Strong tonic to bishops and priests: “If I can’t endure the cold shower, … maybe I’m not fit for heaven.”

At LifeSite there is a a superb opinion piece (frankly, most of LifeSite is opinion) by Kevin Wells, author of The Priests We Need to Save the Church.

Wells describes a program that some men are undertaking, a kind of spiritual S.E.R.E. training called Exodus 90, 90 days of physical denial and penances, cold showers, daily Mass, Rosary, etc. to “lift the mind up to Christ, strengthen virtue, and subdue the flesh”.

BTW… there is a difference between cold showers in Florida and in Minnesota.

Here are some snips from the piece, which I hope all the male readers here, and Jesuits, will read.

Time for bishops to be faithful and shut down renegade priests who champion homosexuality


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 progressive 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.


Wells goes on to describe the opposite of that bishop, an embarrassment of a priest, Fr. Peter Daly, who conducts affirming retreats for the homosexual inclinations of priests, sponsored by the condemned New Ways Ministry, etc.   Wells doesn’t spare the scorn.

He calls on bishops to do something.


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.

On the sidebar, I have a quote from the late Fulton J. Sheen:

“Who is going to save our Church? Not our bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes, and the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops.”


Thanks to acardnal, in the comments.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ¡Hagan lío!, Cri de Coeur, Fr. Z KUDOS, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Jesuits, Just Too Cool, One Man & One Woman, Priests and Priesthood, Si vis pacem para bellum!, Sin That Cries To Heaven, The Coming Storm, The future and our choices and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. acardnal says:

    Bishop Hying supports Exodus 90. From his daily video series:

  2. makarioi130 says:

    Msgr. Wells is commemorated at my weekday parish at Our Lady of Lourdes in Bethesda. Thank you Kevin Wells for your excellent work that you continue in his honor. Thank God for Exodus 90. We are praying for him and all our fraternity brothers, especially in this round started January 13. It is our time. Better the sharp piercing arrows of a cold shower now in reparation for our past self indulgence and the conquest of the passions, than the fires of purgatory or worse, hell.

  3. APX says:

    I kind of laugh at the idea of cold showers. I take cold showers because it makes the hair cuticle lay flat and makes the hair more beautiful and shiny. It’s not really a penance once you get used to it.

  4. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Mortification and other kinds of asceticism are the forgotten bits of spiritual training today. So this seems like a really good idea. I will pray for the participants.

    They say that cold showers actually can help your immune system and also help lose weight. But presumably, they don’t intend you to take really long ones, or to stay cold afterward.

    Sadly, those California shower limiters make every shower kinda cold. I took mine out, but my landlord made me put it back in. Sad….

    Re: shiny hair, usually one just does the last rinse in cold water. But personal preferences!

  5. LeeGilbert says:

    Recently we published and sent you ( as opposed to referring you to) two volumes of Back to Asceticism: The Trappist Option , volumes I and II. This is an updated version of On the Sanctity and Duties of the Monastic State by de Rancé, the founder of the Trappists, last published in 1830. It is a spiritual classic– not only in my opinion– and effectively a manual on asceticism. It complements the Exodus 90 program perfectly, and would rejuventate the Trappists were they ever to re-discover an interest in their founder.

    How could anyone, layman or monk, follow the Exodus program while taking to heart all that de Rancé has to say about prayer, love of God, meditation on death and compunction without being set on the path to great sanctity?

    Perhaps, too, laymen leading such lives will lead to the badly needed re-vitalization of the penitential orders in the Church. As it is, where is a repentant sinner to go to make up for his sins?

    Somewhere I read that something like 7000 men have gone through the Exodus 90 program. This kind of self-oblation done in union with the Crucified can hardlyfail to bring down many graces on these men and their families. I hope someone in their program is charged with collecting accounts of prayers answered in response to such penitential lives. The Church is full of many parents, grandparents etc who badly need to know how to be St. Monica for their fallenaways.

