From the Pastor: The Exodus 90 Challenge
There are some great things happening at Epiphany of which you should be aware. I have already written about the Solemn High Mass and Blessing of Candles which will happen next Saturday, February 2, at 8:00 am so this is just a simple reminder about it. Bring your candles for the blessing and procession! In the evening of that same day is the celebration of the Lunar New Year (TET) by the St. Joseph Vietnamese Mission and they want to be sure that you all know that you are invited. Come early! Getting here will be a nightmare after 8:00. The children’s activities begin about 6:00 or 6:30 pm (exact times are not seemingly too important!), following the 5:00 English Vigil Mass. Food will be plentiful and all of the booths will be selling traditional Vietnamese soups, meats, shrimp and many things which are completely unidentifiable. Come with an adventurous hunger!
Something already underway and continuing until Easter is the “Exodus 90” challenge. Andy Whiskeyman asked if he could recruit a group of men to take on this challenge of 90 days of prayer, ascetical exercises, and fraternity. Six things would be expected of any man who signed up: 1) Pray daily prayer and read through the Book of Exodus; 2) Sacrifice with twice-weekly fast days; 3) Give up alcohol and sweets, social media, video games and televised sports; 4) Don’t spend any money except for necessities; 5) Take only cold showers and commit to a program of strenuous exercise; 6) Meet at least once a week with a group of five to seven guys who are doing the same thing under the Spiritual Direction of a Priest. Out of that list, there was one expectation which multiple men told me they couldn’t do. Others told the office staff that they couldn't do that same one. Still more told Andy that that same one was holding them back from participating. At one point Andy told me, “I always thought Hell would be burning hot. Evidently it will need be nothing worse than a cold shower!” Yes, number 5, taking cold showers, was the one so many men were unwilling to do. We did get enough men. But really? Cold showers are too much? They are more difficult than exercise or twice weekly fasting or giving up sports or alcohol? Unbelievable.
I had agreed to be the spiritual director for the men. I figured that I couldn’t very well lead them spiritually if I wasn’t willing to join them in these practices. I also figured that, since I was poking fun at the snowflakes, I had better strengthen myself by undertaking this hardest ascetical practice before anyone else. So I began taking cold showers before the 90 days began. It’s not that hard, really. Right? Why, just last year the rectory’s water heater broke and it took a week to get it fixed. Those cold showers were forced upon me. These were my choice. During the forced cold showers I only got wet and then turned off the water until needing to rinse. This time I was going be a man and shower like normal except never turn the hot water handle. Or so I told myself before getting in. “YEEIAYAYIOOEEIIAYIYIYI” or something like that came out of my mouth involuntarily even before I got my face into the flowing stream of liquid icicles. I kept telling myself over and over, “It’s only cold water. It can’t hurt you. It’s only cold water...” but I just couldn’t make myself believe it. I grew up swimming in Florida’s freshwater springs where the water temperature remains constant at 70 or 72 degrees all year long. When it is 94 outside, that temperature difference makes entering the water seem difficult. Some people entered this way: Two inches at a time. Stop. Acclimate ankles. Wait 45 seconds. Step forward, submerging two more inches. Stop. Repeat. Other people just jumped right in and got the shock out of the way all at once. I was a jumper. But a shower is not jumpable. Brrrrr.... “A few days of crying, shivering, and talking myself through it should do the trick,” I lied to myself, “and I will quit acting like a little girl and just calmly step under the spray as if it is nothing.” I haven’t yet gotten to that point. It has gotten easier, but it showed me quite clearly that I am too soft and squishy. I like physical comfort so much that even something as seemingly simple as a cold shower takes getting psyched up for. This is really showing how much I need ascetical practices like this to toughen me up. If I can barely stand ten to fifteen minutes of 65-68 degree water (yes, I measured it several times after my second day of wimpiness and that is the temperature range so far!) how can I ever expect to be a martyr or withstand torture for the Faith, not knowing if or when real pain will end? How can I even begin to properly contemplate the pains of Purgatory so as to do extra penance before death in reparation for my many sins if I avoid even inconveniences (for cold water showers are not truly painful)? A brief discomfort once or twice a day is nothing compared to the excruciating and eternal pains of Hell but it just might keep me and the men with me (and then their families and you) out of it! Please pray for us as we continue these 90 days of spiritual fitness and purification.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka