Matthew Sewell is the author of the popular “Popes in a Year” daily email series, and hosts The Popecast, a podcast about papal history. Matthew writes about intriguing stories from Church history, the messiness of the Christian life, and (occasionally) insights into Catholicism through Denver Broncos football. By day, he works at Flocknote to help parishes and dioceses build a more connected Church. Matthew, his wife, and their unborn child make their home in Spokane, Washington.
In the third chapter of his first Epistle, St. Peter writes to his fellow Christians:
Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. (1 Pt. 3:15-16)
Brandon Vogt’s new book, Why I Am Catholic (And You Should Be, Too) from Ave Maria Press, provides readers with that very thing -- a hope-rich account of his own conversion, a sound defense that hardly comes off as such, and an exhortation for why readers, too, ought to allow themselves to get caught up in the great whirling adventure that is the Catholic Church.
Vogt lays out the book with the “three best reasons to be Catholic,” as he himself recently said, walking ably through the Church’s truth, goodness, and beauty. As one should always do when speaking about the faith, he lets the Church’s patrimony speak for itself, prefacing it all with the great quote from G.K. Chesterton, on why he had chosen Catholicism back in the early 20th Century:
The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.
First comes the Church’s firm foundation: God is real, religion is important, and Jesus was both Son of God and founder of a particular, distinct church. Vogt then moves on to the Church’s goodness, showcasing its vast contributions to Western Civilization, as well as its endless commitment to charity, safeguarding objective truth, and providing “true forgiveness” in every generation.
Finally, we’re taken through that which almost needs no explanation: the Church’s beauty. It was perhaps my favorite part of the book, specifically where Vogt paired Peter Kreeft’s shortest argument for God’s existence -- the music of Bach exists, therefore God exists -- with the conversion story of 20th-century poet Paul Claudel.
Claudel, who was no intellectual slouch (he would later be nominated six times for a Nobel prize), had become a spiritual drifter by early adulthood. On “the gloomiest winter day and darkest rainy afternoon,” Claudel found himself attending Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Returning a few hours later for a prayer service, Vogt recounts Claudel’s life-changing encounter with the divine:
Claudel listened to the psalms and prayers sung by the choir. The enchanting harmonies stirred something within him. While listening to the music, he walked over to a resplendent statue of Mary in the cathedral, and “then occurred the event which dominates my entire life.” The combined beauty of the music and statue evoked a sense of boundless innocence. He suddenly and profoundly understood that God was real. The experience was overwhelming. Tears and sobs racked his whole being as he felt a rushing sense of God’s love pouring over him.
Even the most ardent of atheists are taken in by the marvelous works of Dante, Michelangelo, and Caravaggio. The most iconoclastic of non-Catholics can hardly deny the majesty of Chartres Cathedral.
With the power of his own personal narrative driving the story, Vogt effectively reaches into every corner of Catholicism in an effort to convey to the reader that there’s no question which lacks a satisfying answer, and there’s nothing off limits to inquiry.
On virtually every page, it’s as though Vogt walks next to us as we explore the three transcendentals, simply pointing ahead and saying, “Look! See with your own eyes the wonders which the Lord offers us.”
The true magic of this book is that it’s hardly one whose aim is solely pointed at non-Catholics. Given the widespread crisis of sound catechesis among Catholics -- both those in the pews and those who no longer darken the doors of their parishes -- Why I Am Catholic can play an equally pivotal role in reinvigorating (or perhaps just “invigorating”) those already in the bosom of the Church.
In short, Why I Am Catholic is fantastic. It's clear, concise, and persuasive all in the same breath, and it’s none too technical to boot. Though surely meant as a launching pad to dive more deeply into the Church’s intellectual tradition, Vogt’s sojourn through the Church's truth, goodness, and beauty is truly masterful.