Local priests produce Catholic Stuff podcast for ‘New Evangelization’

Mark Haas

Scroll through the iTunes reviews of the Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast, and you’ll find comparisons to Bill & Ted and Beavis and Butthead. The priests who produce the show don’t take those as insults.

“I think everyone knows there are a lot of other podcasts out there that you can get better content, more organized, more professional, but there is a particular character of this one,” said Father John Nepil, who started the podcast with Father Mike Rapp when they were in seminary together out of a desire to share all the things they were learning.

“It’s kind of like walking through the zoo,” said Father Rapp. “You see all these cool things, and you say, ‘Oh, look at that, look at that, look at that,’ and there is this wonder and curiosity, and we wanted to share that. We wanted to bring others to the zoo I guess.”

THE J.10 Initiative

During his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about how the ‘New Evangelization’ must include technology and the “Digital Continent.” Father Nepil and Father Rapp aren’t sure who had the podcast idea first, but they started using a sound studio at the St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver.

“We lost half of our first recordings, because we didn’t know how to use the studio, but we eventually figured it out,” said Father Rapp.

The first podcast came out in January 2010, and the priests dubbed it a ‘J.10 Initiative.’ The show recently hit the 350-episode mark, and today the line-up of podcasting priests also includes Father Nathan Goebel and Father Michael O’Loughlin. All four priests are members of ‘Companions of Christ,’ an association of priests formed in 2007.

From left, Fathers Michael Rapp, Nathan Goebel, John Nepil and Michael O’Loughlin run the Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast. (Photo provided)

“The podcast is a fruit of our common life together,” said Father Nepil. “What you are glimpsing into is the Companions’ life, because all the podcast is we hit record and we continue what we are already living.”

(Catholic) Stuff You Should Know

The name of the show is borrowed (with permission) from the popular Stuff You Should Know podcast, and the format is two priests just having a conversation, starting with some light-hearted banter.

“Not being at the pulpit, not doing spiritual counseling, but just interacting with each other and having a friendship with each other,” said Father O’Loughlin, a Byzantine priest. “People really do feel like they are having access to something that is usually hidden.”

Father O’Loughlin is usually paired with Father Goebel, pastor of St. Joan of Arc in Arvada, while Fathers Nepil and Rapp typically podcast together from Rome. Father Goebel said it can be good for parishioners to hear priests having regular, everyday interactions.

“Most people don’t have a conversation with their priest unless they need something,” said Father Goebel. “They might say hello to him after Mass but normally they are in front of him receiving a sacrament or a homily, and rarely is it just a dialogue.”

Every episode then transitions to a topic — an idea, a reading, a tradition, etc. — although it’s far from a structured presentation.

“Sometimes you go to the store before you make dinner, and you know exactly what you are going to the store for,” said Father Goebel. “But sometimes the kids ask you, ‘What are we having for dinner?’ and you have to look in the fridge and see what’s there and play a little Iron Chef.”

The priests said they feel part of the beauty of the show is that they create it together and it comes from the heart, and with 2,000 years of Church history there is never a shortage of things to talk about.

“Your experience might be going to church and it might feel routine, but the whole Catholic world is so rich and densely populated that there is a lot to be curious about and to be interested in,” said Father Rapp.

Podcast Popularity

The podcast has a 4.5 out of 5 stars rating on iTunes and the show’s Facebook page has 15,000 followers. A friend who helps behind the scenes said they average almost 140,000 downloads a week, but the priests say that’s not their focus.

“From our perspective, we don’t really care about ratings or numbers, and in fact, we have been intentional over the years to not go by the numbers,” said Father Nepil. “We just want to share the life and be ourselves and hopefully communicate something of the Gospel and of faith.”

And while the priests said they do read the comments and criticisms, they care a lot more when they hear they’ve helped change someone’s life.

“There are many people who have said, ‘I was not Catholic and I started listening and I am in RCIA now, I am coming into the Church, please pray for me’,” said Father O’Loughlin.

The priests said they’ve also heard vocations stories or how an episode helped someone through a hard time, and they know the credit belongs to the Holy Spirit.

“I say something stupid, and God still really brings something great out of it,” said Father Rapp. “I am really grateful for all the feedback we get, they tell us when they are edified and something good happens, they forgive someone, they make an act of love, they go and serve the poor, or they go and spend time in prayer. That stuff is just joy for a priest.”

Podcast Website: https://catholicstuffpodcast.com/

COMING UP: Nothing about us without us

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA