The 3 Ways – The Ordinary Christian Journey

The 3 WaysAfter recently completing our 90 day Exodus journey I’ve just begun to be able to reflect and unpack the experience we endured as a band of brothers. Men, striving towards what we’re meant to be… great.

Not a mythical great, or a soft and fuzzy great, but a greatness which is born from struggle, incremental acts bathed in fortitude and a large dose of grace, which interacts in us like a shot of metabolic steroids for the soul. It’s grace which enhances our ordinary efforts and pushes them to limits we never thought we had.

During our 90 day journey our group was blessed to have the spiritual direction of a very wise and holy priest. It was fruitful in many regards to have someone who has been there, or is there, to guide us and encourage us.

One of the most impressionable words that came from this man, who is not known for being soft, occurred when he told us each time we met that he was proud of us. These simple words cut deep. It’s something we all need to hear. You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.

I remember sitting in his office discussing with him what God was doing in our lives and how new it was for each of us. He slowly rocked back in his chair with a look of delight on his face and began to explain that the journey that we were on corresponds to how the Fathers of the Church and many Saints have explained the Christian life. He described the spiritual journey in what has been classically categorized as the purgative, illuminative and unitive stages.

In just 90 days our experience mirrored these stages. During the purgative stage we become self-aware, seeing our inordinate desires for what they are and battle them through prayer, penance and by guarding our hearts.

The next stage, which coincidentally corresponded with days 30-60, is referred to the illuminative period. This stage is described by “the beam of understanding” projecting more broadly to favors received and begins to turn towards the rewards promised (1). Controlling our passions becomes easier during this phase which allows us to see life and have gratitude for what we have been given. Life seemingly slowed down here.

The final stage is described as the unitive stage. People in this phase experience great peace as they are drawn away from temporal things and are not agitated by their passions, but have their eyes fixed on Christ.

These stages of the Christian life are experienced in a progressive manner but they all over lap and have a cyclical tempo which tends towards an ever growing depth. It is interesting that we can see these stages interwoven into the fabric of life.

Military boot camps are styled after this process so that when the young soldier begins his indoctrination, he is stripped of his old life. Next the warrior is slowly put back together, but in a fashion in which they are shown how this purgation has made them better and they can begin to project forward to what this new mold promises. When the soldier reaches the last stage they can clearly see how they are a different person, a warrior, a weapon. Here they see how their new skills and habits fit together in the grander scheme of battle.

The intriguing part about this process is that it’s normal. This is the way Christians throughout the centuries have become Saints and often times were willing to lay down their lives for truth… for Christ.

In this same way we can see it in all of our new endeavors, whether it is learning a new job or becoming a father. We are all meant to progress, to move forward, dig deeper. We’re all called gradually to a place of perfection… to greatness.

(1) The Enkindling of Love, The Triple Way, St. Bonaventure. Translated by Regis J. Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap.

Let it be for Christ

Let it Be for ChristAs part of our day 91 plan my Exodus brothers and I have begun to read The Way by St. Josemaria Escriva. Our plan is to slowly work through the book.  As such, during my reading this week I came across the following text (#24).

You are ambitious: for knowledge, for leadership, for great ventures.

Good. Very good. But let it be for Christ, for Love.

These words stopped me dead in my tracks since the first sentence (about being ambitious) describes me well.

I do thirst for knowledge. I do strive to lead as best as I can. And I do long for new and exciting ventures that force me to dig deep and work hard.

And, as it turns out, my journey to better health is a perfect example of one of these great ventures. I’ve enjoyed learning more about nutrition… I’ve enjoyed learning how to do CrossFit… and I’ve enjoyed seeing how my health and fitness have improved as the days and months have passed by.

But, as Mike has shared in the past, we must be very careful to never lose sight of our main purpose here on this earth. And this purpose isn’t to be awesome at kipping pull-ups, or to have chiseled abs, or to identify ourselves as “CrossFitters.”

Instead, our purpose should be to continuously grow in holiness so one day, God willing, we’ll spend eternity with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in heaven.

But, with this said, it’s OK, even good as St. Josemaria Escriva states, to seek out great ventures, like CrossFit and clean eating, so long as we never let it distract us from our ultimate purpose.

Put another way, we should seek ways to grow in holiness no matter what we’re doing… including that next MetCon workout. How can we do this you ask? Easy.

When you want to quit because you don’t think you can do that last set of burpees I’d encourage you to picture our Lord suffering on the cross. Then unite the minor (or not so minor) sufferings you’re experiencing with His cross for your family and loved ones. In other words… let it be for Christ!

Until next time… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups!

Metabolic Engine Tune Up

Metabolic Engine Tune UpIntensity… quick, what comes to mind? If a picture of Macho Man Randy Savage pops in your head then you’re showing your age like me.

This word, intensity, gets thrown around a lot these days in fitness communities. The problem is that the word has taken on various meanings to the different segments within the world of fitness.

To a body builder, intensity probably means something totally different than to the marathon runner. Both use the word in their work out regiments but they are speaking different languages.

I’d like to find some common ground with regard to the language we use because intensity during workouts has in fact proven to be an important element to an increased work capacity, but if your definition of intensity varies from mine then we won’t reach the same destination.

The workouts which were selected for the Intentional Wellness Plan are categorized as Metabolic Conditioning Workouts or MetCon for the cooler sounding version. That may tell you that there was some bio chemistry considered in the process of developing this incremental fitness program which you have hopefully already begun.

In order to more easily understand the process that occurs when our bodies work, we should describe three basic metabolic pathways which provide energy for all human activity.

These pathways, or engines, are called the phosphagen pathway, the glycolytic pathway, and the oxidative pathway. Included in the discussion of energy production for activity are a myriad of other factors like ATP, ADP, substrates, Krebs cycle, and reaction mechanisms to name a few. However, instead of getting into a biochemistry course, we’re going to stick to the basics of how these three metabolic pathways work so that we can speak the same language.

The phosphagen pathway is known for providing the lion’s share of energy for high powered activities which last less than ten seconds in duration. The glycolytic pathway encapsulates moderate powered activities which last up to several minutes. The oxidative pathway provides energy for low powered activities which last in excess of several minutes.

The first two pathways, phosphagen and glycolytic, are known as “anaerobic” as they supply power for high and moderate level activities. The third pathway, oxidative, is commonly referred to as “aerobic” activity. The first two pathways work without the help of oxygen while the oxidative pathway requires oxygen to generate energy to perform the activity.

Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, describes this energy production for various activities in a concise and easy way to understand in his article titled Metabolic Conditioning. Glassman states,

We only need to remember that anaerobic exercise is metabolically unsustainable exercise whereas aerobic exercise is sustainable. Sustainability is the key. So all out efforts of two minutes or less are anaerobic while efforts lasting more than several minutes are aerobic.

The oxidative pathway, or aerobic activity, has long been considered to primarily help protect your heart from various pathologies. However, this pathway also burns muscle. Glassman points out that it is easy to see the difference in these two types of training activity when you compare the body composition of a sprinter with that of a long distance runner.

The fact is that athletes can burn fat and generate heart health while building muscle through the anaerobic pathways. This can be done with interval training. Through this type of training, athletes can actually improve their performance during aerobic activity without the wasting of muscle.

The goal of this type of training is to move heavy loads over long distances in a short amount of time. That’s intensity.

Completing workouts with this end in mind helps us to measure whether the intensity in our workouts is authentic. Through varying modalities, or ways in which we introduce the load to be lifted, distances to be carried and the time required to do it, we can efficiently utilize the way that our three metabolic engines produce energy.

So, if you’d like to join us on this MetCon journey simply download our Intentional Encounter Wellness Plan eBook using the form below enabling you to get your metabolic engines running!

5 Benefits of Taking Cold Showers

5 Benefits of Cold ShowersAs I shared last week… one of the Exodus disciplines I’ve decided to continue is the practice of taking cold showers. To many, this may sound a little crazy but, as I hope to share in this article, there are many potential benefits.

With this said, we most definitely encourage you to check with your doctor before making any changes… especially if you have any sort of heart issue.

