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: The priesthood is more than just a job

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

In October, the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region will be held at the Vatican. On the agenda: a discussion on the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood in that region, due to a particularly dire lack of vocations. The news has reawakened discussion on priestly celibacy in general, and whether the time has come to relax the requirement on a wider level. And so, I figured it was time to revisit the subject here, as well.

To set the tone, I’d like to begin my discussion with a very short quiz:

Q: Why does the Roman Catholic Church require lifelong celibacy for ordained priests?

  1. Because sex is bad, dirty and evil, and our priests should not defile themselves;
  2. Because we don’t want to have to support priests’ families out of collection funds;
  3. None of the above; or
  4. Both of the above.

The correct answer would be C, none of the above.

So why, then? Why on earth would these men have to give up the possibility of marriage and children, just because they want to serve God as priests?

Priestly celibacy is a discipline of the Church, not a doctrine. It could change. The rule has already been relaxed in relation to married Episcopalian priests who convert to Catholicism. In this era of widespread priest shortages, and even wider-spread scandals, should we consider expanding that exemption, and remove the requirement of priestly celibacy entirely? Wouldn’t a married priesthood encourage more men, and perhaps healthier men, to respond to the call of God?

Perhaps. But at what cost?

Discussions about the elimination of priestly celibacy are not new. They’ve been around as long as priestly celibacy itself. One of the periods of particularly spirited discussion on the subject was in the late 1960’s. In response, Pope Paul VI wrote an encyclical entitled Sacerdotalis Caelibatus. In it, he explained the reasons for the Church’s long history of priestly celibacy, and he enumerated three “significances,” or reasons, for the tradition:

Christological: The priesthood isn’t just a job. It is a state of being. It encompasses his entire existence. It places a mark on his soul — a mark that will follow him into eternity. The priest is ordained by a bishop, who was ordained by a bishop, who was ordained by another bishop, in an unbroken chain that goes clear back to the apostles. And through that sacramental ordination, and the power and grace it conveys, the priest stands in persona Christi —  in the person of Christ. He has the power to consecrate the Eucharist — to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. He can forgive sins.  And so, standing in the person of Christ, the priest seeks to be like him in all things. He imitates Christ’s life, which includes Christ’s celibacy.

But, you say, Christ also had a beard. Does the priest have to imitate that, too? How far do we have to take this whole imitation thing? Well, the question we must ask is: What was integral to Christ’s ministry? Was celibacy integral? What would it look like if Christ had married and had children? He would have had to work to support them. He would have had to provide them a home.  No iterate preaching, moving from town to town. Jesus was not going to be an absentee husband and father. It was the freedom of celibacy that allowed him to give himself totally to the service of the Father and the Father’s children. So yes, I’d say it was integral. The beard, not so much.

Ecclesiological:  This basically means it is about the Church. Our understanding of a priest is not that he’s a single guy, a bachelor. He, like Christ, is in fact “married” to the Church. You’ve heard all that talk about how the Church is the “bride of Christ.” We really believe that. And the priest, standing in persona Christi, likewise becomes the Bridegroom, giving his life for the Church, and especially for the part of the Church he serves. He doesn’t just offer his “workday” to us, the flock.  He offers his life. He serves us as a husband serves his wife. (And we the faithful, as good “wives”, should likewise be going out of our way to love and care for our priests.)  His attention and affections are not divided between his bride, the Church, and an earthly bride and family. He has far greater freedom than a married man — freedom to not only serve his flock, but to pray and meditate and to grow closer to the Christ whom he represents on this earth. Which then prepares him for further service to the flock.

Eschatological: This means it’s about the next life. Remember my last column, about the Poor Clare Sisters who make the radical choice to live this life as if were already eternal life, focusing only on Christ? Well, priests participate in that too. Scripture says that, in Heaven, we will neither marry nor be given in marriage. (Mt 22:30) Priests and consecrated religious foreshadow that here, reminding us that everything that happens in this life is just a prelude to the life to come.

And so, for all of these reasons, I oppose the wholesale elimination of the requirement of priestly celibacy. I realize that we already have exceptions. I know several of those “exceptions,” and I think they are wonderful people and wonderful priests. But I think they would acknowledge the difference between the exception and the rule, and that the loss of priestly celibacy would change our understanding of the character and charism of the priesthood. The priesthood would be increasingly perceived as just another career choice — one to be entered and left at will.

And whatever the priesthood may be, it is definitely not just another job.

Featured image by Josh Applegate on Unsplash