Tod Worner, practicing internal medicine physician, voracious reader, devoted family man, deep thinker, and probably the nicest guy you’d ever run into, has launched a new podcast, the Evangelization & Culture Podcast. Episode 1, “Suffering and St. John Paul II,” drops on July 11, 2023.
I had the singular pleasure of sitting down with him to discover the origin of this new podcast and gather all the details we listeners will need. We too will soon be like giddy pigs in manure (you’ll have to read on . . . ).
Caroline: Thanks for speaking with me, Tod! Can you start by telling us a little about you and your background?
Tod Worner: Caroline, it is an honor to talk with you. And I hope people know what extraordinary work you do for Word on Fire!
Well, to begin with, I am simply blessed. I was raised in a loving family of Protestant background with church and prayer as a steady part of my childhood. I met my lovely Catholic wife (and best friend), Cari, in college, where I first encountered (and wrestled with) the Catholic Church. After years of attending Mass, praying, reading the greats like Augustine, Newman, Chesterton, Bernanos, O’Connor, Waugh, and Benedict XVI, and engaging in discussions (and intellectual sparring matches) with my wife and my dear friend Mike Cummings, I was welcomed in to the Catholic faith in 2010. It was, to borrow from C.S. Lewis, “a glorious defeat.” Two beautiful, winsome, and witty daughters (Annabel and Vivian) entered my life in 2007 and 2009 respectively, and, for me, the sun rises and sets upon my wife and them.
I have practiced internal medicine for over twenty years and teach undergraduates (at St. John’s University / College of St. Benedict), medical students (at the University of Minnesota Medical School), and residents (through the Abbott Northwestern Internal Medicine Residency Program). I am currently in the process of crafting a Medicine and Literature series for the University of Lisbon (Portugal) Medical School.
Currently, I serve as Managing Editor of Evangelization & Culture, the journal of the Word on Fire Institute (for which I pen the column Midnight Oil) and am a Fellow with the Word on Fire Institute. I love to speak and write essays published by Word on Fire, National Review, the New York Post, Law & Liberty, the National Catholic Register, Dappled Things, Aleteia, and others. My latest engagement is the creation of the Evangelization & Culture Podcast. As my dad might say about me, with my faith, family, and the fun I am having in my different roles, I am like a giddy pig in manure.
Excellent! We all love the gorgeous and intellectually stimulating quarterly Evangelization & Culture journal. What exactly is the Evangelization & Culture Podcast?
The Evangelization & Culture Podcast is a truly Catholic podcast in that it engages and explores EVERYTHING (faith and politics, history and literature, art and humor, work and leisure—EVERYTHING) because Catholicism—which, by definition, means “broad, all-embracing, and universal”—is deeply invested in EVERYTHING. If Catholicism truly is what we believe it is (central, not peripheral; eternal, not ephemeral; THE truth, not “a truth”), then it is infinitely relevant and utterly indispensable—to everything. To borrow from C.S. Lewis, if Catholicism is false, then it “is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
As such, the Evangelization & Culture Podcast engages the culture and looks at it through the lens of Catholicism. Whether we are talking about St. John Paul II or Antonin Scalia, logical positivism or the developmentally disabled, artificial intelligence or foreign policy, euthanasia or the humor of P.G. Wodehouse, we aim to approach each guest and each topic with charity and wit, honesty and wonder. Above all, we hope to explore the vast mystery of all that deep faith and soaring thought have to offer and, in so doing, reclaim forgotten joy and a hunger to evangelize in an otherwise deflated and cynical world. If this podcast does something to mold listeners’ Catholic sensibilities, inspire them to share a story all while making them grin and come back for more, we will have achieved our goal.
What brought you to this podcast idea?
One day, years ago, after I had finished my internal medicine residency and just embarked on my clinical career, I mentioned to my wife that I had an irrepressible hankering to go to the library, research some (non-medical) topic, and write a paper about it. With no audience in mind, I just wanted to learn for the rush that comes with discovering something new or delving into something deeper. Afterward, if I could share this newly acquired insight with some interested soul before I moved on to the next topic, so be it. This gave rise to an enormous book-buying habit and the creation of a series of lectures on Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Harry Truman, and others that I delivered locally and nationally. It also led to the writing opportunities I mentioned earlier and innumerable speaking engagements. People, it seems, love to learn just as much as I do. And they love to learn from others who are passionate about their topic. Robert Frost once said, “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” And aren’t we all seeking to be awakened? In the end, this hunger to learn has been an unalloyed blessing. God sows curiosity in our minds to explore the brilliance and sublimity of his creation. Why would we simply walk on by?
