Why Be Catholic? Ten Answers to a Very Important Question by Patrick Madrid
Discussion Questions for Individual Reflection or Group Study
Drawing upon author Patrick Madrid’s own experiences—from his childhood in 1960s California to his life’s work as an author and master apologist—Why Be Catholic? offers a personal, biblically-based exploration of Catholicism. Perfect for seekers or beginners, Madrid explains ten simple, clear reasons to be Catholic. In the process, he reveals the remarkable gifts the Catholic Church brings to the lives of the faithful. Madrid proves that Catholicism really does offer true happiness, satisfying humanity’s deepest longings. The Catholic Church is where God’s face is revealed, His mercy is received, and His love is shared.
Chapter 1: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
How can the Catholic Church claim to be the “one true Church” in spite of the number of sex crimes committed by the clergy, as well as the moral decline of its lay members?
What has the Catholic Church’s response been to such overwhelming scandal? Summarize Sean Patrick O’Malley’s statement about the crisis as the newly appointed archbishop of Boston.
What does Patrick Madrid define as the Catholic Church’s answer to the many problems we all face?
Imagine that Jesus Christ was speaking to you about the enticements of worldly pleasure, power, and as he did to the rich young man in Matthew 19:16–26. How would you respond? What would you do with your wealth?
Jesus used a parable of a field of wheat and weeds (see Matthew 13:24–30) to illustrate the state of the world and even the state of the Church, with both good and bad Christians existing together. What are some examples from the Bible where this has been the case? Why do you think God allows great sinners as well as great saints to exist together?
What is the root cause of any scandal? How does a scandal start?
What is the way to deal with sin? For instance, if you want to deal with the pride you see in your life, what should you do?
What is the purpose of the Catholic Church’s moral teaching?
Chapter 2: You Can Handle the Truth
If you grew up Catholic, did you have any conversations with those from other faiths, or perhaps those with no faith at all? What questions or doubts (if any) did these conversations cause you to have? How were you able to answer them?
How can you make sense of all the conflicting aspects of Catholic history? What can “bad Catholics” teach us?
Patrick Madrid asks the question: “What do you think happened between the time of the apostles and the Protestant reformation?” How would you answer this question?
The Catholic Church officially teaches that it is the one, true church established by Jesus Christ. In your experience, how does this teaching affect interdenominational dialog?
What did Protestant John Henry Newman mean when he said, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant”?
Chapter 3: Brought to My Senses
What is the purpose of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church? How does God use them in our lives?
How are the sacraments more than just “signs”?
Madrid says the sacraments are to the soul what food, water, and nourishment are to the body. Describe some of the parallels between them.
Name the three key effects that occur in a person who receives the sacraments. Have you experienced these effects in your own life? If so, what difference have they made?
How do you think about “spirit” and “matter”? Do you see one as good and the other as bad? What is the Church’s teaching about matter? What does a healthy understanding of matter look like?
What is the difference between “actual grace” and “sanctifying grace”? Why is it important to know the difference?
What is the definition of the word sacrament? How does the Catechism of the Catholic Church further define what a sacrament is?
Patrick Madrid says the sacraments accomplish three essential things for us. List them and give a short description of each.
How do the sacraments of baptism and confirmation “initiate” us in to the Church?
Have you thought of the sacraments as a means to heal the wounds in your life? Or have they seemed more like rituals? In what way can the sacraments—especially baptism, confession, and Communion—be powerful, grace-filled remedies for you?
What are some ways that the sacraments equip us to serve others? How do they do this?
Chapter 4: Soul Food: Mass and the Holy Eucharist
Why is the Mass called “the Mass”?
From New Testament times, Catholics have believed that the Eucharist is not merely a symbol of Jesus or a memorial meal; they believe that the Eucharist is Christ’s Real Presence. As a Catholic, how do you approach this with Protestant friends? What is the significance of Christ’s Real Presence in your life?
