Father Mike Schmitz says that if you had asked him to come up with an idea for a podcast that rise to the top of Apple’s Podcast charts, “The Bible in a Year” wouldn’t have been it.
After all, he says, the podcast, put out by the Catholic publisher Ascension Press, is pretty simple: a few words of introduction, three readings from the Bible, and a few words of explanation, around 20 minutes all told.
But starting Jan. 2, and for 17 days after, the top of the Apple Podcast charts is where “The Bible in a Year” landed. As The Northern Cross goes to press in February, it remains in the top 5.
Father Schmitz, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Duluth Diocese and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth, told The Northern Cross it was good timing that it came out right at the beginning of the new year, when people are trying to begin new things they know they need to do.
“That definitely, I think, is one of the reasons why it was so popular,” he said.
But he believes there’s more to it. He said that personally, he found himself being tired of “more and more noise and more and more distraction and more and more catastrophe” in the world around him and recognized the need to be rooted in something eternal, like the Scriptures. The Bible in a year is something he says he would have wanted to do himself anyway.
“It’s really cool that this is doing so well,” he said, noting it’s an indication of people’s thirst for wisdom and truth.
Father Schmitz says the podcast reading plan was developed around “The Bible Timeline,” the in-depth study by Jeff Cavins. The concept is reading the Bible in a way that is attentive to the story of salvation history from beginning to end.
But, noting that following the Bible Timeline plan strictly wouldn’t get to anything from the New Testament until November, the podcast format has a modification — four “messianic checkpoints.” For instance, beginning on Day 99 there will be a solid week just reading the Gospel of John.
Father Schmitz said the brief explanations are something many people find helpful people trying to understand the context, or when they discover that the Bible is full of brokenness and not just “stories from the Hallmark Channel.” The stories in the Bible are “not clean, not neat,” he said.
Yet Father Schmitz said God enters into that covenant with broken people and brings out greatness in the midst of brokenness.
The podcast’s success has garnered a flurry of media attention for Father Schmitz. He said the podcast has been mentioned in papers as far away as Australia. Major secular newspapers in England have run stories. So have Catholic News Agency and Catholic News Service and Religion News Service in the United States, through whom it is available to numerous other religious and secular media.
Father Schmitz was also been interviewed by conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro, host of his own popular podcast and video channel, which on YouTube alone has 2.68 million subscribers. Closer to home, he was interviewed in KARE-11, the NBC affiliate in the Twin Cities.
And the daily podcast is only one of the projects in the pipeline for the busy priest. He has a forthcoming book on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, co-authored with Father Josh Johnson. His weekly videos for the Ascension YouTube channel, which he’s been doing for the past five years, routinely draw tens of thousands of views.
When the pandemic hit, Ascension also began streaming his weekend Mass from UMD.
“That has been a weekly thing ever since last March,” he said, seen by people from all over, some of whom still can’t go to Mass.
And that’s in addition to his duties in the diocese, where he said UMD is still dealing with challenges from the pandemic and students will be participating in SEEK, the national conference of FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.
But he says he can’t complain about about having a lot on his plate when it’s an honor to be able to offer that service.
“It’s just a gift,” he said.
— By Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross