Exodus

When making any life-altering decisions, we’ve really got to question our motives. If our motivation for change isn’t really worthwhile then we are likely to fall off the wagon sooner rather than later.

Beginning about mid-February I had come upon another weight loss plateau. I didn’t have to look very far to see that this latest pause in progress was self-inflicted. I began to increase my carb intake ever so slightly. Going into this plateau I was about 20 lbs down from my starting weight. Two weeks later? I was still 20 lbs down. I began a struggle with my will power; it seemed as though I had lost my resolve to just stick to the program.

I began to realize that my weight loss “for my family” was a thinly-veiled disguise for my own vain ambitions of getting fit again. I didn’t just want to be healthier, I wanted to look good. I wanted to regain some semblance of self-confidence that I hadn’t felt in years. I’m not here to tell you that these are entirely bad motivations. In fact, they are quite reasonable for any man. Confidence is a good thing.

But I was doing it again; I was falling back into the same old mentality. I was living for myself.

In the latter part of last year, I had stumbled upon a blog post by Taylor Marshall, of the New Saint Thomas Institute, wherein he mentioned all of the benefits that had come from a ninety day program called Exodus 90. I remember thinking to myself, “I want that.”

So I slowly began to research the program and had come to the firm decision that I was to begin on March 1st. Ash Wednesday. This regimen which includes moderate ascetic practices, daily exercises, prayer and reflection, and weekly accountability meetings, was just what I needed. It was almost perfect timing that my decision to begin at the outset of Lent came on the heels of me slipping away from my new low-carb lifestyle.

Exodus 90 for me was not going to focus on how I looked in the mirror; it was going to be about who I am as a Husband, a Father, a Friend, and, most importantly, as a Catholic. Today (March 7th) is Day 7. Our fraternity, which includes me and three other guys, has already had our first meeting and we are off to a great start. The literature that accompanies this 90-day challenge warns us time and time again that while this program starts out “easy” that this Exodus will be anything but easy. I am not only part of a fraternity of four guys, but of a larger community of 1700+ men who have already gone through their own Exodus.

To give you a quick overview as to what my Exodus looks like, here’s a bulleted list of what I am giving up with brief explanations:

  • To combat my love of comfort: Cold/Lukewarm showers only, No snacks between meals, No sweetened beverages, No alcohol, Abstinence & Fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, No desserts or sweets, regular and intense exercise
  • To combat my addictive tendencies: Computer/Mobile Devices for work/research purposes only (i.e. no social media, etc.), no television (this includes movies and Netflix), Only music that lifts the soul to God, no major material purchases (beyond toiletries)
  • For my wellbeing: Commitment to getting seven hours of sleep each night (harder than you might think), Weekly accountability meetings with your fraternity (small group), Make time for regular holy hour (aka the two hours I spend commuting each day, now without radio)

Why did I list everything?

Not to gloat. Not to prove anything, but to inspire.

Maybe someone will end up reading this who is also in need of a change, just like me. I wanted to disclose the Exodus 90 system in this way to show you that it is no joke, and there will be countless reasons to quit or to not take the challenge at all.

“I just can’t give up social media. I need it for…”

“No hot showers? Are you kidding me?”

“But I’m not even Catholic! So why would I…”

There are endless reasons why someone should NOT do Exodus 90.

I’m doing it for my freedom, because an unhealthy attachment to worldly goods limits my capacity to give of myself and live for others. I’m doing it to get my life back, and to give God control over everything. I’m doing it for happiness and health. I’m doing it for my own salvation.

If these types of improvements don’t sound desirable, then Exodus is not for you.

I do, however, ask that you remember me in your prayers.

Progress Report: As of 3/7/2017, I have lost 24 lbs.

The Gravity of Sin

Is all sin created equal? Yes and no. You may have heard at one point or another in your life that all sin is equally grave; meaning, it all bears the same weight with regard to your salvation. While sin, in every case, opposes God, much of its effect on whether or not you’re eternally damned depends on well… you.

If I were to tell a lie, instantaneously, in order to avoid someone’s anger in a passing situation you would likely struggle to equate a ‘reactionary sin’ such as what I’ve mentioned with a premeditated murder. There are many in the fundamentalist school of thought who would assert that ‘sin is sin’ and that ‘all sin is the same in God’s eyes’. On the contrary, Sacred Scripture supports the idea that not all sin is of grave concern or ‘deadly.’ (cf. 1 John 5:16-17) The underlying truth we come to realize is that all sin points to a flaw within ourselves. We are all created in the image and likeness of God, but due to the fall we have an innate tendency towards what is pleasurable or sinful; this is called concupiscence.

The effects of our sinfulness are not altogether autonomous, because even though the nature of our sins can be radically different, their differing effects are all commonly involved. Sin is, essentially, an effort on our part that is in opposition to God, albeit direct or indirect. God is the only ‘true good’ that man can come to know and sin looks upon this ‘true good’ and chooses otherwise. Not only that, our sins are in opposition to our own human nature according to our nature’s ordering in the image of God’s divine nature. Just as Adam and eve were robbed of their paradise, so too are we robbed of perfect freedom when we sin. God created us to be free and to discover this true freedom that orients itself towards the good.

Sins can be distinguished according to their objects, as can every human act; or according to the virtues they oppose, by excess or defect; or according to the commandments they violate. They can also be classed according to whether they concern God, neighbor, or oneself; they can be divided into spiritual and carnal sins, or again as sins in thought, word, deed, or omission. The root of sin is in the heart of man, in his free will, according to the teaching of the Lord: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man.” But in the heart also resides charity, the source of the good and pure works, which sin wounds. – CCC 1853

As we have already established, our sin can either be a direct or indirect effort. To further clarify, an indirect effort would be an instantaneous or reactionary sin that we failed to give full consent to, but committed it anyways. The Church recognizes these minor offenses as being venial. Venial sins wound the virtue of charity in our lives; however, they are not intentional, malicious acts towards God, who is the ‘true good.’ These types of sins point out a flaw or shortcoming in our spiritual life that must be attended to before it gets out of hand. Venial sins, as they relate to our communion with the Body of Christ are not acts that sever this relationship. We would do well to confess such venial sins, although not required, so that we might receive just penance as a preventative measure for future occasions of sin.

Beyond that, sin, as it relates to the disposition of man, can also be categorized as mortal or what the Scriptures call ‘deadly.’ Whether a sin is mortal or venial determines the vitality of man’s relationship with God. Mortal sin severs the bond between man and the larger body of Christ and, effectively, the bond between man and God. Mortal sin is to be viewed as a literal rejection or ‘turning away’ from God that results from the grave error of our choices. A murder that has been premeditated or, perhaps, the willingness to be unfaithful to one’s spouse are two examples of mortal sin. Sins that have been adequately considered and carried out regardless of the harm that may result are considered to be mortal. When man chooses such selfish behavior, he acts in complete opposition to God and his actions demonstrate a forsaking of his union with the true good.

“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss. – CCC 1864

What is sin?

My older daughter, Lucia (2 yrs.), is very… adventurous. Lucia likes to explore every part of our house that she can get to without any major difficulties. I should add that even if it is difficult she will still give it everything she’s got. A few months ago we installed child-proof locks all throughout our house, but unfortunately, we forgot a few cabinets in the kitchen. One afternoon, I was sitting on the couch working on schoolwork when, piece by piece, Lucia brought me our rice cooker. With each passing part, while holding back laughter, I would ask her to “bring this piece back to mom” and soon enough I had an entire rice cooker in my lap as I worked.

