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Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore.Claire Chretien / LifeSiteNews

January 29, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — There’s a one hundred percent chance of heavy rain at daybreak tomorrow. And I wonder as I type if I’ll be getting dumped on. But I’m too yellow to ask Ryan Laddbush, the father of 12 and captain of our Exodus 90 fraternity. It was big-bearded Laddbush who requested last week that our 13-man group gather beneath a dark dusk sky to stand for an hour in low-20 temperatures to share our indelicate first week with the program. No one dared admit his ears were stinging — and you definitely weren’t going to gripe to Tim, who hasn’t missed a cold shower for two years.

“For me anyway, the cold shower’s like the blocking sled in high school football,” Tim shared with us. “The drudgery and work that breaks you down needs to be done every day. I’ve found that my sacrifices lead to giving the full measure of myself to my family. If I can’t endure the cold shower, then maybe I’m not fit to overcome my bad habits. Maybe I’m not fit for heaven.”

Tim’s embrace of discomfort has refashioned him. After six months of enduring daily cold showers, he thought, I don’t think I need that post-work beer anymore. That occasional glass of bourbon doesn’t mean much now. He didn’t have a drinking problem; he just wanted it ejected from his life. He began to see as shameful the numbing of hard days at the office with a beer or two. He’ll never drink again.

“Club soda and a lime work just fine,” said Tim, whose prayer life, work output, focus, and devotion to wife Maria and his children has expanded since bracing himself for that first unkind shower.

Exodus 90 is a three-month flowerless bouquet of thorns — an ascetical hailstorm that’s caused even the best of Catholic men to curse interiorly. It’s designed to size men up, then steamroll over them. Many a man has quit the program, then ended up zombieing around, wondering why he couldn’t live like John the Baptist.

Those who’ve persevered say it’s not only helped to reshape their souls, but perhaps even saved them.

The designers of the program ask men for 90 days to eliminate alcohol, sports viewership, all technology (outside work), television, secular radio listening, snacks, sweets, videogames, and other pleasures and inclinations. Wednesday and Friday fasts are mandatory. Every shower is cold. Intense exercise must be penciled in throughout the week.

More importantly, a committed movement to increased weekday Mass attendance, Scripture study, Lectio Divina, Holy Hours, and recitation of the rosary is demanded. The program’s objective is clear-cut: it aims to help lift the mind up to Christ, strengthen virtue, and subdue the flesh. Every so often, a seemingly transcendent day of intense illumination from contemplative prayer emerges. Thereafter, fasting, mortifications, and even the cold shower seem as high-impact spiritual vitamins and extraordinary consolations. Because a man suddenly feels unconquerable, he shares it with his fraternity. And undeniable cohesion and unity are forged as men share what it is to grow in holiness. 

Still, the thorns often prick harder the next day. Bryan Snyder awakened at 2 A.M. the other night when one of one of his 10 children vomited on her bedroom wall. Wife Eileen was on a mission trip in Jamaica, so Bryan grabbed the Lysol and rags.

“I got it all over me. And it had to come off,” he said. “And I thought, ‘Oh man — a cold shower at 2 A.M. … I almost convinced myself that I earned that hot shower, but I stepped in and went cold. Without God, no way I could have done it.”

A single American bishop (that I’m aware of) is participating in Exodus 90. Interestingly, this is the same bishop who addresses, by name, the progessive toxicity of Fr. James Martin and his seemingly unimpeded march to normalize homosexuality. This shepherd (who will go unnamed because he would not want the attention) presses for answers on the Vatican’s stagnated McCarrick report. He’s condemned the United Nations for its anti-life stance and urges the hierarchy to maintain, enshrine, and proclaim difficult Church teachings and doctrine. He’s given over his diocese to veneration of the Eucharist.

During these days of muted courageous leadership within our Church, many American Catholics today regard this bishop as a warrior or some sort of sanctified cowboy — a solitary figure attuned to the multitudinous troubles that have broken into his Church. He’s masculine — a shepherd who often regards parts of his weathervane-wind-whipped Church simply as loose stallions needing to be meeked. 

