Father Mike Schmitz Hosts ‘Bible in a Year’ Podcast
Catholic priest’s ‘The Bible in a Year’ tops secular charts.
With more than 6 million cumulative downloads and over two weeks in the first spot of the Apple podcast charts, Ascension’s The Bible in a Year podcast, hosted by Father Mike Schmitz and featuring Jeff Cavins, has supplanted many secular news syndicate podcasts with true “Good News.”
In this daily, 18- to 20-minute podcast, Father Schmitz takes on the Goliathan task of reading through the entire Bible in a set of 365 segments. Father Schmitz is no rookie to the podcasting world. Since 2015, he has been working on video and audio recordings with Ascension Presents while serving in his Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota. Yet this new project has captured the interest and hearts of many listeners. He recently spoke with the Register about the concept, the process and the need to delve deeper into Scripture.
Would you share with readers the inspiration behind the podcast?
The motivation behind The Bible in a Year podcast came from a couple different things. One is that I love audio books, and I find myself constantly listening to something — audiobooks, podcasts or YouTube. The second thing is I realized that, while I listen to a lot of voices — and I think there are a lot of wise voices that have a lot of good things to say — one of the things I noted was that after the last year, while I still found myself really agreeing with these people who I felt to be truly wise and had good things to say, after I was done listening to the talk or commentary I would experience … I wouldn’t say anxiety, but I recognized that this was the wisdom of the world, and it didn’t leave me in a place of true wisdom. I knew a lot of new things, and I knew some good opinions, but it didn’t leave me in a place of wisdom.
So I started listening to the Bible. I have an audio New Testament, and I recognized that when I listened to Scripture, it would change my vision and shape my heart in a way that was different. It was obviously wise because it was the wisdom of the Lord, but it also allowed me to see what’s going on — in our culture, our world, our life — with the wisdom of Christ and through the lens of Scripture.
And that just really convicted me, and I thought this would be a really, really good thing to be able to offer a “Bible in a Year” podcast, where we just went through the entire Bible and gave people the opportunity to have their lens shaped. And that was the whole idea behind it: If you just let yourself be so consumed in the word of God, it is going to shape the lens through which you look at the world. So I presented it to Ascension, and they were like, “We’ve been talking about something like this for years, but we didn’t know who, we didn’t know when”; and I was like, “I’ll do it if you want!” And so that started the ball rolling — and here we are.
How do you prepare for each episode?
We have the “Bible in a Year Reading Plan.” There is one particular staff member at Ascension who just took hours and hours and hours of her own time and crafted [this] with the other team members and did such a good job. So I have that reading plan, and I know where we are headed; and I have a number of books — there is one in particular that is so essential called the Early Christian Commentary. The early Church made a lot of commentaries; they wrote a lot about virtually every book in the Bible. So the ancient Christian commentary is very helpful. And then I need to pray about [what I read].
What is something that has surprised you in this process?
After one of the first episodes, my little sister texted that she was listening with some of her girls, and after she pressed “stop,” her 4-year-old said, “Mom, that was awesome!” And then one of my older sisters had texted me last weekend and said (what I hope too): “I hope people stick with it through the Old Testament! And things can be so confusing, but you are doing a really good job of giving us a context for how to understand that.” And that just means a lot to me, especially because I respect them and love them so much — just to know that they are on this journey as well is really cool for me!
Listeners have certainly encountered some confusing and challenging characters in the Old Testament, so far.
It’s one of the big surprises for so many people — a lot of times our first introduction to the Bible was the “Bible stories”; and then you actually start reading the actual story and you are like, “The Bible is not for kids!” This is not a children’s story. It’s stories of really broken people — God continues to step into their lives and invite them to relationship with him.
Do you have a favorite book of the Bible?
There are so many good ones: Every one of the Gospels is different and unique and awesome in its own way — so there’s all the Gospels. But if I were to say what is one of the books of the Bible that might have even been the one that inspired this podcast, it would be the Book of Judges. I was reading through it because, again, as I mentioned, I had been listening to a lot of wise people saying wise things about politics and culture and the state of the world and getting all ramped up about that — like, “why are we at the place we are at right now?” — and then reading Judges and realizing that … this is the chosen people of God! This is lifetimes [of history], and there is just a train wreck, and God will send a judge to come along and bring them back on track — and sometimes they would, and sometimes they wouldn’t. And I just thought that kind of instability and that kind of mess, that God continued to work with, is so inspiring and is so chilling. At the moment, I really liked praying with Judges and really trying to tease out all the points of conviction and wisdom for myself in all the mess and then the train wreck that is the Book of Judges.
Has your work in youth ministry and with college students influenced your approach to this podcast?
One of the ways I know it has is the way that I’m constantly with our students. If the [Newman Center] is open, then I’m literally here. And I think that keeps me from kind of living in my own mind or with the idea that I am in control of my own time or schedule.
The next piece would be that, in college ministry, I am really accustomed to people who are in a process of conversion. The sweet spot of this college age is that [they] are both trying to figure out the biggest questions that any human being can ask — “Who am I?” “Where am I from?” “Where am I going?” “What’s my life about?” “What is life about?” — and also a bit more stable in the sense that when [they] make this decision, [they] will most likely carry this through to the end of [their] life. And I just love that about college ministry: being in this place where people are constantly asking the questions that [podcast listeners] are already asking: “What is God like?” “How do I understand this?” “Is this what it is like to belong?” “So he really destroyed the world in a flood?” “So God seems mad — what does that mean?” I answer those questions every day because I get to be around students every day who are constantly taking those first steps into really challenging and letting themselves be challenged by his word.
If you could have as a guest on the podcast someone from the Old Testament and from the New Testament (excepting Jesus), who would that be?
It would be Moses, to be able to ask questions about “What was it like?” — to be able to be like, “So Moses, I know you said your anger flared up and you struck the rock twice, but give me some more: How was breakfast that morning?”— just to be in that situation to know more details. So Moses, since he wrote so much of the Old Testament, when it comes to those first books of the Bible.
In the New Testament, I’m just going to say John, because he got to see the longest — not just the plantings, the beginnings of the Church, but he lived the longest of all the apostles, so he got to see this whole generation or two that grew up under his eyes.
Are there any other resources you would recommend to supplement the podcast if people would like to go deeper?
The Great Adventure Bible Timeline is so good. It’s Jeff’s “Bible Timeline” we’re using for the “Bible in a Year Reading Plan,” and he’s a regular special guest on the show. It has really transformed how I approached Scripture. My current favorite person for virtually everything Scripture-related is Brant Pitre. He has this depth of knowledge that’s just incredible, while still allowing it to be accessible to anyone who is interested.
Is there anything you would like more people to know about this project?
One thing I will say is that, while it is The Bible in a Year, it is not restricted to 365 days, in the sense that you would have to start on Jan. 1, 2021, and end on Dec. 31, 2021. We intentionally made it evergreen in the sense of saying: This is Day 1; this is Day 12. Because if Jan. 21 is your Day 6, that’s great, because you are on Day 6! I know for myself that the hardest day to pray is the day after the day you don’t pray. Just start again or keep going, and that’s part of the beauty of this.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Register correspondent Kathryn Wallice writes from Hartford, Connecticut.