So, OK, I confess. I've gone modern. My son gave me an iPod. I've actually downloaded podcasts. In fact, though, I've only subscribed permanently to two, both by the same guy, a Catholic priest in the Netherlands.
Father Roderick Vonhogen, who is with the Archdiocese of Utrecht, produces two separate shows — the Catholic Insider and Daily Breakfast. I highly recommend both. Neither contains sermons or homilies. Instead, they are amusing, intelligent and entertaining. He also does other special podcasts, which you will find on his Web site.
I'm not Catholic or even very religious, but Father Roderick's enthusiasm, humor and underlying goodness are infectious. On his Daily Breakfast, he usually starts with a piece of music. He may review a current television show or a movie, or talk about something in the news. Sometimes he has a "geek report" on some new piece of equipment. He's a big fan of Star Wars, Spider-Man, and Harry Potter.
Occasionally he will explain a bit of theology in response to a listener's question. This is usually preceded by a sound bite from "The Simpsons" in which Homer Simpson bellows, "You people have more rules than Blockbuster." Even when he talks about serious matters, it is in a nondogmatic way.
Often he provides sound tours of interesting places. In these he describes what he sees while recording all the background sounds. He did one on the oldest church in Amsterdam, which is now surrounded by the city's infamous red-light district. On a trip to Rome, you can hear some lighthearted Italians playing the guitar and singing in the airplane. When it came time to land, they refused to sit down and kept right on singing. Good thing it wasn't an American plane. The air marshals probably would have shot them dead for disobeying a stewardess.
It's hard to say exactly why I'm drawn to him. I think it is his unending cheerfulness and enthusiasm for almost everything that comes his way, his unfailing kindness, and his honesty. One shouldn't be fooled by his lighthearted banter. He is highly educated, having studied long years in Belgium and France. He is fluent in Dutch, English, French, Italian and Latin, and of course, in seminary studied ancient Hebrew and Greek. His wide-ranging education comes through unobtrusively.
You can find his podcasts on iTunes or at his home page, www.sqpn.com. You don't need an iPod to hear them, either. You can listen to them on your computer's speakers. But if you have to walk about with a wire in your ear, this man's intelligent conversation is far preferable to most of today's music. Listen to him a few times and he begins to sound like an old friend.
So many of the voices one hears these days, both in print and electronically, are glum or pompous or dogmatic or belligerent or ideological or superficial or dumb or cynical or vulgar or some combination of all of the above. Finding Father Roderick was like finding a Placido Domingo at an "American Idol" audition.
Perhaps, too, because I have to fight so hard my own tendency toward pessimism these days, he acts as a refresher. My favorite joke about pessimism is that the optimist says, "This is the best of all possible worlds," and the pessimist replies, "Yes, I'm afraid you're right."
The world is, after all, a beautiful place, though it is easy to lose sight of that if you become a news junkie. Father Roderick can still see the beauty even when he's peddling a bicycle in a cold rainstorm on his way to preach a funeral for a friend.
As for explaining podcasts and such stuff, don't ask me. I'm a techno-illiterate, and once I get past the on-off switch, I'm in the rain forest during the rainy season without a boat or a map.
September 18, 2006
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.
© 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.