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: Art: A needed sacrament of faith

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A sacrament is an outward, material sign of an inward, spiritual reality. The seven sacraments are signs instituted by Jesus to communicate his grace to us. In addition, we have sacramentals, signs and practices that draw us more deeply into our faith. We do not have an abstract faith; it is sacramental and incarnational, centered on the coming into the flesh of the Son of God and his continued presence in the Church through the Eucharist.
Art, following this sacramental identity, expresses our faith, draws us into prayer, and mediates divine realities. In a time of relativism, which shuns proposals of truth and goodness, we need to rely more upon the witness of beauty. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this opportunity and need: “I have often affirmed my conviction that the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated. Today, for faith to grow, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to enter into contact with the Beautiful.”

Does this approach actually work for evangelization? Elizabeth Lev details one example, the crucial role of art at a time of crisis in the Church, in her book, How Catholic Art Saved the Faith: The Triumph of Beauty and Truth in Counter-Reformation Art (Sophia, 2018). As core Catholic doctrines faced opposition from Protestants, the Council of Trent called for the creation of art to assist in renewal. The Council said that art should instruct, help to remember and meditate divine realities, admonish, provide examples, and to inspire the faithful to order their lives in imitation of the saints (4). Lev adds her own synthesis of how art assists the Church, asserting that “art is useful in evangelization…. can bring clarity…. [and] is uplifting” (6). The Catholic Reformation and Baroque periods, particularly in central Italy, were ages “of unprecedented art patronage from the top down, effectively a very expensive PR campaign meant to awaken the hearts and minds of millions of pilgrims who were making their way to the Eternal City” (5).

And it worked. It was not art for art’s sake that led Catholics to stay true to the faith, but art’s ability to express the deep spiritual vision of the Church as articulated by the great Catholic reformers. Lev lists the main protagonists of this cooperative work:  “The spiritual insight of Charles Borromeo, Robert Bellarmine, Federico Borromeo, St. Philip Neri, and Paleotti fused with the creative talents of Caravaggio, Barocci, the Carracci School, Lavinia Fontana, and Guido Reni, making for a heady cocktail designed to entice the faithful into experiencing mystery” (16). Lev provides a masterful overview of the key theological issues at stake and how artists were commissioned to visualize the faith in these areas, including the sacraments, mediation of the saints, purgatory, and practices such as pilgrimage.

Developments in technique enabled art to come alive, actively mediating faith, by using theatrical characteristics that invited the viewer into the drama of the scene. Altar pieces beckoned down to the action of the altar, pointing to the reality occurring there, such as Caravaggio’s The Entombment of Christ (37), and others drew the viewer into the scene, as with Frederico Barocci’s extended hand of St. Francis bearing the stigmata, inviting an imitation of Christ (145). Other paintings inspired religious sentiments such as contrition, as found in Reni’s St. Peter Penitent, who models how to weep for one’s sins and to beat one’s chest in repentance (45), and Titian’s good thief who reaches out to Christ as one would do in confession (52). The book beautifully presents the artwork, and Lev seamlessly combines art criticism and religious commentary.

The time period of Lev’s book bears some striking similarities to contemporary struggles. Many Catholics continue to question the faith, and we have experienced a return to iconoclasm in the last fifty years, bent on the destruction of the Church’s sacramental vision. We, too, need the inspiration of art, which calls us to renew our faith: “Art no longer allow[s] the viewer to stand at a safe distance, as a passive recipient of grace, but exhort[s] everyone to act” (180). For the success of the New Evangelization, we need a return to beauty. This will require us to invest in a renaissance of the arts, knowing that this investment will support the Church’s efforts to communicate the truth of our faith, for the salvation of souls.