  6. Look, if a man in Holy Orders publicly opposes the Church’s teachings on sexual morality, it’s naive to assume he’s nevertheless living by those same teachings. If he’s willing to let the world see that he thinks those teachings are stupid and wrong, why should we assume that they are safeguarding his conduct when nobody is looking? Why would a priest or bishop set himself against everything his priesthood stands for unless he has a dog in the fight?

    We had a priest in our diocese who was known for his opposition to the Church’s teachings on sexual morality, even to the point of writing an editorial for the local paper in favor of same-sex marriage. The bishop at the time treated it as a mere opinion that he disagreed with. This priest was a darling of the left on account of his outspokenness. Two years ago, in his retirement, he got caught with a gigantic stash of child porn, some of it of an extremely violent character such as the investigating officers had never come across before. None of this should have come as a surprise to anyone, as this priest was on record opposing Catholic teaching on sexual morality; but, as far as I know, his faculties were never previously suspended, and it took the secular arm to deal with him. Now he is serving a 25-year fixed prison sentence and has been deposed from the clerical state.

  7. Gaetano says:

    I lived in Kingston, Jamaica in a house with no hot water heater or windows. Even there early morning showers were not fun.
    It’s also not about punishment. It’s about returning to an earlier time when hot water was not the norm.

  8. TonyO says:

    The ascetical practices this program Exodus 90 are impressive and laudable. I take my hat off to anyone who commits trying it seriously, and still more to anyone who does it successfully. I have done cold showers, they’re no fun.

    However, can I ask for someone smarter than me to bring some clarity to how to think about these ascetical practices, and a program of them? When I read the article at Lifesite, several items rang odd notes, to me at least. I wonder if I am reading too much into them, or whether cautions really are appropriate.

    For instance, why 90 days? The Church has a millennial tradition of using 40-day periods. There’s nothing wrong with it. In principle, there’s nothing wrong with more than 40, either, … but the Church in her wisdom (accumulated over centuries) knows something about ascesis – such as, that people need breaks from it. Is 90 days too long, by and large, for MOST people? I wouldn’t claim the expertise to know, but it might be.

    Along the same line, one quote about Tim is that “He’ll never drink again.” Maybe that’s a great penitential practice for certain people – say, Carthusian monks – but what about the guy who is giving his daughter away in marriage next week? In what way, specifically, is “never again” connected to this program?

    More worrisome than these, in my estimation, is another quote: “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.”

    I think I recognize the principle underlying this. I would it put along these lines: Although it might be not sinful to use these in-themselves neutral goods like a warm shower, I am not supposed to be attached to them. So if I find myself unable to give them up for 90 days, then it must be evidence that I am too attached to these goods, and so I am not worthy to go to heaven.” But on the other side of the coin, there is a reason why the evangelical counsels are counsels and not mandatory: not everyone is called to practice them. Not everyone is called to practice celibacy nor permanent continence: God wants some people to get married and have kids. Not everyone is called to ALL items on the forbidden list of Exodus 90, maybe someone would benefit from doing the program except for the “no snacks” because of a digestive issue they have.

    In reality, nobody is worthy to go to heaven but by God’s grace, and each of us have their own specific pathway to sanctity that God is calling him to. Yes, God calls ALL of us to practice penances – that’s what it means when the Church lays down rules for Lent, for fasting, etc: God is calling us to detach from worldly goods, and to obey Him we must follow the Church. But as far as additional penances beyond what the Church prescribes, God is NOT calling each one of us to them individually, and so it is simply not true (for everyone) that if you don’t join a program like Exodus 90, you aren’t doing what God requires of you. Maybe (just for example) you have a medical condition in which cold showers are actually bad for you (I know someone with that exact problem).