In your own words, explain what is meant by “transubstantiation” in terms of what happens to the bread and wine at Mass.
In what way is the Mass the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross here and now, in time and space?
Chapter 5: The Cure for What Ails Me: Confession and Healing
How does the Catholic Church provide the remedy for the “malaria” of sin?
Do you agree with Patrick Madrid that Catholics who regularly receive the sacrament of confession are the most psychologically healthy people on earth? Why or why not?
According to C.S. Lewis, how can confession help us when we don’t feel forgiven?
How would you answer someone who says that Catholics go the priest to confess their sins instead of going directly to God?
What has your experience of confession been? Is regular confession a priority for you, and if not, why not?
Chapter 6: A Rock that Will Not Roll: Peter and the Papacy
Why do you suppose Jesus chose Peter, with all his limitations, to be the first “pope”? Describe some of those limitations and describe how God’s grace combined to transform him into a “rock.”
Why did Jesus change Peter’s name from Simon to Peter? What is significant about this?
What clues did Jesus give Peter about the special leadership role he was entrusted with? List some biblical examples that point to Peter’s primacy among the apostles.
In your own words, explain the Catholic doctrine of infallibility, which is found in paragraphs 889–892 of the Catechism.
Why is the concept of infallibility so often misunderstood, even by Catholics? List some the things papal infallibility does not mean.
Read 2 Timothy 3:1–5, and then list some of the ways these verses are relevant for us today.
Patrick Madrid says that the papacy has always been a sign of contention, attracting controversy, opposition, harassment, and even persecution. Through all of this, what qualities have kept the papacy intact?
What are some of the ways St. John Paul II positively impacted our world during the many years he was pope? Have any of these ways touched you personally? If so, describe the influence he had on you.
Chapter 7: Mamma Mia! The Blessed Virgin’s Role in God’s Plan of Salvation
The author says we are all attracted to goodness and beauty. Have you felt this pull in your own life? Describe some of the ways beauty has made an impact for you.
How does the Virgin Mary epitomize goodness and beauty?
What does the Catholic Church teach about the unique role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in God’s plan of salvation? How is this different than the way other Christian groups view her?
Explain in your own words what the Catholic Church believes about Mary: her immaculate conception (sinlessness), perpetual virginity, her bodily assumption, and her role as a heavenly intercessor. Have you ever struggled with any of these beliefs? If so, what helped you to better understand who Mary is?
How did Mary’s obedience to God counteract the catastrophe set in motion by Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden?
In what way is Mary truly the Mother of all Christians? Do you see her as your Mother? Describe some of the ways Mary has been a faithful Mother to you.
Is praying the Rosary something that is meaningful to you? How can you keep it from being a merely mechanical, formulaic prayer?
The author describes the dramatic way Our Lady’s intercession on his behalf protected him and his brother. Can you think of a time in your own life where you sensed Mary’s loving intercession on your behalf? Is there something going on right now in your life that you could entrust to her loving care?
What is one way you can deepen your love for Mary during this coming week?
Chapter 8: How ’Bout Them Saints? Mystics, Martyrs, and Miracle-Workers
Is sainthood reserved for a select few, or is it possible for everyone? In your own words, define what makes someone a saint.
Do you believe God can transform your sinfulness into holiness? Why or why not?
How can you cooperate more fully with God’s grace?
The author talks about how St. Dominic Savio was one of several saints who inspired him. What saint (or saints) in your life inspires you toward greater holiness? What saintly qualities do you desire to emulate?
What lessons do the saints teach us about being human and the power of God’s transforming grace? Give an example in your own life of how God has changed you.
Reading about the saints the author highlights in this chapter, decide to read more about two saints over the coming months. Which ones will you pick? As you study their lives, jot down the particular lessons that speak to you.
How would you explain the doctrine of the Communion of Saints to a non-Catholic? What four biblical truths could you use to support your explanation?
The author ends this chapter with the power of love. What are some practical ways you can increase your love for God and thus grow in holiness?
