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A quiet — but not so quiet — revolution has been underway all year.
Ascension’s Bible-in-a-Year Podcast with Father Mike Schmitz skyrocketed to be the most popular podcast in America in January, picked up steam in Lent (when I began following it) and passed 100 million downloads this summer. In August, it debuted on YouTube, where recent episodes already have 10,000 views.
The original Great Awakening of religious faith 245 years ago helped spark the American Revolution. Since this one happened during a viral pandemic, from a podcast that “went viral,” I call this the Great Viral Awakening — and I think it will accomplish even more.
First, the Great Viral Awakening will make Christ far better known.
“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ,” said St. Jerome, and he meant the Old Testament in addition to the New. In fact, if you listened to the Bible in a Year Podcast daily starting with Day 1 on January 1, the New Testament doesn’t start until November 9, Day 313 (apart from three “Messianic Checkpoints” provided three different times in the year).
I, for one, know the Bible, and Jesus, better simply from listening to the Old Testament. The commentary by Father Mike and his fellow Minnesotan Jeff Cavins, and the approach that puts the readings in order of salvation history, have turned confusion to clarity again and again.
Father Mike himself said that this approach has made sense of Scripture for him.
As a priest, he reads Scripture daily but, “Entering into the word of God in a kind of ‘piecemeal’ way, it can become more difficult to capture ‘The Story,’” he told the National Catholic Register this summer.
Second, since to know Jesus is to love him, the Great Viral Awakening will change lives.
Father Mike has said that his team is overwhelmed with the testimonials they are receiving. “We’ve heard from people reaching sobriety, from people coming back to the sacraments for the first time in years, from people seeking out Christianity or Catholicism for the first time, and from families where marriages and relationships are being renewed. We’re hearing incredible stories of grace from people in all walks of life.”
Sarah Stephens recently posted on the podcast’s Facebook page that “Last year I was a worship leader, serving in the Baptist church. I’ve loved Jesus since I was 15 when my Mom almost died.” With the Bible-in-a-Year Podcast coming during more hardships, “My ears were once wide open again and I found myself crying out to God for deeper understanding of who He was. He whispered to follow him to the Catholic Church. I obeyed and haven’t looked back.”
Third, the Great Viral Awakening will help restore hope in a faithless time.
If the earliest stories in the Bible-in-a-Year Podcast reminded us that families have been broken since the dawn of time, the most recent stories show how religious bodies and governments have also been corrupt for millennia.
I knew that the Prophet Hosea compares God’s relationship with his Chosen People to a husband who forgives his unfaithful wife, but I didn’t know how often other prophets did the same. Ezekiel compares them to a promiscuous woman throwing herself at every man she can find; Jeremiah compares them to a donkey in heat sniffing the wind looking for any mate.
Again and again God tells the people through his prophets to do A, and the people respond by doing Z. It caused one listener to post the question for Jeff Cavins: “Were the Chosen People of God ever faithful?”
But God’s mercy to these people is extremely comforting to us who, in our own time, are also often unfaithful. As Dee Dee Norcia posted on Facebook, “I take great comfort in being reminded that in every age there is tribulation, the rise and fall of good and evil. Sometimes I can get stuck on where we are today. Culture, politics, etc. …. I am so grateful to have this Bible-in-a-Year experience.”
Just as importantly, the Great Viral Awakening shows that faithfulness is possible, too.
Lest we be led to give up trying to be faithful, Scripture also gives prominent examples of people who persevered in faithfulness, such as Judith and Daniel and King Cyrus, a gentile. Yes, God can work with the faithless. But God can work even better with the faithful.
And the podcast seems to encourage the virtue of perseverance.
As Joyce Truax posted on Facebook on Day 200, “if anyone told me I would make it this far at the beginning I would have said that’s nuts.” The podcast has changed her, though, she said. “To commit myself on a daily basis not only established a routine but my faith and my prayer life has grown by leaps and bounds.”
Father Mike has a way of inspiring faithfulness, too. In my own text-group of podcast listeners, one comment said: “I got to day 186 yesterday. It said to pray for those who weren’t at that day yet. So, I’m praying for you. If you got there first, thank you for praying for me!”