1. Wakes You Up and Increases Alertness

First, cold showers most definitely wake you up! And, if you’ve ever taken a cold shower, or even turned the water cold for 30 seconds to finish a warm shower, you know that it can be hard to breathe and you may even find yourself gasping for air.

Well, as it turns out, this deep breathing increases oxygen intake as well as your heart rate resulting in more natural alertness.

And while it’s not very scientific… I definitely feel stronger and more focused after a cold shower.

2. Helps You Lose Fat

Did you know you have two types of fat? We all do – white and brown fat.

White fat is what we’re all battling… it’s the “bad” fat we’re trying to lose. Brown fat, however, is our friend… its job is to keep us warm. And, according to this study, brown fat is activated by cold water and could result in significant weight loss.

3. Makes You Happier

If you’re in a rut, or even battling full-blown depression, cold showers could possibly help. In fact, a 2007 study found evidence that cold showers may be more effective than anti-depressants. The non-scientific reason for this is cold water can cause feel good neurotransmitters to flood the brain.

4. Helps Reduce Muscle Soreness

We’ve all heard of athletes taking ice baths in order to reduce muscle soreness. Well, as it turns out, cold showers can also help! This study of soccer players suggested that cold-water immersion immediately after a soccer match reduced muscle damage and discomfort.

5. Increases Holiness

Lastly, and this is definitely my personal opinion based on taking more than 100 cold showers the past few months, I believe cold showers to be an excellent way to practice asceticism and mortification.

This article on the USCCB website summarizes the benefits of mortification and asceticism as follows:

Mortification helps to “put to death” the cancer cells of sin; asceticism brings a discipline that makes us increasingly free and responsible.

I’ve found it helpful to unite the minor sufferings I experience during cold showers to the cross for friends and loved ones that need prayer.

I also find cold showers to be an excellent way to suffer well. In short, I believe cold showers have helped me to grow in holiness.

With this said, St. Jerome offered some excellent advice as it pertains to mortification we’d all do well to keep in mind.

Be on your guard when you begin to mortify your body by abstinence and fasting, lest you imagine yourself to be perfect and a saint; for perfection does not consist in this virtue. It is only a help; a disposition; a means though a fitting one, for the attainment of true perfection.

Until next time… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups!

Charity First

Charity FirstMaking incremental and intentional changes to the way we eat, exercise, and make time for a true friendship with God can be tough. Individually we must fight against our interior desires and sometimes physiological longings for certain foods or drink. It is an arduous uphill battle. We must intentionally make the choice to fit a workout into our day.

We struggle against the tendency to habitually hurry into the busyness of our lives only to leave out the time necessary to get to know our Creator. We may feel isolated in our goal of self-mastery, unless we have sought out and been blessed with Battle Buddies.

We do not forge on in this life alone, however. Our new decisions and intentional way of living affects our loved ones perhaps even more than ourselves. We cannot think with the mind of a bachelor, but with the heart of a husband and father. So where do our families fit into our wellness plan, especially at the dinner table?

I’d like to propose that the launching point for this discussion begins with Charity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Charity as the “theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his sake, and our neighbors as ourselves for the love of God” (CCC 1822). In this definition the words charity and love can be seen as interchangeable.

St. Paul unpacks the charity in which we are speaking most profoundly when he says,

Love is patient and kind, love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor 13:4-7).

This is the lens with which we ought to view our relationship with our family in all things, and not become focused on ourselves even in our quest to conquer self-love.

For some, the transition to eating healthy, real foods at home has been seamless. Perhaps your wife is used to cooking whole foods and is grateful you’re finally on board. This is a blessing, as the two of you inch towards self-mastery in a united front.

Often however, especially in large families, asking your wife to share in your new found enthusiasm for healthy eating can become a source of division, an imposition that is met with great resistance and stress on her part. This is where charity comes in. As the husband and leader of our families, it is our duty to take a look at these issues and work towards unification rather than further shoving a wedge of division. We must carefully examine our marriages and discover where the resistance lies. Often it isn’t that your wife doesn’t want to live a healthier lifestyle, but rather she may see this as just another imposition, another task on her never-ending check off list. It may be the proverbial straw that breaks her back.

