The mission of the New Evangelization is daunting. It entails forming many practicing Catholics in the faith they were never properly taught, enticing fallen away Catholics back to the Church, and convincing those trapped by our secular culture that man cannot live by technology alone. There is not one person, one book, or one program that can make the New Evangelization urged by Saint John Paul II a reality—it has to be a team effort fought with all the resources we can muster.
After months of listening, I am convinced that “The Bible in a Year Podcast” is divinely-sent gift with tremendous power to win souls for Christ—and to rescue the Bible from skeptical detractors in the process.
I was reluctant to listen to “The Bible in a Year.” Scripture never played much of a role in my prayer life, and I thought I knew the Bible well enough from the cycles of daily Mass readings and from graduate studies years ago. My wife, by contrast, jumped in with both feet to the podcast’s launch in January 2021, and raved about it. I would hear it in the house and eventually became intrigued enough to listen myself, journeying from the first day forward to day 365.
I’m so glad I did.
The two-fold purpose of “The Bible in a Year,” as stated in its daily introduction, is “to read all the way from Genesis to Revelation, discovering how the story of salvation unfolds and how we fit into that story today.” The podcast hits both marks.
First, regarding the Bible itself, the podcast follows the Great Adventure Bible timeline that was created by Jeff Cavins specifically for a year-length journey with God’s word. Rather than read the 73 sacred books in order, the Great Adventure Bible, for each day of the year, pairs one of Scripture’s 14 narrative books to be read alongside another coinciding book (legal, prophetic, poetic, or a New Testament epistle) and either a psalm or proverb. This way, as Jeff Cavins explains in a dozen bonus episodes that introduce each of the Great Adventure Bible’s 12 periods, listeners can grasp the core narrative of salvation history without losing steam through the other books that can be tedious and puzzling.
In a clever move, the four Gospels are dispersed over week-long intervals in the midst of Old Testament; they are called “Messianic checkpoints.” John is the first read, beginning at Day 99, then Mark at Day 154, then Matthew at Day 258, and Luke at Day 313, which leads into the Acts of the Apostles and the continuous reading of the New Testament. The Messianic checkpoints shine as the fulfillment of the Old Testament history and prophecies in which listeners have been immersed for so many weeks before. In particular, the introduction of Matthew, after a prolonged reading of the Jewish exile’s “prophets of woe and doom”—Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah—underscores how the Gospel is truly good news to those who have walked in darkness and longed for the light.
After each day’s reading of two to five chapters of the Bible, a ten-minute commentary follows. Here the podcast meets its second goal of showing our place in the story of salvation, and here lies the real charm of the podcast. For this, we have the inspired—an adjective not chosen lightly—insights of the podcast narrator and commentator, Father Mike Schmitz.
It takes him three weeks to find his rhythm, but once he does, Father Mike’s enthusiasm, humor, tenderness, determination, and spiritual empathy make the podcast deeply compelling and enjoyable. His unbridled excitement upon arriving at John’s Gospel, to name one example, was palpable enough to shake my smart phone. The jokes peppered throughout the introduction (he manages to make 365 readings of the same brief script amusing many times over) and the commentaries (one day he kidded that he has a fourth grader’s sense of humor) keep the podcasts humming. Best of all are what my wife, children, and I have termed “Father Mike-isms”—oft-repeated exclamations that express his passion: “It’s remarkable! So good! Man, O man! It’s Bonkers! Bananas!”)
But Father Mike is not all fun and games: on a number of occasions, we hear his sincere, pastoral compassion when he addresses listeners who have experienced profound sufferings in their lives (his commentary on King David and Bathsheba is the most memorable example). Multiple times he addresses listeners for whom “today is the worst day in your life” and he promises his prayers along with God’s providential care for them.
As wonderful as these features are, they merely decorate a gloriously baked layer cake. 365 times Father Mike’s commentaries on the day’s readings are food for the mind and the soul. There is never a day with a vague “just let God speak to you” response. Quite the opposite. So many times, especially when an Old Testament reading droned on listing nothing more than the names and numbers, he amazed me by pulling out a spiritual insight relevant for today.
For example, from Numbers 2, which dryly lists how Israel’s 12 tribes encamped in the desert, Father Mike teaches us that our God is one of order through whom we receive our identity and learn to use our freedom. He notes also that the tribe of Judah, whose name means “praise,” sets out on the march first; so should we, when we begin the march of a new day, let our praise to God go up first.
Examples such as these are too numerous to list, so I will mention a few favorites: “These words were written for their time. They were also written for us” (Day 253). “Some of the worst advice I think anyone has ever uttered on this planet is ‘follow your heart.’ … Often times our hearts are distorted” (Day 230). “Do not pray for an easy life. Pray for the courage to face life” (Day 325). “Love is not what God does. Love is who God is…. We love because He first loved us…. You are loved first…. We love God by obeying His commandments” (Day 356).
Such soul-stirring insights make the podcast such a powerful evangelization tool in world where God’s voice has been muffled by poor catechesis and media deluge. And with this food for the soul comes intellectual formation. In addition to providing context on the sacred books themselves, Father Mike teaches on every Catholic dogmatic topic as it arises in the pages of Scripture: the Eucharist, the Church, the role of Mary, the office of the papacy, Purgatory, intercessory prayer, the relation of faith and works. Much of this teaching is directed at the non-Catholic audience, whom, Father Mike admits in the last week, he hopes to convert to the Catholic faith. But his teaching doubles perfectly for Catholics who need to hear, whether for the first time or again, what it is that we believe. Herein two other goals of the podcast are met: the development of a biblical worldview, and that the Word of God be not just informative, but transformative.
“The Bible in a Year” has one other triumph: it enables listeners to develop a real appreciation for the Bible—all of it—as God’s word. Father Mike’s cogent explanations of some of the stories and practices that the contemporary world finds difficult, such as slavery, violence, and the relationship between men and women, are a key ingredient for this success. In addition, hearing the full Old Testament story impresses how essential it is to our understanding of God, the incarnation, and our own faith journeys. The New Atheists dubbed the Bible “Bronze age mythology.” Father Mike’s commentary turns this accusation on its head: for those seeking the path to God, the Bible is a contemporary map more valuable than any scientific treatise.
America is due for a new Great Awakening, one that will return souls to the hands of a merciful God who creates, sustains, and loves them. “The Bible in a Year” is the teaching and preaching needed to make this happen. Don’t delay: download the podcast, start listening, and share it widely. Father Mike cannot wait to see you tomorrow.
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