Chapter 9: Hello, I Love You: The Catholic Church’s Good Works
Service to the poor has always been a priority for the Catholic Church. How does your parish address the needs of the poor? What kind of involvement, if any, do you have in serving the poor?
What evidence do you see personally of how the Church serves others—whether hospitals and healthcare, the work began by St. Vincent de Paul, prisons, schools? Have you or someone you love been helped by the Church in any of these areas?
The author tells the moving story of Brother Christian, one of the French Trappist monks brutally murdered by an Islamic rebel group during the Algerian civil war. As you read what he wrote in his courageous farewell letter (“In God’s face I see yours”), think of situations in your own life where you’ve had difficulty recognizing God in others. How might you develop more of Brother Christian’s response and attitude?
What steps can you take to eradicate the “selfish opportunism” you see around you—in your family, your workplace, your community?
Chapter 10: Ah, the Good Life: The Awe, Wonder, and Goodness of God
Have you encountered attitudes and beliefs from anyone close to you that the Catholic Church is anti-scientific and anti-intellectual, full of ignorance and superstition? If so, what kind of response might you make?
List some of the ways the Catholic Church has continually been on the cutting edge of scientific inquiry and progress. List a few of the contributions Catholics have made.
What are some of the ways science has opened “new doors of perception on the unimaginable vastness and variety of the material cosmos”? How does this impact your faith?
How does the author define true happiness? Is there anything you would add to his definition?
Why is freedom of will so vital for us as humans? How does this freedom relate to happiness?
How does the Catholic Church teach people to be truly happy? And if this is true, why are there so many unhappy Catholics?
How would you rate your own level of true happiness? What might you do to increase it?
Madrid says many Catholics have not experienced at the heart level the Evangelical Christian concept of “being born again.” What does “being born again” mean? Have you ever had a “born again” experience? If not, what might you do to experience one?
Statistics show that when Catholic teaching is watered down or compromised, vocations decrease, while when orthodox Catholic teaching is strong, vocations increase. Explain in your own words why this is so.
What are some aspects of Catholic moral teaching that many people scorn as being “medieval”?
Explain in your own words the underlying reasons for the Church’s teaching on sex, contraception, and marriage. How does the Church’s logic help us to “know the true and do the good”?
The author says we all experience the emotion of longing. In your life, what intense longing have you felt, and how has it been answered (or not answered)?
Define what you mean by “living the Good Life.” How does this differ from the world’s definition?
Read the quote from C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce on pages 205–207. Describe any insights you may have gleaned.
Now that you have read this book, if someone asked you, “Why should I be Catholic?” how would you answer the question?
Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?
…and Other Questions from the Astronomers’ In-box at the Vatican Observatory
How did you come up with the concept for this book?
Guy: We really only came to understand, ourselves, what this book was all about by actually writing it.
Paul: Guy and I found ourselves talking a lot, over the last few years, about the peculiar frustration we’d been feeling with the kinds of questions that we get asked here at the Vatican Observatory – questions that people send by e-mail, or ask us when we give public talks. For Guy, that frustration was a long-term thing, since he’s been at the Observatory for 18 years. For me it was a new thing, since I arrived at the Observatory just four years ago, in 2010.
Guy: Some of the questions we kept being asked seemed to be a little “off”. At first, I was tempted to just dismiss them. (Baptizing aliens? Oh, come on…)
Paul: Don’t get us wrong — we’re delighted that people are interested in the Observatory and its work, and we think it’s great that people want to ask us important questions about science and faith. But more often than not, the questions that we get seem to presuppose that there’s some sort of opposition between science and faith. The questions are often posed in such a way that we can’t give an answer without “taking sides” between science and faith. But Guy and I have no interest in “taking sides” — from our perspective, there is no opposition or inconsistency between science and faith.
And so our dilemma was this: If we gave answers to the questions, we’d end up seeming to take sides. And if we didn’t give answers to the questions, we’d be ignoring earnest inquiries from well-intentioned people. We didn’t want to do either of those things. But what to do instead?