    Perhaps the single strongest thing that tipped my attention toward warning signs was this: eliminate alcohol, sports viewership, all technology (outside work), . Perhaps I need to join up and listen to what they actually mean by “no technology”, but on its face, it is ridiculous. No clocks? No car? That would be silly, and no, I don’t actually think that’s what they mean. Do they mean “no DIGITAL technology”? That would make more sense, but only sort of: it’s not just at work that I HAVE to make use of digital technology: my doctor’s office has us sign in with it, I shop for home necessities with it, etc. Am I supposed to sit down and re-figure out how to get the square root of 794.5 because I am not supposed to use a calculator? Am I not supposed to use my phone to find my way to Aunt Jean’s – or just dump the phone in a drawer altogether? I suppose they have answers to all these – they must, right? But there is no question that the answers imply something like “limited use of technology”, not “no technology”.

    I guess ultimately I am asking: since God wants all of us to get to heaven, and none of us are going to get there without grace, and none of us deserve such grace, isn’t it a bit off the mark to suggest “maybe I’m not fit for heaven” when I struggle with attachment to certain goods? Of course I am not fully fit for heaven until I am perfect, and of course I don’t deserve it until become perfected – and when I have been perfected, I don’t deserve it but because of what God has done for me and in me, not through my own merits at all. But doesn’t God’s providence includes people who become perfected by the high and hard road of the evangelical counsels, and by the high and hard road of personal ascesis that is like the practices of the counsels, but it also includes people who become perfected in other ways – other roads that have hills and plateaus instead of sheer or nearly sheer cliffs?

    That said, the article has inspired me to re-consider the softer areas of my life.

  9. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear TonyO,

    Your intuition is not wrong.

    First of all, anyone even thinking about doing this Exodus 90 should consult a doctor. Some of these practices ( meeting in 20 degree weather, really?) could precipitate a heart attack in older men.

    More than that, ascesis can become nothing more than a bragging right – “I did the Exodus 90.” Look, giving things up will not, in itself, bring one closer to God. Heck, there are anorexic teenagers who would put these men to shame (I mean that, literally) by their self-denial, but they are hardly coming closer to God by their denial.

    The source of strength for any undertaking is the love that one brings to it, but self-denial, in itself, does not guarantee a growth in love. They have this backwards. The more one loves, the more one does for the beloved. The more a parent loves a child the more sleep they will deny themselves if the child is sick or in the hospital. The more one loves God, the more they will deny themselves. St. John Vianney wasn’t a great saint because he fasted. He fasted because he was a great saint. True meekness is self-control springing from the love of God.

    Sometimes, in fact, it is counter-productive to mortify the senses. If one is depressed, for instance, a hearty meal or even a warm shower can cheer the spirit.

    I applaud their reading more Scripture and praying the rosary, but these activities must serve to strengthen the correct reasoning about God and self. I have seen too many prayer groups where Scripture readings were misunderstood and created false understandings about God and man.

    Simply reading or praying more as a result of skipping tv, for instance, is not the point. As St. Teresa of Avila said, “Prayer consists not in thinking much, but in loving much, so do whatever moves you to love.” If asceticism doesn’t move one genuinely closer to love, as opposed to just having more time to love, then it is useless. Different people are moved to love in different ways and who knows when a moment of grace will be given. What is asceticism for one person is not asceticism for another. Not having hot showers for 90 days? Heck, I haven’t had a hot shower in 15 years, but I hardly think it has brought me closer to God. Sometimes, my spiritual resolve has been strengthen by a single sentence uttered at the right time.

    Even in Carmelite monasteries the nuns have two hours of recreation a day. I hardly think that St. Teresa would be impressed by Exodus 90 (see the Third Mansions in the Interior Castle for a discussion of this sort of thing, about men who live carefully ordered lives). I hardly think the Desert Fathers would, either.

    Yes, I think there has been a hardening of the human heart, of late, but I am sure that Exodus 90 is not the way forward. It is simply a part of the men’s movement popularized over the last 10 years.

    We need, above all, clarity about God and clarity about man’s relationship to God. How can one love what one does not know? It has been the destruction of the understanding of who man is in relationship to God that had lead to the effeminism of the clergy. It has been a loss of the fear of God and a loss of the sense of the Transcendent that has lead to the current situation. All these Exodus 90 guys are doing is controlling nature. It is what guys do. Seeking the Transcendent is the scariest thing one can do and if their acsesis does not lead them to the edge of that fear, then they have missed the point. Effeminate bishops are the ones who have no fear, otherwise, how could they present evil as good?

    Actions have consequences and the actions of bishops trying to re-define God in man’s image – treating us as the source of who He is – instead of treating Him as the source of who we are, has lead to the dilution of love and the loss of strength of many in the spiritual life.

    There are many people out there, unknown people, who silently, daily, suffer in the name of God in ways that you will never see. They will never worry about skipping a hot shower or about watching tv. Some, you will never even know are suffering, but it is these who stand guard over the love of God on this earth. These are the true strong men.

    Going without a hot shower may be a mortification for some, but, oh, do try to be silent when you are falsely accused. Do try to speak well of your accuser. Then, you will know whether or not you have a spine of steel.

    The Chicken

  10. araustin02 says:

    Pretty sure the article is referring to Bishop Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler in Texas. A quick scan of his twitter shows that he is participating in Exodus 90, rebuking Fr James Martin and the UN, speaking out for the unborn, etc. Thank God for holy bishops!

  11. Stepheno says:

    I applaud the program and the men who have embraced it. I aim for some these practices on a daily basis but the higher law of charity often derails the plan. “We have nothing for dinner please stop at the store on the way home”. And then cook, serve and clean up dinner for a over tired and busy wife. “Pick up the girls after a late basketball game”. You get the idea. Some of this I could overcome but I have always been taught the spiritual life and its exercises should be flexible to a degree. Diving back into home life so my wife can attend the six pm daily Mass blows a hole in the program. I admit slack on my part but for you single people out there I ask some humility. This program looks more suited to single men or religious folks.

  12. APX says:


    Your first duties in the spiritual life are to the duties of your state in life. Everything you mentioned is what you’re supposed to be doing. This is one of the reasons why I’m so critical of this program. If one reads through it, it tells wives to basically, leave your husband alone for these 90 days so he can do all this stuff while you pick up the slack at home.” Nonsense. Your duties towards your wife and family comes first. The program was designed for seminarians, not your average everyday man, and certainly not married men.

  13. Bryan Baldwin says:

    I am part of a parish group following this program and I have found it to be edifying thus far (we are on Day 20). It is a fraternal program, so the idea of doing things as a group is important; thus, not all penances or requirements will suit everyone equally (e.g., I have drunk black coffee for 40 years, so that’s no penance for me). One penance is relaxed by group agreement for Sundays and solemnities. (One of the practices is avoiding the internet except for work or school, by the way, so I may be living counter to the program by reading Fr. Z. I’ll have to bring it up to the group, I suppose.)

    The requirement of a daily holy hour has been the single best part of the program for me. There is no requirement for daily Mass, incidentally; the creators of the program do recommend assisting at one extra Mass per week beyond one’s usual practice.

    As noted in a comment above, Exodus 90 does seem to have been created primarily for young men and I understand hesitating to engage in arbitrary penances for their own sake, but, considering the soft or even luxurious lives most people have led in these U.S.A., the young have to start somewhere. Men want to prove themselves manly, especially to themselves, and freely giving up a good thing or physically mortifying oneself for reparation for one’s own sins and those of others has been a laudable practice for centuries. Married men in the program are encouraged to talk it over with their wives before committing (also a laudable practice).

    Ninety days was chosen because of a book by Gary Wilson advising that it takes three months to ‘reboot’ the brains of those addicted to pornography. Given the state of our culture, it’s a good bet that many of our young men are afflicted and this may be as good a first step as any for them to recover themselves. The authors of the program admit that 90 days is not enough time for an alcoholic to be able to trust himself alone in a house with alcohol, but, again, I think the program is a start. Necessary for everyone in every station of life? No. One possible way to increase awareness of and gratitude toward God? Yes.

  14. TonyO says:

    Bryan, thank you for the additional details and explanation.

    It is good to keep in mind – and is clear from Bryan’s comments – that nobody with Exodus 90 is saying everyone should be doing it. They are not saying this is an essential part of being Catholic.

    Also, it is good to know that the 90 days was not picked out of a hat, it had a basis in psychological and behavioral needs. I would just note that for people who are not contending with a specific addiction, 90 days is, potentially, not a beneficial base-line figure. While it may be true that all of us are too attached to certain satisfactions of this world, it would be a definite mistake to view all such attachments as “addictions”. They are the concrete effects of damaged human nature, which come to us due to the sin of Adam and Eve. My attachments to physical ease, to good-tasting food, and to enjoyable recreation, are not per se a series of addictions, and treating them so is likely to create miscues on both the theoretical and practical level. (For one thing, a day “off” from abstaining from one isn’t the same thing as “falling off the wagon”.)

    I like what Chicken said: it’s supposed to lead us to love of God. If, for you, not complaining when someone treats you poorly or misjudges your character is more what you need than giving up alcohol, then by all means ignore the alcohol bit and attend to practicing not complaining. (Although, it is generally true that ANY practice of denying your preferences may tend to strengthen the will to make you more capable of doing well in the hard areas.)

  15. Stepheno says:

    APX, thanks for clarifying that.

  16. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: cold showers, that sort of thing definitely was considered mortification by any traditional societies that were advanced enough to enjoy bathing in hot water, and had fairly cheap bathing establishments such that even the poor could do so. Such as the Japanese. Or the Romans. Even in the earlier bits of the Middle Ages, Europe inherited a lot of Roman bath culture. That was why monks had more utilitarian procedures for cleansing the body, except when longer baths were prescribed for treating illnesses or bodily weakness.

    Of course, if you lived in Egypt or somewhere else that was hot most of the year, there wouldn’t be much focus on cold water as ascetic!

  17. kimberley jean says:

    Th ere most interesting thing about Exodus 90 is reading all the excuses for not doing it. For the past two months it been really really remarkable.

  18. ChiaraDiAssisi says:

    @ Kimberly jean….and the reasons for as well. Our Lord’s Love is scandalous to some. Let’s all work out our salvation in fear and trembling. God help us all.

    @ the Masked Chicken and Tony O, your comments are indeed a help and most balanced and welcome.

    What a good program of acestisicm for those who are able, to seize the Kingdom, so to speak. May their prayers lift the weakest of us all up and bring about conversions. The kind that make people gasp and render speechless. at the sight of the kindness if Our Lord.

  19. khouri says:

    But Fr. Z., many of the pictures that are in the blog show indulgent clerics being served by servants, eating and drinking at finely set tables. Is this not counter to the practice of Exodus 90? [So what? It’s a blog header.]
    Leo X is reputed to have said, “Let us enjoy the papacy since God has given it to us.” Whether he really said this or not his life portrayed this attitude. He also was not the greatest of popes. [I dunno. He excommunicated Martin Luther. That was a good day’s work.] Is ascetical living consistent with the practice of many clerics who regularly enjoy extravagant living?

  20. khouri says:

    I don’t mean to offer sour grapes.
    Your comments are ways of looking at things, Father, but pictures do speak a thousand words. Many see pictures and assume they speak truths. [Then they see what they have already chosen to see.]
    Some of us do live extravagant lives, some of us secular priests live above the level of our people’s means.
    Exodus 90 speaks to those who want to simplify their lives and edify others.
    In no way do I mean to slight your great blog or the service you provide. I appreciate you.

    [Tell it to religious. I’ve seen many a place which confirm the old ironic reaction to religious houses: “If this is poverty, what’s chastity like?”]

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