Right away, one would affirm that Lucia’s (very cute) disregard for my requests would be an action in need of correction and one would be right. Very firmly, yet in the most loving way, Rachel and I find ourselves correcting Lucia not because she is in trouble but because, as parents, we are forming her into a child who respects and trusts in our authority. Did Lucia sin when she ignored my requests to bring the rice cooker parts back? Absolutely not. She’s too young and not yet culpable for such actions. Much (if not all) responsibility has yet to burden her for her actions, given her age and ability to understand the implications of our parenting. As she grows older, however, Lucia, Audrey, and (Lord willing) any other kids we are blessed with will have to give an account for when they disobey what they have come to understand as rules in our household.

The Bible talks about sin quite often throughout the cannon of Scripture. Church teaching, throughout the millennia, has provided us with much clarity regarding the weight of these Scripture passages in our world today. Within Church Tradition we come to find that there are many absolute moral norms that hold true in any culture and in any time period. This basically means that what was a sin 1,000 years ago is still a sin today. This sin will, of course, look different in light of the vast cultural shifts that have taken place; however, the spirit of the act will have prevailed and would still be considered… a sin.

Sin, from a theological perspective, is to say “that is not the way it is meant to be…” Sin is a deviation from God’s plan and it isn’t until we recognize our ‘deviations’ or ‘shortcomings’ that we are opened up to God’s mercy. In short, sin is when we act in a way contrary to what God has in store for us. It is through God’s grace and mercy that we can recover from our deviations and be reconciled back to our created order. Pope Saint John Paul II affirms that conversion requires convincing of sin. The logic behind this is simple: If you feel as though you are without sin or that you don’t really sin… then you don’t really need a savior.

If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. – 1 John 1:8

If we think for a moment on the origins of sin, we are taken back to the story of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. God had given them paradise and asked only one thing of them: just stay away from one tree and… they blew it. If we dissect this incident we will come to find that all the familiar characteristics of sin are found within this ‘forbidden fruit’ story. To begin we can plainly see that the first sin was not only the breaking of God’s commandment but a rejection of God’s authority. If we dig a bit further we sense an obvious frustration with the ‘limits’ that God has put on Adam and Eve’s freedom, according to the serpent. The two, after hearing that the fruit of this tree will make them ‘like Gods’, feel as though something is being kept from them; as if God was being unfair. All of the sudden we witness a level of ingratitude for the entire gift that is paradise; this points out a distrust of God’s plan. When we, like Adam and Eve begin to doubt God’s plan, or worse, think we have a better plan we become prideful in our thoughts and actions. Finally, as in all sin, we tend to develop an unhealthy attachment to some created good; a forbidden fruit.

Sin, according to Sacred Scripture is meritorious of death. Not just a physical death, but an eternal death precisely because sin separates us from God. Our relationship with God grows stronger through virtuous living especially when we walk firmly in the theological virtues of Faith in God, Hope for eternity, and Charity (love) for God and neighbor. Sin wounds charity, the virtue from which all other virtues proceed. (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:13) In the most serious of sins, our actions actually bring about a turning away from God and sever our relationship with God altogether. This, of course, disturbs a ‘once saved, always saved’ notion that tends to circulate in some theological circles. I can assure you that salvation is a process and not a one-time event. Our life is a constant battle against temptation and sinfulness and we cannot win this battle without God’s grace and mercy. We must continue to struggle against self, with great courage, and realize that no matter how difficult this journey becomes… we are not alone.

Husbands, Love Your Wives.

Writing this post is going to hurt. In all honesty, it will border on hypocrisy due simply to the fact that I am not a perfect husband. I am immature, selfish, and tend to hold everyone to incredibly lofty standards… including my wife. In the most humble way possible I would like to acknowledge that I am a work in progress. Any improvements that I have made in loving my wife were not the result of my own, independent resolve but were, in fact, moments of personal conversion. Wait… what? Yeah, as cliché as this might sound (and as prevalent it might be in the Catholic blogosphere), I didn’t begin to make improvements in the ‘being married’ department until I began really taking my relationship with God seriously.

Continue reading “Husbands, Love Your Wives.”