If you have a large family like mine (5 kids ages 10 and under), then it is likely your spouse stays home with the little ones and has the task of running the household which includes preparing meals. Even more, if your wife works outside of the home, she is really doing the job of two people. It is imperative that we take a look at these tasks and the constant self-donation that is required of our spouse and appreciate her gift of self.

While I work in a relatively high stress career of law enforcement and chose to gravitate towards the highest stressed situations within my industry as a SWAT operator, I don’t pretend as though my job is as demanding as that of my wife’s. The pressure of staying at home and raising children of various ages while keeping up with the many tasks of a household can become overwhelming and stressful.

This my brothers is where the rub comes. You have all of a sudden found a new zeal for wellness and it is paying dividends. You feel better, look better, and think everyone around you should be doing what you are doing. It’s important to know that your wife probably supports your new passion for wellness and wants what is best for you. However, if you begin to insist on a clean meal prepared for the whole family because of your new habits, without considering her efforts and the amount of stress that she is under in taking care of a large family, then be prepared for the wheels to fall off.

This is where charity comes in. If you get home from work and your wife has prepared a carb rich dinner of pasta and butter loaded bread, we must see the meal that will be shared with your family through the lens of charity. The important part, or rather the imperative part, is that you are sitting down together and sharing a meal.

It defeats the purpose to hold your nose up at a meal that your wife has prepared and grab a salad from the fridge. It is more important and an opportunity for you to show who Christ is to your family to demonstrate that you appreciate the effort that your wife put into preparing the meal. We men can have tunnel vision, so we must step back and look at the greater good of sharing a common meal together. While your weight loss and fitness goals might be slightly stunted by eating clean 2 out of 3 meals, God will bless you for your effort in loving as He loves.

If you want to help implement cleaner eating within your family, here are a few practical places to start.

  1. Take on the task of meal preparation for your wife. Talk with your spouse about planning meals for the week and take steps to help out in the kitchen, including making a shopping list and helping with the meal prep as much as possible.
  2. Make a plan for a crock pot meal the night before that you put together and turn on. This can be your one meal a week to prepare, giving her an evening off from cooking.
  3. Start a garden at your home. Learn with your kids how to grow your own real food that you can share at the family dinner table.
  4. Invite your wife on this journey with you. Discuss your desire that you both make this new journey together and your willingness to help in any way possible.
  5. Make this a family lifestyle change, not only a change for yourself. Demonstrate to your kids and encourage them to try new vegetables. Speak to them at the dinner table about charity and eating what is placed in front of them. Remember, it takes 10 tries before an unpalatable taste becomes acceptable.

While our personal journey towards self-mastery and ultimate freedom is an important part of God’s plan for us as men, we must never forget that charity within our families is our primary goal and obligation.

I often think to a particular night where my family was hosting group of friars for dinner. We served them a dinner rich in meat and dessert, not knowing they were abstaining on that day. Later when I discovered my folly, I asked the priest why he didn’t tell me so we could remedy the problem. His response has stuck with me and has become our family motto.

He simply said two words: Charity First.

Exodus Update: Day 91!

By Ron Pereira

FreedomFreedom! This is the word that rang through my head as I woke this morning around 5:45 AM. You see, my brothers and I just finished the 90-day Exodus journey we started this past Ash Wednesday.

It’s been the most rewarding 3 months of my life. It’s also been the hardest, most demanding, time of my life. And now day 91 has come and life after Exodus begins.

So, what I’d like to share in this article are a few of my goals for day 91 and beyond. I’m sharing these goals as a way of holding myself accountable. And, God willing, I also hope to inspire other men who may be thinking of committing to the Exodus disciplines.

Here are my day 91 (and beyond) goals:

  • To remain in a constant state of grace. If I do fall into mortal sin immediate confession to a priest as soon as it’s logistically possible.
  • To continue to strengthen my prayer life and relationship with Christ while also leading my family closer to Him and Our Lady each and every day.
  • To strengthen my love and relationship with my wife, children, family, and friends.
  • To strengthen my brotherhood with my Exodus brothers.
  • To never allow technology, most especially my cell phone and the TV, to come before the attention and needs of my faith, family, and work.
  • To never allow technology, most especially the TV, to keep me from being in bed by 10:00 PM.
  • To never allow alcohol to serve as a crutch or way to deal with stress, anxiety, or anger.

And, in order to help me achieve these goals, I’ve developed a personal “action plan” based on the suggestions the creators of Exodus have put together.

While I don’t feel it’s appropriate to detail my exact plan here on the blog I will share that continuing with cold showers every morning (except Sunday) made my list and I most definitely have a plan to ensure things like watching sports never consumes me like it did in the past. I also have a specific plan for how alcohol will be consumed (hint: not for hydration purposes on a hot summer day).

My plan is to follow my “action plan” for 45 days at which time I will reevaluate and adjust as needed.

Finally, I definitely wondered what day 91 would feel like… would I be relieved it was over? Or would I be scared I’d fall right back to where I was before it started?

Well, I can safely say day 91 has been amazing. I feel strong. I feel blessed. I feel free.

And while I realize the evil one continues to prowl about seeking the ruin of my soul… I know Our Lord is with me and will keep me covered in His grace so long as I continue to cooperate with His will.

IE Success Story: Andy Wheaton

WheatonNote from Ron: Today’s article was written by our fellow Exodus brother, Andy Wheaton.  His results – spiritually and physically – are nothing short of extraordinary.  And while he doesn’t mention it… I happen to know that Andy has lost more than 45 pounds in 90 days.  Well done, Andy.  Very well done!

2016-05-03 20.43.12

My commitment to the Exodus program and my use of the Intentional Wellness work out program has greatly affected my Catholic faith, my family life, and my overall health.

At first, the program and its outlined disciplines seemed unachievable to me; almost scary to commit to. But now, nearing the completion of the 90 days, I find it even more scary that I resisted the entreaty to change.

I see now that my response to the desire to feel better about myself was really a long overdue response to God’s call to me to orient myself to Him and to become who He made me to be.

Eliminating distractions and focusing on my spiritual and physical health has given me clarity and awareness that I can honestly say I have never experienced before. I look forward to using my “day 91 self” as a benchmark to strive continuously for greatness as a Catholic; as a husband; as a father; and as a brother in Christ.

I thank Ron and Mike for their passion in creating the Intentional Encounter program which works quite well in conjunction with Exodus. But more importantly I thank God: my Father, my Lord, my Advocate, for giving me the opportunity and the ability to intentionally work toward becoming the man He desires for me to be.

The picture above is from Jan 4th, 2016 compared to today, May 9, 2016.

Stand Upright on Your Feet

stand uprightIt was early, the house was dark and still. The silence was broken by the sound of steaming and sputtering as the last drops of coffee were brewed; the warm aroma filled the air. Kneeling in front of my home altar, I offered to God my day and thanked Him for all of the great gifts He has bestowed on me, especially my family.

Dragging myself off my knees, I poured a cup of piping hot coffee and slid down in my recliner, as had become my custom, to open up Scripture and quiet my thoughts in order to listen for what God was going to tell me that day.

I opened my Bible using my bookmark where I had left off the previous day and read:

Now at Lystra there was a man sitting, who could not use his feet; he was a cripple from birth, who had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking; and Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and walked (Acts 14; 8-10).

When reading Scripture, it’s helpful to know the back story of what you are reading, though God has grabbed me in spite of my biblical illiteracy on many occasions. Prior to this verse, Paul, who had been formerly named Saul and was an astute Jew who was well known for his sharp intellect and understanding of the Jewish Law, had an encounter with Christ.

Christians feared Saul as he was notorious for pursuing them in order to serve them a death penalty for their beliefs. Paul’s hands were still stained with the blood of the first martyr, St. Stephen, whom he had stoned to death when Jesus claimed him as his own. Based on this encounter, Saul became Paul, changed directions, was converted, and believed. And with the same zeal he possessed for persecuting Christians, he began telling everyone who would listen that he had encountered the living God, the Messiah. This is where this verse picks up… entering the city of Lystra to proclaim the Good News of Jesus.

