Digital Discovery

With the dawn of digital technology now edging toward high noon, one of the benefits has been that ordinary people can indulge in media adventures that used to require a journalism degree and the backing of a corporate empire in order to reach a mass audience. One of the principal ways that is happening is via streaming video and podcasting.

I first started noticing these media through my millennial generation kids. Built by God with naturally questing and curious minds, my sons started listening to things like “No Such Thing as a Fish” (by the research team of comedians for the British quiz show “QI,” which talks about curious science factoids), “/Film” (a film review podcast) and “Judge John Hodgman” (a hilarious show in which oddball comic and author John Hodgman acts as judge to settle matters like “Is a machine gun a robot?” or “Can you rifle through trash for coupons in a Canadian pizza parlor?”). In addition, there were such YouTube channels as the Vlog Brothers (Hank and John Green, whose love of science, literature, history, and nerdliness makes for fascinating viewing).

As you might have noticed already, podcasting and streaming videos are small “c” catholic in their subject matter. Anybody with a recording device that connects to the internet can talk about (or video) anything they like. If you like recording the sound of bagpipes or five pianos dropped from an airplane, you can make your own podcast about it. And if there are people out there who share your obsession, you can talk to them and shoot a video about it.

Such media are natural for Catholics (who, after all, believe that everything pertains to the Faith) and sure enough, they have not been slow to exploit this new medium. I know. I’m one of them. My “Connecting the Dots” podcast is just one tiny facet of the Catholic new media enterprise, which is what makes it confusing for the newbie who is trying to figure out what is wheat and what is chaff.

Catholics are just scratching the surface of new media. In coming years, we are going to see even more and better work from a host of voices who are just now beginning to explore its immense potential to bring the Gospel to the world.

Let’s a look at some of the most popular (and best) Catholic podcast and video streaming options out there.

Mark Shea writes the “Catholic and Loving It!” blog at Patheos.com.

‘Adventures in Imperfect Living’ | Greg and Jennifer Willits

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For a decade or so, Greg and Jennifer Willits have been podcasting (and doing a lot of other things with new media). Recently joining Our Sunday Visitor as editorial director, Greg created the delightful video series “That Catholic Show,” hosted by Jennifer, which has been making the Faith accessible to John Q. Public for years.

Their podcast, “Adventures in Imperfect Living” is, in their words, about “life, family and ridiculousness from the perspective of a family that has been podcasting since 2005 and married a decade longer than that.” The couple enjoy recording the show together so much they plan to continue it even with Greg’s busy new workload with OSV.

“We try to be real, and I think that truthfulness about our individual frailties helps others in their own faith journeys,” Greg Willits said. “So when somebody writes to complain, ‘I can’t believe you said that you didn’t like going to 72 hours of liturgy during Holy Week,’ my reply is, ‘Hey! It was really difficult! If you think I’m going to pretend to be pious and say it wasn’t a struggle, then I’m a liar, and I don’t want to be a liar.’” Willits freely admits he sins, stumbles and fails, but he reasons wryly, “Our audience gets to benefit from my stupidity.” And the audience mostly appreciates it and has faithfully followed the show for 11 years of its evolution.

Vatican Radio

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As you might guess, Vatican Radio is another very reliable source for Catholic information, particularly pertaining to the preaching and various doings of our extremely voluble and mobile pope. Covering news of the pope, the Vatican, the Church and the world from a Vatican-centric perspective, Vatican Radio also delivers voluminous audio and video goods on the pope’s sundry homilies, general audiences, press conferences and news. And if English is not your preferred language, the site is available in a wide assortment of other tongues.

Father Roderick Vonhögen

Father Roderick
Father Roderick

The YouTube channel of Father Roderick Vonhögen features the adorable Dutch nerd, who has become a bit of an internet legend for his videos in which he geeks out and hyperanalyzes Star Wars trailers and such. Of course, there is more to him than that. He’s all about the intersection of pop culture and the Faith, offering film reviews, discussions of the Easter liturgy and reflections on everything from marathon running to “Doctor Who.”

He’s a priest who communicates an ebullient joy in the Faith. And he does not one, not two, but three podcasts covering similar matters for those who can’t watch a screen but have the tech to listen while they are driving, jogging or doing the dishes. A charming man and a good priest, he’s a fine voice for the Faith in the digital realm.

Real Life Catholic | Chris Stefanick

‘Catholic Answers Live’ | Patrick Coffin

Patrick Coffin and Chris Stefanick
Patrick Coffin and Chris Stefanick

I was once invited to speak at a big Catholic hullaballoo put on by the Archdiocese of Denver. When it was all over, all the speakers were invited to supper at a local restaurant, and I found myself in the company of the last two guys still in the restaurant: Chris Stefanick and Patrick Coffin.

Stefanick is a terrific Catholic evangelist, teacher and speaker whose Real Life Catholic videos and podcasts are done with obvious polish and flair and excellent attention to the Church’s teaching.

Coffin is the host of a daily two-hour live radio show, “Catholic Answers Live,” devoted to answering listeners’ questions about the Faith, which is also presented as a podcast, and “Catholic Answers Focus,” a long-form interview podcast on Church matters. Coffin makes the riches of the Faith available through the audio arm of Catholic Answers, the largest apologetics and evangelization apostolate in North America. And, for those who like to see Coffin (and apologists Jimmy Akin, Trent Horn, Tim Staples and others) hard at work teaching the Faith, there are also Catholic Answers streaming videos.

A How-To Guide to Podcasting
In order to start your own podcast, all you need is a few things:

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‘The Patrick Madrid Show’ | Patrick Madrid

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Noted Catholic author and speaker Patrick Madrid hosts “The Patrick Madrid Show” live on Immaculate Heart Radio Monday through Friday from 6-9 a.m. The show can also be found in podcast form. Madrid’s droll, dry sense of humor, humility and laid-back style, combined with his deep understanding of the Faith and his ability to communicate it in ordinary English for ordinary people, make his show a fine one whether you are just starting to learn the Faith yourself or if you are somebody who has been Catholic for a while but is seeking to go deeper.

Busted Halo

Pitched to a younger, millennial-leaning audience, Busted Halo (a ministry of the Paulist Fathers) describes itself as “a unique media resource that utilizes a relevant and accessible voice to help people understand the Catholic faith, put it into practice in their everyday lives and share it with others.”

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Busted Halo aims “to bring the joy of the Gospel to all people in innovative and creative ways ... through articles, video, podcasts, radio and social media” and understands that their younger audience more easily can hear people who speak from their experience (however flawed) than the custodians of a tradition (though, of course, their purpose is precisely to present the Catholic Tradition). Hence the name of the site, because “our life’s journey is fraught with imperfections, struggles and mistakes. Each of us sports a halo that is either dented, scratched, tarnished ... in some way busted. God loves us despite this and continually calls us to polish our halos up to a nice golden shine.”

Available on the site are podcasts ranging across a broad field of topics including homilies and other reflections from clergy, interviews with everybody from actor Morgan Freeman to biblical scholar Brant Pitre, to discussions of everything from Catholic education to sex to listening for God’s voice. Likewise, their video selections roam from Lent to Halloween to Googling God.

‘The Catholic Foodie’ | Jeff Young

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Jeff Young

Another option for looking at the Faith from a delightful angle is “The Catholic Foodie” podcast. “Catholic Foodie” is predicated (as is the Catholic Faith, by the way) on the premise that life will always be more delicious than it is useful, and that we do well always and everywhere to give God thanks and praise for the tasty goodness of his world. Jeff Young says the show is about much more than merely “recipes and reviews. The show highlights how food — good food — can be a sign of God’s love and care for each of us and our families. The tagline, ‘Where food meets faith,’ speaks volumes about the importance of family, which is so often developed around the kitchen table.” Because food is convivial, Young makes his show a meeting place for others to join the table and share the Faith while learning about everything from New Orleans jazz, to Amoris Laetitia to saints who battled Satan to historical evidence for Jesus Christ — as well as pizza. It’s a zesty place alive to the goodness of life and the Faith.

'Connecting the Dots'
A little over a year ago, I was contacted by Leo C. Brown of Breadbox Media, a new web-based Catholic broadcast network, who asked if I’d be interested in joining a lineup of 30-some other people to do my own show that would broadcast live and then be archived as a podcast. That sounded fun to me and so, before I could say “Testing ... testing ...” we were on the air with my show, “Connecting the Dots,” airing live Monday through Friday at 5 p.m. Eastern on Breadbox Media.

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‘The Art of Catholic’ | Matthew Leonard

Matthew Leonard
Matthew Leonard

When not busy at his day job as executive director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, Matthew Leonard is busy with his podcast, “The Art of Catholic.” As he puts it on his website, “The Catholic spiritual life is Matthew’s favorite topic — prayer and spirituality. That being said, he talks about all kinds of aspects and issues of the faith, oftentimes interviewing authors on incredibly diverse topics from around the Catholic universe.”

The result is thick gumbo of rich catechesis that, for all its diversity, hews close to the Church’s teaching. You can go to his podcast and get conversations with Ralph Martin, Mike Aquilina, Jeff Cavins and Kevin Lowry, or hear discussions of salvation, Mariology, angels and redemptive suffering. A convert from Protestantism, Leonard has an engaging gift of the gab and makes the Faith come alive for his audience.

‘Sunday Bible Reflections’ | Scott Hahn

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In his short but poignant weekly podcast, Scott Hahn offers a short reflection on the Sunday readings. Hahn is Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. Also a convert to the Faith, he is renowned for his voluminous writings and recordings on Scripture and its crucial place in the Catholic tradition. He has made Scripture come alive in a fresh way for millions of people around the world, and his podcast on the Sunday reading is a quick, bite-size introduction to how he does that. If it’s hard to find time to listen to much podcasting, these three-minute podcasts are an excellent place to get your toes wet (as well as marvel at the haiku-like economy of language whereby Hahn unpacks so much from the brief passages of Scripture he treats).

‘Catholic Stuff You Should Know’

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A bit more hipster, “Catholic Stuff You Should Know” is a podcast run by Father John Nepil, Father Joe Doman, Father Nathan Goebel, Father Michael Rapp and Father Michael O’Loughlin. It was started by these gung-ho young priests in response to Pope Benedict XVI’s 2010 call to Catholics to plunge into the world of social media and use it to spread the Gospel. Over the years, they have talked about everything from apostolic pardons and bikinis to the Year of Mercy and zombies. A great place to lead the young adult Catholic who is looking for something interesting and spritely but also thoughtful.

Word on Fire | Bishop Robert E. Barron

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Finally, no discussion of Catholics in new media is complete without mentioning the indomitable Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary of Los Angeles.

As the head of Mundelein Seminary near Chicago, he was emphatic about his priests mastering the digital realm, and he has practiced what he preaches by not only making his epic “Catholicism” series but by cranking out zillions of terrific, thoughtful and perceptive videos on his Word on Fire YouTube channel, not to mention a boatload of really first-rate homilies in podcast form. His work is, by far, some of the best on the web.