The Perspective of a Prominent Young Catholic Convert: An Interview with Brandon Vogt

I recently had the opportunity to ask Brandon Vogt some interview questions. This past July (1-4), Brandon was one of about 3,500 prominent Catholic figures to attend the historic Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America in Orlando, Florida. Included within Brandon’s vast media accolades is his position as content director at Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Ministries. Brandon is also a published author of various popular Catholic books. None of this is to mention Brandon’s role as a devoted husband and father, and someone who has shown how converts to the Catholic faith continue to both enrich and, frankly, comprise the lay Catholic leadership in the United States. Enjoy the depth of Brandon’s responses to my questions here.

What does your Catholic faith mean to you and your family?

Everything. It’s the DNA, the lifeblood, the beating heart of our family.

If a random passerby who had never heard of Jesus approached you and asked you to describe him in a few sentences, what would you say?

Jesus is the most startling, shocking, dangerous, intriguing person ever to walk the earth. When you meet the real Jesus, and not some sentimental caricature, he elicits only two reactions. Either you will love him or you will hate him. As C.S. Lewis said, “Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.”

Tell us more about ClaritasU.

ClaritasU was created to help Catholics get clear and confident about the most pressing issues they face. These are the issues that make them nervous and afraid when they come up in conversation – things like atheism, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, and more.

Through ClaritasU, however, they get the tools and resources they need to stop being worried. Through video courses, expert interviews, and a vibrant community, we teach members how to be clear about their faith and answer the top objections. You can learn more at ClaritasU.com, but hurry, because the doors close to new members on Thursday, September 7, and they won’t open again for at least six months!

I have enjoyed watching your “Best Evidence for God” videos. Why did you start producing them?

One of the most alarming trends today is the rise of atheism. In the past ten years, the number of atheists in America has doubled. There were five million atheists in 2007. Today, there are over ten million. How has this happened? And what does it mean for us Catholics? That’s what I explain in this free video series, found at BestEvidenceForGod.com. You’ll learn why atheism is surging, what you should say when talking with atheist friends and family, and some good resources to go even deeper on the topic.

What have been some of the joys of working with Bishop Robert Barron and Word on Fire Ministries?

To quote the Little Flower, our main patroness, “Everything is grace!” I still can’t believe I get to work with Bishop Barron and so many talented and holy people at Word on Fire. These people are on the front lines of evangelizing the culture, and only in heaven will we learn the tremendous impact people like Bishop Barron have had on the world. I don’t think there’s a better evangelist in the English-speaking world than him, so it’s a great joy and honor to work alongside him.

As a fellow Ave Maria Press author, I must ask: what are your hopes for your forthcoming book Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too)?

Well, the same hope as any author: that many people read their book and find it helpful! For Why I Am Catholic, though, I especially hope it finds its way to non-Catholic readers. I wrote it with atheists, agnostics, “nones,” and former Catholics in mind, so I want it in their hands. We to need to reveal to them how the Catholic Church is true, good, and beautiful, and how, through it, God wants to transform them and share all his gifts with them.

You used to be a self-identified millennial “none” regarding religion. I had my own doubts before returning to the practice of the Catholic faith late in my college years. For you, what led you to Catholicism in light of your time in college?

I wanted to join the Church that Jesus established. At the time, I was part of a Methodist community, and I really loved it. It was there I first learned the Bible, I began to pray on my own, and I found a warm community of loving friends. Yet still, as nice as those things were, I was uneasy learning that the Methodist church was founded just a few hundred years ago by two brothers, John and Charles Wesley. I didn’t want to join a church started by men. I wanted the Church started by Jesus. So I poured through history books and examined the early Church, discovering quickly that the early Church was resolutely Catholic. It was the acorn that developed into the tree of today’s Catholic Church. And once I made that connection, I couldn’t help but embrace it.

You run the popular website StrangeNotions.com, which has earned the designation of “the largest site of dialogue between Catholics and atheists.” What is one story from this experience that has stuck out for you?

We’ve had many great encounters. For example, I personally have enjoyed getting to know so many atheists through the site, counting many of them as friends. I’ve also interviewed some fun atheist leaders, including Dr. Michael Ruse, an atheist philosopher of science, who is one of the most friendly and thoughtful scholars I know. It’s also refreshing when I hear from atheists or skeptics who email me to say that a particular post or combox discussion has helped change their mind. It doesn’t happen often, and we’ve yet to have anyone who has admitted they’ve gone from atheism all the way to Catholicism, but there have been several who have renounced atheism and now identify as deist or theist.

I ask this in every interview: what is your favorite scriptural passage, and why?

Definitely John 10:10: “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” How many people today see Jesus, religion, and the Church as a thief? Someone who wants to steal away their freedom and happiness? But it’s precisely the wrong perspective. Jesus comes to give life, and give it to the full! What J.R.R. Tolkien wrote about the Blessed Sacrament could easily apply to Jesus: “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth… [In Jesus] you will find romance, glory, honor, and fidelity.”

What advice do you have for millennial Catholics, many of whom are inclined to question the merits of the Catholic Church?

Follow the questions all the way down. You have questions about the Church? You have problems with some of her teachings? You have doubts? Good! That’s healthy! It means your mind is still working! But don’t stop there. Pursue those questions all the way. See what answers the Church gives. See what her brightest and most articulate defenders say. Give the Church a chance before casting her off. Because when you do, I’m convinced, you’ll find that in a strange and confused world, perhaps the Catholic Church looks so backward because everyone else is facing the wrong direction. As G.K. Chesterton says, “It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment a man ceases to pull against it, he feels a tug towards it. The moment he ceases to shout it down, he begins to listen to it with pleasure. The moment he tries to be fair to it, he begins to be fond of it.”

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You can follow Brandon on Twitter (@BrandonVogt). Keep an eye on whatever Brandon has in store next – he reliably finds a unique way to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ into the world through his media endeavors, thus taking seriously the call for all of the laity to participate in the efforts of the New Evangelization.

Justin McClain

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Justin, his wife Bernadette, and their three children (John-Paul, Mary Christine, and Thérèse) live in Bowie, Maryland. Justin has taught theology and Spanish at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland, since 2006. He has degrees from the University of Maryland - College Park, the Universidad de Salamanca (Spain), and Staffordshire University (England), and he has studied philosophy and theology at Seton Hall University, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and the University of Notre Dame's Satellite Theological Education Program. Justin has written for Ave Maria Press, Aleteia, EpicPew, Our Sunday Visitor, Catholic365, Church Life, and various other publications. He is on Twitter (@McClainJustin).

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