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: Searching for wisdom in a confused world

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Jordan Peterson became an overnight celebrity with the success of his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Random House, 2018). A viral interview from January of this year with Kathy Newman of England’s Channel 4 News brought immediate attention to Peterson’s newly released book, which has sold over two million copies since its release. The interview proved emblematic of Peterson’s popularity for attempting to retrieve common sense and to push back against the ideology overtaking our society.

Why has Peterson proved to be so popular?  A clinical psychologist, who teaches psychology at the University of Toronto, Peterson addresses issues that people care about: finding meaning, relationships, parenting, and gender, to name a few. People are looking for a guide, they desire wisdom — knowing how to order and make sense of reality — and Peterson has offered some needed insights. He tells his readers, “Don’t underestimate the power of vision and direction. These are irresistible forces, able to transform what might appear to be unconquerable obstacles into traversable pathways and expanding opportunities. Strengthen the individual. Start with yourself. Take care with yourself. Define who you are. Refine your personality. Choose your destination and articulate your Being” (63).

This quote illuminates both the allure of Peterson’s writing, helping people to seek definition for their lives, but also its limits, as the definition of self he recommends lacks mooring. Writing from the viewpoint of secular psychology, Peterson can help us to reflect, but his 12 Rules for Life can come across as sophisticated self-help devoid of deeper wisdom. He engages the Western tradition, including the Bible, and offers a fresh, but ultimately unsatisfying, reflection of the stories that define our tradition. He does bring needed common sense, such as “stop doing what you know to be wrong,” (which should not even need to be said) but fails to provide answers to the ultimate questions that define meaning and identity (157).

Greater depth and wisdom can be found in Leon Kass’ Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times (Encounter, 2017). Kass, a Jewish medical doctor and bioethicist, draws from his lengthy experience in science and teaching the Great Books at the University of Chicago to take us deeper into the human condition and point us toward a richer understanding of the human person — body, mind and soul. Kass, like Peterson, does not write from a religious perspective, but engages the same general themes and classic works, such as the Bible, though with a more convincing explanation of their meaning.

Kass’ book has four major sections, treating themes of love, human dignity, education and our higher aspirations. Kass guides us to reconsider the importance of the foundational goods of life — finding meaning in work and married life — as well as calling us to “the cultivation in each of us of the disposition actively to seek the truth and to make the truth our own” (256). We pursue this liberation by entering into the great tradition of Western thought, which provides an “education in and for thoughtfulness. It awakens, encourages, and renders habitual thoughtful reflection about weighty human concerns, in quest of what is simply true and good” (ibid.).

The thoughtfulness encouraged by Kass is needed more than ever to address the key concerns he raises: a collapse of courtship and marriage, biomedical challenges to the integrity of human nature, and a decline of citizenship. The first two themes share a common source in the “the rejection of a teleological view of nature,” which finds no intrinsic purpose in the human body or even life itself (54). Speaking of the threat of biotechnology and transhumanism, but in a way applicable to gender as well, he relates that “only if there is a human givenness that is also good and worth respecting — either as we find it or as it could be perfected without ceasing to be itself — does the given serve as a positive guide for choosing what to alter and what to leave alone” (149). We must learn to appreciate and cultivate the good of our nature, rather than manipulating and controlling it to our own demise. The same is true of our nation, as Kass, drawing on Abraham Lincoln, points to the need for “enhancing reverence for the Constitution and its laws” (377), as we appreciate, preserve and advance the heritage of our country.

Kass, drawing on his unique background, guides us through an integrated discovery of the good and points us toward the wisdom we need to live a worthy life.