Catholic Stuff You Should Know (CSYSK) is a podcast started by a group of priests inspired by Pope Benedict XVI’s call for Catholics to use modern media for the purposes of evangelization. In the following interview, Fr. Michael O’Loughlin describes CSYSK and the Companions, the priestly fraternity of which the podcast hosts are members. The following interview was edited for length and style.
TJP: How did you become involved with Catholic Stuff You Should Know?
Fr. Michael O’Loughlin: I was ordained a priest back in 2005. In 2010 Benedict XVI had for his January prayer intention the use of media for evangelization. Fr. John Nepil, Fr. Mike Rapp, who were both seminarians at the time, decided to put it into action.
I became a Companion in probably about 2011-2012 when I started attending the fraternal groups. At that point, I’d already heard about the podcast that they were doing. When Father Mike Rapp got sent to Rome to study [after he was ordained], they needed to find somebody else. Father Nathan Goebel then became a regular contributor. When Father John got sent to Rome, Father John just approached me and said, “We cannot have this man, Father Nathan Goebel, go off the air.” They thought of me because of my Byzantine Catholicism and they said I had a good laugh. Of course, Father Nathan is the comic so they needed a good laugh track for Father Nathan and then to bring my experience of my Byzantine background.
That’s when I came on. The first one I did was “Hanging With Hedonists.” I discovered very quickly how incredible the use of media could be for evangelization, and how incredibly simple in this day and age it could be to do good work and God’s work in the lives of many people all over the world.
What’s been most surprising about engaging in media ministry?
The most surprising thing I think has been how much people really do consider us community. I have people walk up to me all the time and say, “I feel like I know everything about you and you know nothing about me.” They don’t even know my name and yet I think part of the attraction of the podcast is we’re so vulnerable and we just share our hearts. When you’re sitting in a room with a microphone and you’re just chatting with your friend or two with whiskey, you don’t see the audience. We become more aware of that but I think that allows for vulnerabilities because we’re vulnerable with each other.
We’re aware, of course, that we’re recording but the surprising thing is how much people have felt engaged with us personally. They rarely see young orthodox priests in their lives, and so when they have that, they really do feel like they are part of our community, know about us, are even friends with us, which of course can be really scary and damaging as well. But how much people rely on something like this to discern. We’ve had so many emails from people that have become Catholic because they started listening to CSYSK out of curiosity. They said that it was our humanity and vulnerability that led them to be attracted to the Church.
Can you explain the Companions? Why is important to have priestly fraternities now?
The Companions is a fraternal group that meets every other week and we share our life over the past two weeks and we have a checklist: be vulnerable, be accountable when it comes to spending, when it comes to relationships, when it comes to chastity, when it comes to prayer, holy hour, Mass every day for them, breviary at the proper times, etc.
We’re very intentional to not say that we’re doing anything new or fresh. This isn’t some new idea that we’re bringing to the diocese and priesthood. This is the way the diocese and priesthood we believe should be lived with men living together, sharing their lives, celebrating together, mourning together, holding each other accountable, building each other up. In church mindset, you never live alone.
It’s a way of having community and what I also believe is a defined community. It’s not just I have a general community with these guys but you make promises. It’s nice being on a roster to say I am part of this community. That has certain requirements like no TV, the intellectual life, we can’t spend any more than $250 without asking permission from our fraternal group, we can’t have the nicest car, phone, computer. All of that stuff where we’re intentionally witnessing to a life of diocesan priest poverty. We’re still trying to figure out what that looks like. What it means to live the diocesan priest and yes, to live a life of intentional poverty. All of those things became very attractive to me but especially the aspect of lived community with accountability and also affirmation that comes with that as well. Having our basic human needs met through real, intentional friendship, vulnerability, community, mutual help, etc.
What are the long-term goals of CSYSK?
That’s been really hard because I think what you see in all of us is this awareness of how big the podcast has gotten and an awareness of how much people like it and how much it’s changed in their lives. Yet, we very intentionally are trying to find a deeper part of our evangelizing spirit and say we don’t want any self-promotion, we don’t want this to become big because our names are attached to it or because the Companions are attached to it. It’s been interesting having these conversations. We resisted swag for eight years, but people were asking for it so much. The whole reason why I started encouraging it, I actually had a friend just print out stickers when I went to the California Congress because I thought, you know there is something about a visual camaraderie. There’s a certain community based upon that. So many people nowadays put stickers on their computers and on their water bottles. If someone is sitting in a coffee shop and sees a Catholic Stuff sticker on a computer or a mug, it’s a good reminder that Catholics do like podcasts and do go out to coffee shops. To have some sort of connection to end what can be a very isolating experience of being Catholic in this world. That’s what I’m hoping.
Where do you see this going or what do you hope for out of CSYSK?
I don’t think we’ve ever thought that way and I think we’ve done it almost as a point. Our Lord has obviously done amazing things with it but, the original intention was to evangelize and I think that’s where the founders would want to leave it. It’s taken on a life of its own, it’s become big and effective. This woman wrote me after the forgiveness podcast. She said that she listened to it and then said, I really need to go ask forgiveness from my brother. The next week she went over there and she fully believes she prevented a suicide by doing that, by just asking for forgiveness of her brother who was on the edge. Then she wrote me and I could see her tears through the letter of saying the way that forgiveness was described based upon the Fathers and based upon modern psychology and all these things, forgiveness is such a troubling thing. She was so inspired to do that. I thought this has gone way beyond anything we would want.
Honestly, I think we’re anti-planning in that way because we greatly fear getting in the way of what the Holy Spirit is doing. It seems to be working so well, if we just do our part, put out content every week, make sure that we have that fraternity. That’s what people love. I think we’re popular because people love seeing priests be friends, and if that friendship is palpable, somehow the Holy Spirit works to engage them and lead them closer to Christ. I’m more afraid of ruining what we’re doing rather than having any sort of planning to become better because the Holy Spirit seems to be doing that on his own.
Image courtesy Fr. O’Loughlin of CSYSK.