that has evolved to welcome parish priests and laity. 
 
The website of this 90-day spiritual exercise says that it is “all about freedom.”
 
Father Keith Romke, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Dixon, enthusiastically embraced the program — twice.
 
“I call it Exodus 180,” he says, laughing. “I loved it so much; it is incredibly powerful ... I’ll probably do it again next Lent ... . (It) enabled me to fall more deeply in love with the Lord.”
 
The book provided for the program was helpful, he says, adding he “folded (the prayer suggestions) into what I normally do.” 
 
The ascetical practices combined with the prayer “made it so I was so much more focused and available to the Lord during that time of prayer.” 
 
Father Romke laughs again when asked if the end of the second 90 days was like splurging after Lent.
His treats, he says, included “lots of candy, pie, cheesecake, and a nice, long warm shower.”
 
The cold showers are a part of Exodus 90 that nearly every participant mentions.
 
Hannah Dixon, 18, a parishioner at St. Patrick and a recent graduate of Newman Central Catholic High School in Sterling, calls the cold showers “especially hard (in winter) with longer hair. I got pretty fast at drying my hair.” 
 
Now when she takes a hot shower, she is filled with gratitude, she says.
 
Dixon saw Exodus 90 as a way to extend a pilgrimage she took to Rome last November. Three other pilgrims plus one of the teachers were in her Exodus group, and five other Rome pilgrims formed another group.
 
“It really felt like (being on pilgrimage), especially during small group meetings,” Dixon says. “That group became (a) family. That was my favorite part.”
 
Near the end, with 10 days to go, the support and encouragement of her small group kept her going, she says. 
 
“When I see them, I think of my experiences with them in Rome and Exodus,” which causes her, she adds, to be “thinking back to God.”
 
Tough purge
 
The aesthetical part of Exodus 90 may sound intimidating, but “overall, God has a way for you to empty out your cup a little bit, and He just takes that void and just overflows it in ways you never thought possible,” says another enthusiastic St. Patrick Parish participant, Anthony Welty. 
 
Those ascetical practices “just became not as difficult,” he says, “because you’re allowing Him to enter in more into your life.”
 
Along with Father Romke, Welty also did the program twice. He “wanted to experience it again, and do it with another awesome group of men,” he says.
 
The ages of the men in his groups ranged from “late 20s, early 30s all the way up into the 70s range,” Welty says, adding they “share their struggles and wonderful things happening.
 
“I felt (God) was teaching me stuff in my own life,” Welty continued. “He was manifesting Himself through these men (who are) diverse in ages and vocations.”
 
Father Christopher DiTomo, pastor of St. Gall Parish in Elburn, says he heard about Exodus 90 from Father Romke but hadn’t planned to do it.
 
Then he learned two of his parishioners have relatives in Father Romke’s Dixon parish.
 
When one of them wanted to take part but needed to meet three times a week in a group, “He suggested it for here (and) guilted me into it.
 
“I’m glad I did it,” Father DiTomo says. “There was just more quiet in my life, it was easier to pray (being) less distracted by things. It gave me a greater simplicity of life.”
 
The hardest part to do every day was making time for the exercising, Father DiTomo says. Lukewarm showers came in second, and in general he says he “had a hard time having silence,” finding himself listening to sacred music instead.
 
“You learn a lot about yourself,” Father DiTomo concludes, “and (how) to go deeper in your prayer and rely more on God.”
 
St. Gall parishioner Mark Riegling calls Exodus 90 an “adventure.” 
 
“The daily discipline part attracted me,” he says, adding that it helped him “focus on true freedom: spiritual freedom and spiritual growth.”
 
The intensity of his commitment shows in the fact that he lost 20 pounds, permanently gave up Facebook  —“And I don’t miss it.” — and says its introduction to silence means, “now I’m way more peaceful (with) not as much anxiety about work and stuff you think you have to get to and do.”
 
At age 55, Riegling says he “could barely get through” the difficult exercises listed, such as 100 pushups in one day. 
 
He often was “literally on my knees” on some of the days, learning to offer up the difficult exercises on behalf of a family member. 
 
“You know, it worked,” he says. “I never really prayed through exercise. It was valuable for me.”
But the older men in his group couldn’t do some of the exercises, he says, adding, “I understand Exodus 90 has scaled back on” that requirement.
 
Like at St. Patrick’s, St. Gall Parish had some women participate — particularly wives with their husbands. 
 
“Some couples wanted to do it and said it was easier” with both of them going through it together, Father DiTomo says.
 
Riegling sees the future of Exodus 90 as having “a huge market if they design (a program) for women and have (options that are) more age appropriate.”
 
Besides the challenging exercises, some of the materials and readings depicted “a young man’s struggles” as befits Exodus 90’s origins (see box), he says.
 
When witnessing the value of Exodus 90 to his parish, Welty says he told them, “The world is so distracting you don’t even realize you’re distracted. Not that any (particular distraction) is bad, but we have to remember to prioritize God in our life.
 
“One way I think Satan tries to get us is to put all these things in life, and at the end of the day, I didn’t take time for prayer.”
 
Exodus 90, Welty said in his talk, “is beautiful because it is just so life giving.”