A New Podcast That Moves Beyond Everyday Assumptions of What It Means to Be Catholic

– Sister Colleen Gibson SSJ

Beyond the Habit Podcast Gibson McDonald

“This is a new frontier for our charism!” a sister wrote to me in the fall when news of the release of Beyond the Habit, a new podcast from the Sisters of Saint Joseph, became public. After months of work—finding guests, conducting interviews, recording banter, and witnessing the work of sound editing and branding—it was hard to believe that the first season of the podcast was coming to fruition.

Focused on moving beyond everyday assumptions of what it means to be Catholic and live the gospel, Beyond the Habit offers audio interviews with guests that explore important issues such as a faith that does justice, prayer and spirituality, and what it’s like to be a sister. Co-hosted by myself and Sister Erin McDonald, CSJ, the podcast provides an outlet for our CSSJ charism, exposing new audiences to the mission and charism of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, while also providing a glimpse into the world of religious life.

Thinking about our first sisters in France and how they answered the call to “circle the city with love,” our podcasting team—who in addition to Erin and me includes Sister Sarah Simmons, CSJ and Producer Elizabeth Powers of the Congregation of Saint Joseph’s Communications Staff—tried to discern what that call to “circle the city” might look like today. The result has been a peek into the conversations that happened around the hearth in that first kitchen in LePuy, France, and continue when we gather together to talk about our lives today. Like our first sisters, we find ourselves asking critical questions and returning to the standard of what it means to live out our faith commitments today.

Joined by guests such as Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, Mary Novak of NETWORK lobby, and spiritual director Becky Elderidge, Erin and I have been blessed with a wide variety of conversation partners as we consider those critical questions and learn more about their own journeys. Exploring topics such as prayer and discernment, economic justice and religious vows, and sustainable living and the Laudato

Si´ movement, the first six episodes of the podcast (season one!) released this fall cover a variety of issues and also offer an expression of the joy of religious life.

This last point is what has resonated with our listeners. One email commenter wrote after a few episodes saying, “I feel like I’m sitting at the table with you and your guests. There is laughter and there is deep insight and there is also a felt sense of presence. I really appreciate that.” That presence is part of the ministry that Beyond the Habit provides.

This podcast is, as a friend wrote to me recently, a “ministry of the mic.” In the midst of people’s busy schedules, the Beyond the Habit meets them where they are and invites them into that felt sense of presence. The format of the podcast makes it easy to put on an episode in the car, on a walk, or while cooking dinner. With each new episode, young adults and working professionals who might never have met religious sisters before or who are trying to navigate what it means to live their faith in the everyday can pull a chair up to the table and join us in growing in relationship with God and others.

Offering an interesting take on religious life and on faith in a modern context, Beyond the Habit creates a space to engage in a larger conversation about how we live a faith that brings union in a world that seems to be overflowing with division. “You all give me hope” Elizabeth Garlow reflected in our interview with her (Episode 4: “What is Enough?”), “the ways women religious are showing up and asking the harder questions, like ‘what is enough in society?’, is just so enlivening and exciting to me. Because I think we need a new moral imagination for what the future looks like.”

The hope is that listening to the podcast will enliven and excite folks, offering them a space of community, companionship, and challenge. Creating a space for such conversation and conversion, the podcast sees that the city we are called to circle is broader and wider than we might previously have imagined and asks us to consider that our dear neighbors might hear the good news of the gospel as much through our physical presence in ministry as through their earbuds as they engage in the everyday stuff of their lives.

Being able to be with people in that space is a gift and a blessing; it speaks to our mission and invites people to grow in relationship with God, self, and others wherever they are and whatever they do. Our hope is that the conversations we have with one another and with a wide variety of guests will appeal to people seeking a deeper relationship with God and trying to find a place of common ground and belonging in our world today.

In his 2022 Message for the World Day of Social Communications, Pope Francis focused the world’s attention on the importance of listening. “Listening concerns the whole person, not just the sense of hearing.” The Pope remarked. “The true seat of listening is the heart.” When we listen, we open ourselves up to one another. True listening is not waiting to respond but receiving what is offered.

This type of listening lies at the heart of our charism as Sisters of Saint Joseph. Sisters, associates, and partners in mission are all steeped in an attentiveness to the person right in front of us, our dear neighbor. This is the ministry of presence that people often remark upon when they speak of the quality of the relationships we build. With Beyond the Habit, the realm of those relationships and that ministry is expanding.

“With the awareness that we participate in a communion that precedes and includes us, we can rediscover a symphonic Church in which each person is able to sing with his or her own voice,” Pope Francis says, “welcoming the voices of others as a gift to manifest the harmony of the whole that the Holy Spirit composes.”

Attentive to God’s Spirit, Beyond the Habit is adding its voice to the symphonic Church and making space for others—to listen for the Spirit’s inspiration and to find their own voice of faith in our busy world. As we continue that journey, we look forward to the conversations that lie ahead and give thanks for all who’ve joined us in this first season and all we’ve learned in the process of recording.

As this “ministry of the mic” continues (season two is already in the works!), we hope that you’ll join us in listening and share the podcast with anyone you think might enjoy the conversation, expanding the frontier for our charism and making space at the table for everyone—to listen and to be heard—all for the greater glory of God.