Guy: The fact that people kept asking such questions made me realize that there must be something serious and real behind them… if only I could put my finger on what that was. Maybe those questions had hidden assumptions that weren’t quite right. But how could we tease out those assumptions?
Paul: Gradually we realized that the way for us to respond was to start out with the questions that people were asking us. But instead of trying to give answers, we should first try to sharpen and deepen those questions. If we could bring to light some of the assumptions and presuppositions hidden behind the question, then maybe we’d be able to re-pose the questions in a better way. Maybe we’d be able to come up with similar-but-different questions which wouldn’t so much demand an answer as invite people to ponder and to go deeper.
What made you decide to write it as a dialogue?
Paul: Writing the book in dialogue form, as a conversation, left us free to consider questions from various angles, in an informal way.
Guy: At first we tried to smooth it all out into one narrative, but that just drained the life out of what we were saying. Finally, we realized we were speaking in two different voices, we were each telling stories based on our own personal histories.
Paul: And the dialogue format meant that Guy and I would not have to agree with each other all the time!
That format also helped free me up from writing too much like a philosopher; in dialogue with Guy, I’m able to write more like a regular person, I think.
Guy: In fact, we finally realized that dialogue itself was what the book was all about. The thing all writers are told is to “show, not tell.” By writing in dialogue form, we could show how science and religion live together, by showing how the two of us live with our own science and religion.
What is one of the strangest questions you’ve been asked during your careers at the Vatican Observatory —one that didn’t make it onto the pages of this book?
Paul: Once when I was getting a haircut here in Italy, the barber asked me whether the Pope talks with aliens at the Observatory! But you know, lots of strange questions come up in barbershops.
Guy: Someone wanted to know if I was really in touch with aliens. When I told him I was not, he replied, “Ha! I knew you wouldn’t tell me the truth!”
What’s sad are all the people like him who don’t ask questions but who are sure they already know the answers. Unfortunately, the more certain they are, the more likely it’s nonsense. Over the years, some people have e-mailed me offering long, detailed proofs that everything we know about religion is wrong, or everything we know about science is wrong. Others have sent me detailed descriptions of their own interactions with aliens. I really feel for those people; they are in need of the sort of help that no one can give them over the internet.
By contrast, I’ve come to realize that no question is really strange, when it’s being asked in a spirit of inquiry which is truly open. If people really want to know something, and they’re open to being surprised, then their curiosity is always legitimate. A number of questions that people have asked us – and the answers we gave them – have wound up in this book.
Each of the six conversations in the book is portrayed as taking place in a different physical setting…five real and one fictional. How did you decide on these settings?
Guy: That was Paul’s idea, actually. I was skeptical, until I saw how well it worked. In fact, it worked so well that we had to add caveats through the book to remind people that it’s a portrayal, a conceit, a fiction; we didn’t actually travel to Antarctica or the Restaurant at the End of the Universe!
Paul: Once we decided to make use of specific settings, the various locations just popped up for us spontaneously. For talking about Pluto, there’s no place on earth more appropriate than Antarctica – especially since Guy has spent time there. For talking about the end of the Universe, it was obvious to me that we had to be dining at the fictional Restaurant at the End of the Universe, from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – a book which, in its own cynical way, does a wonderful job of uncovering some of the presuppositions and assumptions hidden behind questions that people like to ask.
What was your initial reaction when Pope Francis discussed the possibility of baptizing Martians in a homily in May of 2014?
Guy: I had to laugh. I knew what he was driving at, of course; but I also knew how some people would immediately take it in the wrong direction, as if he were saying we should actually be baptizing Martians. Sure enough, pretty soon there were all sorts of rumors on the internet that a Papal announcement about aliens was imminent!
