This is a deceptively simple book. Sparks composed his debut nonfiction book by asking his Facebook friends to finish this sentence for him: “How can you still be Catholic when…?” He then took those questions and answered every single one of them thoroughly in essays of about two pages.
Certainly, many of the questions asked are common ones Catholics face all the time and ones that many apologetics books have addressed, but what makes Sparks’s book different from the others is the manner in which he addresses these questions.
Year Published: 2017
Genre: Nonfiction, Apologetics
Themes: History, Crusades, Inquisition, The Sex Scandal, Priests, Saints, apologetics, sexual ethics, sex, contraception, priesthood, Mary, homosexuality, Catholic history, The Sex Abuse Scandal, Papal Infallibility, guilt, birth control, existence of God, Church bureaucracy, Nazis & the Church, women’s roles, abortion, hell, masturbation, slavery, corrupt popes, tradition, hell, virgin birth, The Bible, Scripture, Latin Mass, Galileo, divorce, confession
Author’s Worldview: Catholic
Take question 16 for example: How can you still be Catholic when the Church draws such a hard line on the life issues (abortion for example) with no room for mercy?” Sparks begins his answer thusly:
“If you remember nothing else from this book, remember this: God loves you. He loves you absolutely, endlessly, completely. He knew everything you would do in your life when He was suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, and still, he chose to go to the Cross, to His Passion, and Death, rather than lose you. He loves you. Oh, how he loves you! So no matter what you have done, no matter what you have been or seen or been part of, know: God loves you. If I have not managed to teach that truth, this book is worthless.”
And only then does he go on to answer the question with all the logic and composure you could ask for.
Sparks speaks to the character of the individual who would ask these questions more than just the logical query. And that is priceless because as much as it would be nice if all the attacks against Catholicism were Vulcan-like logical and uncolored by emotion, the reality is far from the educated debates some of the more famous apologists engage in on TV and radio.
Reading his book taught me as much about how to relate to and emotionally respond to these questions effectively as it taught me the facts and figures needed to answer the question.
Sparks manner is humble and self-critical, and he always assumes the best motivations for the questions asked without sacrificing truth. Question 32 is particularly pointed: “How can you still be Catholic when the Church doesn’t think gay people are still people who deserve their human rights?”
He begins by clarifying that, he can still be Catholic because, “what you’ve just said is the Catholic Church’s teaching on gay people,” before going on to quote from the Catechism directly and discuss issues like the Church’s reasoning on gay marriage, sex outside of marriage and the adoption of children by gay couples.
Not backing down from the truth he writes;
“Does this sound harsh? I’m sure to many people it does. But the church believes it to be true and as true, binding. After all, when you have come to the conclusion that something is true about the world in which we live you cannot wish it away because you find it unpleasant” (pg142).
But he also does not fail to speak with compassion.
“Does that make it an easy walk? No—chastity is something many of us struggle with, even though its’ something every Christian is called to, in or out of marriage…We must all wrestle with our fallen nature, our disordered desires and a weakened will. We must all struggle to be chaste” (pg 143).
While professional apologists and theology teachers will no doubt find this book useful, this is more a book for the lay Catholic seeking to answer their friends without burning bridges or losing their job at work. Each answer is self-contained as well so that the average layperson can pick it up and read whatever question he/she needs to answer without having to read straight through the whole book.
Sparks is as much a teacher of tact and restraint as he is of history and theology, and he does know his history and theology well. A student of Dr. Scott Hahn at Steubenville University, Sparks has his MA in Theology and is the Senior Editor of Marian Press. He offers a fresh take on apologetics that is practical and sorely needed. I hope that we will hear more from him in the future.