In his brand-new book Why Be Catholic? Ten Answers to a Very Important Question, well-known Catholic author Patrick Madrid gives a comprehensive overview of what he does best: teaching, explaining, and defending the Catholic faith. Ahead of his visit here to Washington this Saturday, June 21st, where he will be signing copies of his new book at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, I had a chance to read his latest release. A combination of solid, readable apologetics, and personal examples of how faith and real-life events often interact, this superb overview of the Catholic faith and the challenges it has faced and will continue to face is a genuine pleasure to read.
If you ever wished that you could have Madrid, one of the most competent, well-spoken, and clear voices speaking on behalf of the Church, available to you 24-7, or you’ve always wanted to get an overview from a well-informed source about why we practitioners of popery believe what we do, you will find much to learn from and savor here. Yet as rich as the book is in explaining the underpinnings of Catholic teaching, from the Sacraments to the Papacy to the Communion of Saints, what I personally enjoyed most was the thread that ties the combination of narrative and apologetics together, a time the author refers to as his “golden summer”. By this, Madrid doesn’t mean an idyllic, hedonistic moment in the sun. Rather, he’s referring to a period that one can look back on and say, “Here’s where it all started coming together.”
Chances are, you’ve had one of these “golden summers” as well, perhaps not even in the summertime. It’s a stretch when some interest strongly asserts itself, or an endeavour comes to fruition, when everything seems to be clicking. Sometimes it can even be a period of personal growth through the intervention of a crisis or challenge, when you realize that you are capable of doing a great deal more than you would have believed at the start.
In Patrick Madrid’s case, the “golden summer” in question was the summer of 1977, when he spent a considerable amount of time over at the home of his then-girlfriend. The 17-year-old Madrid had grown up in a devoutly Catholic home, but was still in that nebulous period between childhood and adulthood in the faith, where the cradle Catholic can go either way. Through his interactions with people of other faiths, or indeed no faith at all, he was beginning to realize that he did not have answers to those who challenged the basis for his belief in Catholicism.
Enter his girlfriend’s father, armed with notoriously anti-Catholic comic books known as “Chick Tracts”. He liked to take Madrid aside into his study, when the young man came over to hang out at their swimming pool, and challenge his beliefs about Catholicism. At first, Madrid was overwhelmed, because although he sensed that his girlfriend’s father was wrong, he didn’t know how to respond to the man’s claims.
At the same time however, Madrid realized that he had a wealth of research and reading material available to him at home, thanks to his parents’ library of Catholic books. Over the course of that golden summer, Madrid would grow into a better understanding of his faith through research, interactions, and debates with his girlfriend’s father. In the process, without even realizing it, he was laying the foundations for what would become a career as a prominent Catholic apologist, writer, speaker, and broadcaster.
There are many other areas of the book I could point to as being worthy of your attention, but two other aspects of it particularly struck me. The first is how it begins: whether you’re a Catholic or not, you’re going to be blown away by the first chapter. Madrid takes no prisoners in pointing out that the Catholic Church has done a lot of very, very sinful and stupid things, including the still-festering sores of the clergy sex abuse scandal, and how the clergy and bishops have failed us. Yet he also excoriates a society which has fallen so far into celebrating, rather than shunning, the seven deadly sins, that we are reverting to the kind of selfish, me-first pit of paganism which it took centuries for Western civilization to crawl out of.
Second, Madrid peppers his chapters with fascinating stories of truly remarkable experiences from his own life, which for him illustrate how God moves in mysterious ways. From narrowly missing being a passenger on a jet destroyed in a mid-air collision, to how he unexpectedly brought a fallen-away Catholic back into the fold after he thought he blew it, Madrid is constantly reminded of the fact that God has something for him to do, and he needs to move as he is directed. More of us, myself included, need to remember to keep that in mind when we’re not entirely sure of what we’re doing or where we’re going.
Whether you are interested in Catholic apologetics and spirituality, or simply enjoy clear, authoritative writing, Madrid’s book is an excellent addition to your summer reading list, and one I suspect readers will return to again and again, as a resource for explaining Catholicism to others.