Paul: Of course that was not the Pope’s intention. His main topic was the controversy in early Christianity, as to whether people had to become Jews first before they could be baptized as Christians. The early Christians ultimately came to realize that the message of Christ is universal – it is open to all people, not just to the Jews. So the point that Pope Francis was making was mainly about the universality of the Christian message, not about Martians. He was using the question about baptizing Martians to illustrate how difficult and strange the question of the universality of the Christian faith was for the early Church.
Guy: And by the way, despite its title, our book is not mainly about extraterrestrials, either. It is mainly about us humans, and how we view ourselves in this universe.
What is the coolest part of your job?
Paul: I get to live and work with a bunch of working scientists. My field is history and philosophy of science. But living here at the Vatican Observatory, on a daily basis I get pulled up short by being challenged to see and hear how things look from perspective of working scientists. That’s a good corrective for me in my own work and research. It helps keep me focused on questions that matter in the real world of science, instead of on questions that matter only to philosophers. I like that!
Another cool thing is that the scientists with whom I live and work are all people of faith – people for whom faith and science coexist without conflict and without difficulty. I like that, too!
Guy: For me… it’s that I get to handle meteorites on a daily basis. I get to hold in my hand, rocks that have been around since the beginning of the solar system, four and a half billion years ago; rocks that have been in outer space!
Where is the best place to get a cappuccino in the Vatican?
Paul: The most congenial place for a cappuccino is the coffee room of the Vatican Observatory!
Guy: We have our own full-up industrial strength cappuccino machine here at the Observatory. All astronomy runs on coffee; especially in Italy.
Paul: Every morning at 10AM all the Jesuits and lay staff members of the Observatory come together for 15 minutes of caffeinated conversation. During my first year at the Observatory, the 10AM coffee time was a struggle for me — my Italian was not yet to the point that I could take part in the conversation. But now I look forward to coffee time every day.
Guy: The Observatory is actually located an hour outside of Rome, in the papal summer gardens at Castel Gandolfo. So we don’t actually get cappuccino in the Vatican itself. That said, I do like the coffee shop in the Vatican museums; it’s right near the Pinacoteca, which is the most underrated part of the Vatican Museums and which has some wonderful old paintings of astronomical objects from the 1700s.
This month in our Image Author 101, we’re featuring Colleen Carroll Campbell.
Colleen Carroll Campbell is not only the author of the multiple-award-winning spiritual memoir, My Sisters the Saints; she is also a prominent print and broadcast journalist. Writing frequently about politics, religion, culture, and women’s issues, Campbell’s articles and columns have been published by The New York Times, Washington Post, First Things, National Review Online, Weekly Standard, Christianity Today, and America. She frequently appears on many television networks, including FOX News, PBS, CNN, MSNBC, CBC, NPR, and EWTN.
Writing and politics have always played a major role in Campbell’s life. Graduating from Marquette University, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in writing-intensive English and a minor in political science. During her college career, she won a Society of Professional Journalist Mark of Excellence Award for her writing and editing. A devoted Catholic, Campbell claims two saints as patrons of her writing career: St. Therese of Lisieux and Flannery O’Connor. She has earned many achievements in journalism, and cites her parents, husband, mentors, and—of course—the saints as her main influences.
Among the dozens of awards, scholarships, and honorary memberships she has won for her academic and journalistic accomplishments, Campbell has had fascinating opportunities in her career. She was the only woman out of six individuals who worked as speechwriters for President George W. Bush. In 2008, she was one of 250 female delegates selected to present on the role of women in the Church and in society at a three-day Vatican Congress at the Apostolic Palace in Rome. She also anchored the EWTN live television coverage of the March 2013 papal transition from Rome. Campbell is a speaker throughout America and Europe, and currently lives with her family near Washington, D.C.
How many of the following little-known facts do you know about Campbell’s personal and professional life?
Did you know that Colleen Carroll Campbell. . .
This month in our Image Author 101 series, we’re giving away 5 copies of Colleen’s book, My Sisters the Saints. Fill in the form below for your chance to win one of the five copies.