Wednesday, August 06, 2014

New book for apologetics without apologies

Patrick Madrid is well known as a Catholic apologist--that is, one who presents the reasonableness of the faith, especially in response to challenges. Every adult Catholic, I am sure, has heard the usual challenges: our faith is not biblical; we worship Mary or statues; we "multiply prayers" in outright contradiction to the command of the Gospel "do not multiply your words when praying. Now, of course, we are hearing new challenges, some of them quite absurd: Catholicism is "anti-intellectual"; Catholic moral teachings do not take practical realities into account; Catholicism is incompatible with the findings of science... 

Assumptions like these can be common currency in our day (especially the newer ones can be almost taken for granted, even by Catholics!). This makes a book like "Why Be Catholic?" helpful not only for the sincere seeker, but for the earnest, but uncertain Catholic who doesn't really "have an answer to those who ask the reason for your hope" (cf 1 Pet 3:15)--and hopes that an answer is out there. 

"Why Be Catholic?" is eminently readable. Madrid is not just an apologist, he is a storyteller (the best kind of apologist!). In responding to the typical Protestant objections or challenges to Catholicism, he hearkens back to his teen years when the object of his affections was from so fundamentalist a background, her Dad had those ridiculous "Chick" pamphlets ready at hand. (Madrid got an early start responding to misconstrues of the faith!) 

Madrid looks at ten basic areas, starting with the most difficult of them all: the sin that is so manifestly present and active among us, most horribly in the clergy sex abuse scandals. Looking through the Old and New Testaments, and especially the Gospel parable of the weeds among the wheat, Madrid points out that "Scandals are part of the life of the Church not because of its teachings and customs, but because individual Catholics choose to reject and ignore those teachings."  He doesn't leave it there, though, on the purely intellectual level of cause and effect. Madrid challenges the reader to face his or her own temptations to lukewarmness and compromise. He affirms the role of conscience, and the deep connection between freedom and truth. He will continue to do this through the next nine chapters: offering a solid, intellectually and historically grounded presentation of some little-understood dimension of Catholic teaching or practice, and then inviting the reader to conform his or her life to the values that teaching reveals.

"Why Be Catholic?" looks at sin and at history, at the sacraments (especially the Eucharist and Confession, which each get a chapter), at the Papacy, Mary and the Saints, about "good works" (especially care for the poor and the fostering of education), and the connection of faith, reason and happiness. 

It was the final chapter that I found the weakest. I believe that Madrid here attempted to do too much, or just didn't have the heart to edit out some favorite phrases or appeals. A distinct and focused chapter on faith, reason and virtue would have been fine, with an epilogue delivering the final exhortation. Instead, it was all kind of loosely lumped together. When I turned the page and realized that there was no "summation" or final punch, I felt let down.

On the whole, however, "Why Be Catholic?" is a helpful book--and not only for the non-Catholic who is "tempted" to test the waters of Catholicism. The wavering Catholic who is willing to reflect with Madrid will also find a great deal of support, perhaps filling in the blanks of an inadequate religious education (or one that stopped at Confirmation!).


Anonymous said...

By this same author "Any Friend of God's is a Friend of Mine". I read it a few years ago, a book that helps explain and defend our faith against all the usual condemnations. I believe it's very important that we understand what and why we believe what we do, where it comes from. The book deals with the various beliefs of door-to-door evangelists and gives tips on how to enlighten them. - Jean

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

Thanks, Jean! I think Pope Francis is showing us how to witness to our faith in a non-confrontational way that also assumes the best of our interlocutors!

Robyn Dolan said...

The "usual" accusations are starting to sound a lot like what they say about the Amish and Mennonites. While I cannot begin to compare Catholicism with the Amish, I do admire and respect them in many ways, especially their commitment to their faith. Would that more Catholics were guilty of being so committed to the true faith!