Many regard his way as too rigid or overly pious. Thankfully, for this bishop, there is only the fight for souls — his own, those in his diocese, and the troubled soul of what seems an increasingly balkanized Church. Red martyrdom, he’s mentioned to me, is not something he regards as seldom read passages from old small-fonted Catholic books on saints; he believes that Mary is leading him to it. He knows that the burden of his identity includes an embrace of a certain death to help guard the travailed Church. This awareness became clear during his daily Holy Hour.

Fr. Peter Daly is a different kind of cowboy in clerics. He also seems mostly alone out on the range. He’s leading “Love Casts Out Fear: Finding Courage to Speak Our Truth,” a retreat contoured for “gay priests, bishops, clergy, and deacons.” He directed a similar retreat in Wisconsin last autumn; this one will be held at Bon Secours Retreat Center in quaint horse country outside Baltimore.

The retreat is sponsored by New Ways Ministry, a group committed to advocating “for justice and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics, and reconciliation within the larger church and civil communities.” Fr. Daly has condemned priestly celibacy in homilies and in his writings. He is an advocate for female and married priests and has conceded to a widespread homosexual culture in the clergy; he has called homosexuality natural and one of God’s gifts.

As with the retreat in Wisconsin, it’s unlikely that the outside world will ever gain knowledge of the scope, dimension, and boundaries of what gets discussed behind Bon Secours’s brick walls. And I suppose that is well within the rights of Fr. Daly and New Ways Ministry, just as the Germans pointed their howitzers in whatever direction they wanted.

The Holy Spirit creates life; its fruit is salvific and nourishing. The evil spirit divides and disrupts; its fruit is rotten. Satan is capable only of obliging his nature; he can produce only blasphemy.

Fr. Daly’s retreat is a blasphemy. It can only be rotten because it excludes God’s grace; in the same way it is impossible for the homosexual act to produce life, it is impossible for a retreat for gay clergy to bear true and lasting fruit. Who would benefit? If a member of the clergy is same-sex attracted, how would attendance act as anything other than an encouragement, consolation, and affirmation? The holy and celibate same-sex attracted priest, who has offered his disposition to God as a lifelong sacrifice, knows to stay far away from retreats such as these.

Those men on retreat are incapable of an Exodus 90 type of unity because their talks will center on what the Church indelicately but firmly calls disordered. The retreat rings of disunity. Exodus 90 fraternities are unified, fruit-bearing, and hardy because the sum of everything is centered on sacrifice and amputation of will. It all points to Jesus Christ suffocating on the cross.

Sacrifice leads to love. And love leads to obedience. So the question must be asked: why would Archbishop William E. Lori seemingly disobey his calling to lead as a shepherd must when a heterodoxy is set to rear up in his diocese? Regardless of whether the sponsoring New Ways Ministry is outside his jurisdiction, true shepherds handle rustlers who’ve made the grave mistake of stepping, uninvited, onto their pastures.

And why would Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington permit Fr. Daly, a retired active priest from his diocese, to seemingly poison the minds of an already vulnerable presbyterate. One phone call from Archbishop Gregory, I imagine, would shut the whole thing down. There is the vow of obedience Fr. Daly can never part from.

In the aftermath of the multi-headed scandals of 2018, I repeatedly heard one question posed from bishops to members of the laity who were harmed or disillutioned by clergy homosexuality and abuse.

What can I do to help you heal now?

This would be an answer: cancel Daly. A gutted laity will finally begin to heal when you cancel Daly. Why? Because he has a long history of going against Church customs and tradition in his homilies and writings. It seems inconceivable that doctrine will go untwisted at his retreat.

When the stampeding Fr. James Martin begins to be slowed by a few courageous shepherds, your flock will begin to heal. When you rise up and speak against the “synodal” heresies of German bishops, a salve will begin to stretch into harmed souls — and the laity will trust you again — because it is then that you’ll be acting like a father.

Until then, though, I’ll place my trust in my own little fraternity, which each day puts in the sweat equity that fathers must. These fathers really are like hero cowboys, men who happily embrace discomforts, sacrifices, and worldly rejection so that one day, God willing, they’ll gather with their families for endless length of days in their true native land.

Kevin Wells is a Catholic speaker, writer, president of the Monsignor Thomas Wells Society for Vocations, and author of the bestselling book The Priests We Need to Save the Church (Sophia Institute Press, 2019).