When I read about the crippled man who was sitting as Paul walked by, I could relate. This is me I thought… this is you. Crippled. How often have we found ourselves sitting day in and day out only considering our limitations, looking inward rather than upward? We can tend towards depression, self-pity, doubt, fear, and anxiety. We have bought into the lie that we don’t have what it takes; we are weak and small, and not man enough. This lie from the evil one often cripples us from being great.

We are blinded by our limitations, crippled by fear. We know it would be good for us to get in shape, but look at all of the obstacles in our way… time, money, energy, etc. The list can get long and daunting, making us succumb to the weight of doubt. But I’m here to tell you, “Stand up on your feet.”

You do have what it takes, you can go beyond what you believe your limitations are. It involves a choice, an intentional decision to incrementally be better than you were yesterday. You may not have the strength, but He does, the one whom gives us our very breath.

There is a trap though when we finally do stand up and refuse to be crippled any longer. How easily our eyes can be diverted from the true prize. The next lines in Scripture read:

And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices saying in Lycao’nian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, because he was the chief speaker, they called Hermes” (Acts 14; 11-12).

The people of Lystra immediately clung to Paul and Barnabas and wanted to worship them because of the miraculous change which they had witnessed. This temptation is all too real for those who have made strides in self-mastery.

Maybe you have lost 30 or 40 pounds, you are wearing a pants size that you never thought you would see again, or have more energy than you can remember. The trap is for us to cling to the workout or the diet plan as our savior, rather than to the one for whom we labor. St. Augustine once said “Seek what you seek, but remember that it is not where you seek it.”  Our desires to seek are good, but we must be careful where we try to find fulfillment for those desires.

This worshipping of the golden calf, this clinging to the tool is often too common in fitness circles, and is prevalent in many CrossFit communities. Due to the success of athletes and the dramatic change in their fitness capacity, they can allow their entire identity to be conformed to the sport. They cease claiming the title “sons of God,” and become rather “Cossfitters.” The gym becomes their church, the members their family. How easily and blindly one can make this change!

We can begin to worship what has helped us gain discipline, whether that be the workout or the diet plan, and forget why we are making strides towards self-mastery. We easily forget that our bodies, our lives, even the very breath we take are gifts from the only one who can truly satisfy.

It’s important to keep in mind that these successes at the gym or the great discipline that we acquire by intentional living are opportunities to reclaim order in our lives so we can encounter Christ.

Wherever you are in your journey, whether you are the cripple begging for alms, or well on your way to intentional living, I encourage you to keep your eyes on Christ and He will lead you to greatness. All for His glory and honor!

IE Success Story: Andy Hightower

HightowerNote from Ron: Today’s article, written by our good friend and fellow Brother in Christ, Andy Hightower, is our first “success story.”  Andy has been following the guidelines we lay out in the Intentional Wellness eBook and has definitely seen results.  Well done, Andy!

Hightower ClimbingToday was a profound realization of why fitness really matters as a father.

Indoor Rock climbing with Troop 5 of St. George was awesome. And it was really hard! A couple months ago, I would have been ashamed on the sidelines as I watched the boys and the healthy dads scaling walls and having a blast.

Thanks to the Intentional Wellness Workouts I was truly a “participant” today, and not just a spectator! I can’t keep up with Ron (yet!), but I conquered a couple of walls that honestly blew my mind and scared me to death! And I had a great time trying the rest of them, even if I am just a rookie.

I’m so happy that I was able to really DO it with my boys. We connected emotionally, with laughter and words of encouragement, and plenty of good natured trash talk. They were proud of my efforts, I think.

They have a dad who DOES, not a dad who drops them off! That is my goal in life, that they will never doubt that I love them enough to spend time with them. Not just work hard to pay for private lessons and uniforms, but to actually get my hands dirty and be where they are.

It’ll hurt (a lot) tomorrow but it was totally worth it!

During my next round of push-ups, or whatever torture you’ve devised, I will be visualizing those climbing walls. My arms will get me to the top more often, and faster, when we return to this activity. And there’ll be less weight to lug around as well…

BRING. IT. ON!