Now to answer your question more directly, last autumn, Word on Fire’s CEO Fr. Steve Grunow and Senior Director of Operations Sean Lee approached me about crafting a podcast that reflects the wonder, variety, and Catholic sensibility of our journal, Evangelization & Culture. We are proud of the way Evangelization & Culture (with its extraordinary writers, keen-eyed editors, and unparalleled design team) has resonated with the tens of thousands who are members of the Word on Fire Institute. If a podcast could be one of the fruits of the journal, I would be delighted to be the one to do it.
Let me say that it has been an absolute privilege to create this podcast and engage so many brilliant minds on such intriguing topics. Each day, I am like a little kid gleefully rubbing my hands together wondering, “Just who will I meet and what will I learn today?” Who could ask for anything more?
Who are some of the individuals we can look forward to hearing from on the podcast?
The topics and guests on the Evangelization & Culture Podcast are many and diverse, which is exactly what makes me so excited for each conversation. In general, the podcast will reflect themes and people that we feature in our quarterly Evangelization & Culture journal. Papal biographer George Weigel spoke with me about St. John Paul II and suffering. Professor Benjamin Lipscomb unfolded the philosophical genius of four women (Elizabeth Anscombe, Mary Midgley, Iris Murdoch, and Phillipa Foot) at Oxford. Author and publisher Joshua Hren discussed the indispensability of the Catholic imagination to the modern world. We have internationally renowned Benedict XVI scholar Tracey Rowland on the intellectual and spiritual genius of the late Pope Benedict XVI, famed scholar of Russian literature Gary Saul Morson on the suffering to be found in the works of Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Turgenev. This list goes on (and will go on) as long as I have books to read, essays to devour, and questions to ask.
What do you hope people take away from listening to the Evangelization & Culture Podcast?
For a little over an hour, I would like people to step away from the worries of the world and enjoy a deep dive into a person with whom or an idea with which they are unfamiliar and reclaim the joy of learning. To borrow from the wisdom of Joseph Pieper, to immerse oneself in the leisure of ideas can (and ought to) be an end in and of itself. At the same time, I would like listeners to rediscover the echoes of God everywhere in our modern culture and realize that that need not and ought not be echoes but palpable encounters with Christ. In pointing toward the formation of a proper Catholic sensibility through Scripture and tradition, the sacraments and fellowship, and by engaging with the wayward world, we can learn how to better evangelize our brothers and sisters and, hopefully, move the tenor of our times toward charity and the destiny of souls toward heaven’s eternity.
To wrap up, what is currently inspiring you? And what are some of the things you’re currently reading and listening to?
Oh my, how much time do you have? Currently, I am doing a deep dive on Watergate, looking at all angles from the president to the press, from Congress to the citizenry, and I am discovering that pride and appetite are everywhere. Watergate is a Shakespearean drama that involves not only Nixon and his aides but also Senator Sam Ervin and Ben Bradlee, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The human condition is everywhere to be seen—constant shades of gray where many strive to see black and white.
A few other topics with which I am engaging range from Hamlet to totalitarianism, St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul to the novels of P.G. Wodehouse, the poetry of W.H. Auden to the genius of Elizabeth Anscombe. The podcasts I am listening to include Firing Line with William F. Buckley, The Great Philosophers by Bryan Magee, and The Third Reich History Podcast. I just can’t get enough, Caroline. But one thing I know for sure: Catholicism engages and is invested in everything, and we will never run out of captivating material for the Evangelization & Culture Podcast!
I hope everyone tunes in!
The Evangelization & Culture Podcast launches on July 11 with Tod’s discussion on suffering and Pope John Paul II with guest George Weigel.
You can also get more content like this in the quarterly print journal of the Word on Fire Institute, Evangelization & Culture.