This past Saturday I had the opportunity to appear for the first time as a guest for the full hour of SQPN’s “Catholic Weekend” podcast, after some coaxing and Catholic guilt-tripping by the show’s very determined host, Jeff Nielsen. It was something of a surreal experience for me, being able to converse with people whom I had been listening to for years. Yet it also shows the power of social media to bring together people of good will, and produce something to counterbalance some of the toxic forms of media which are increasingly pushed on us as being entertainment.
Several years ago I began listening to podcasts occasionally on my iPod, mainly in the form of audio books, or recordings of television discussion programs which I already watched regularly, but might have missed during the week. Not having a particularly long commute in the mornings, nor being the sort of person who feels that they must always be surrounded by music or noise, my iPod did not get huge amounts of use, and podcasts became something which mainly served to entertain me in the evenings, at bedtime. However when I first began listening to these shows, other than downloading the audio recordings of EWTN television programs I had been unable to find any Catholic podcasts of interest, until I heard about Father Roderick Vonhögen and SQPN. It was fortunate that I heard about him when I did.
Quite literally the next day after I had read about Father Roderick for the first time, I went to the dentist complaining of a sense of pain and increasing anxiety in my jaw. He took some x-rays and announced, “You have to have your wisdom teeth out. TODAY.” Although two of my wisdom teeth had come in and were not causing me any problems, the other two had not, and one of these impacted teeth was beginning to push into a nerve that ran around the mandible. The dentist warned me that if I did not have them out immediately, the pain and anxiety would continue to get worse, and that I could sustain nerve damage, because of the bizarre way the offending tooth was pushing.
So from a 9:00 a.m. dentist appointment I had to rush home and pack a bag to go to the oral surgeon, who could fit me in at noon the same day, and then be picked up by my father to head home to the country to recuperate for a few days. As I was collecting my things, something told me that I ought to download some podcasts since I would be spending some time doing not much of anything, and I decided to give Father Roderick a try. I downloaded several of his programs, including his travel dialogues and his regular show, “The Daily Breakfast”, and headed off to have my mouth seen to.
As it turned out, it was a good thing that I had downloaded those shows. My recovery from having all four wisdom teeth removed involved some extremely powerful and very unpleasant prescription pain medication, which I took in the evenings when it was time for bed. It made my mind race a million miles an hour, and my limbs go completely limp, leaving me feeling as though I was unable to move. I would sit there in bed, exhausted and wanting to sleep, but unable to do so, for hour after hour hoping for some relief; the only thing to take my mind off of it were these podcasts from a Dutch Catholic priest whom I had never met.
Eventually I recovered, but this planted a seed for listening to other SQPN programs and affiliate shows besides those put out by Father Roderick, such as “Catholic In A Small Town”, “Just A Catholic Dad”, “The Catholic Laboratory”, and the aforementioned “Catholic Weekend”. They were a way for me to relax in the evenings and think about the integration of my Catholic Faith into my daily life. Yet they also provided opportunities to laugh, to learn about new media or other topics, and to simply enjoy hearing fellow Catholic laymen producing enjoyable media content, where they were neither attempting to deliver a sermon/theological treatise, nor shying away from the fact that they were trying to practice the Faith as best they could.
As I became more familiar with how podcasts worked and how feedback could help drive the shows, as well as giving the opportunity to thank and share comments with their producers, I began to interact with the hosts of these programs. Gradually this lead to the formation of distant friendships, since to date I have not met any of the hosts of these programs – who are scattered across the world in places as diverse as Georgia, Oklahoma, Holland, England, and Scotland, to name a few places of show origin. The hosts of one show, for example, sent me a Christmas card by the mail this year, and I sent them a small souvenir packet from Barcelona while I was there; the host of another of these shows just recently mailed me a package containing a newspaper article I had been looking for. And the connections made through these people allowed me to meet, online at least, some important figures in Catholic new media circles, as well as to form new friendships or acquaintanceships via social media and the blogging I had already been doing.
In some ways appearing on “Catholic Weekend” this past Saturday has brought things full circle. Instead of sitting in bed of a Sunday or Monday evening as I normally do, listening to Jeff, Maria, and Steve chat and laugh along with their guest about various topics, Catholic and otherwise, and reacting to what I heard in the otherwise prevailing silence of my own home, I was now part of the program. I could ask them questions, and interact with them, for the first time via voice rather than just messaging. And I was lucky enough to have had that opportunity to appear along with Father Roderick himself, whose podcasting had not only helped me to get through a very difficult and painful week of recovery, but also provided me with new resources which have greatly enriched my life through the connections I have made, and through what I have learned and explored as a result of these programs.
SQPN has greatly enriched my life, which is why this year for the first time I decided that it was time to donate to their annual giving campaign, and I hope my readers will consider doing so, as well. Yet what I am perhaps most grateful for is the opportunity it has provided for me to think beyond the confines of my local parish church or my own blogging, and realize that there are many other Catholics with a broad range of interests, from astronomy to films, cooking to exercise, that manage to integrate living their Faith with enjoying life. The network is really a great venue for demonstrating the catholicity of Catholicism, and long may it continue.