Explaining the Catholic Faith: Book Review

Understanding God’s Love for us

Giving reasons for what we believe in as Catholics is not always easy, particularly when people are misinformed about the Church’s teachings. To remedy this Edward Sri, an experienced author and Catholic speaker, has recently published a book to help Catholics explain their faith.

“Love Unveiled: The Catholic Faith Explained,” (Ignatius Press”), examines not only the intellectual underpinnings of Church teaching but also the spiritual and devotional aspects. As Sri explained in his introduction being a Catholic is not just about following a series of moral and doctrinal principles.

The Catholic way of life that attracted him, and many others, “is ultimately the way of love: a most profound love that the world itself does not offer. But it’s the love for which we are made, a love that corresponds to our hearts’ deepest desires.”

In his opening chapter Sri refers to the first letter of John, where it says “God is love.” This is not just a description of some quality of God or that love is something that God possesses, Sri explained. Rather, it is saying that love is the very essence of who God is.

For us, as persons made in the image and likeness of God, this means that we will only find the happiness we were made for in self-giving love, when we live for God and for others.

“This stands in stark contrast with what the world says will make us happy,” he noted. “Instead of self-giving, many of us tend to focus on what we can get out of life for ourselves.”

The various aspects of our faith – the Church, the Bible, the sacraments, morality and prayer – are therefore not just abstract doctrines. “They are all about our encounter with the God who is love,” Sri insisted.

Which path to God?

Much of the book is dedicated to a series of explanations about Catholic belief and practices. Some, he noted, think that all religions are the same, just being different paths that all lead to God, so for one religion to claim it has more to offer than others can be seen as arrogant or narrow-minded.

This position might have some merit, Sri admitted, but only if all the roads between us and God were of human origin. As Christians, however, we believe in a God who personally came to us and showed us the path to follow.

“After all, if there is a God who loves us, doesn’t it seem likely that he would come to us and show us the best path to him?”

Therefore, as Sri commented in another chapter, when people say they are more spiritual than religious or ask why they can’t simply find their own path to God, we need to recall that Jesus took the initiative and called us to follow him, not just as individuals, but to form a community.

The communion in Christ that unites believers is the very heart of the Catholic Church, Sri continued. Underneath the visible human structures lies the mystical friendship of all who are in full communion with Christ.

“I am the vine, you are the branches,” (Jn 15:5). This call by Christ to unite ourselves to him means that the question of being a part of the Church is not merely about deciding which religious club to join, Sri said.

One danger, he adverted, of seeking God on our own and not within the Church, “is that we make God in our own image and likeness; it’s too easy to tailor a spirituality and morality that suits our own comforts, lifestyles, and interests.”

“But Jesus invites us to something greater,” Sri added. “He calls us out of ourselves.” “Jesus invites us to be drawn more closely to him through the Church.”

A community of faith

Responding to the question of why the Bible alone is not considered sufficient by the Catholic Church, Sri observed that while the Bible is certainly an important way of knowing God’s revelation it was never the only way.

The Scripture writings arose from within a community of faith. Moreover, nowhere in the Bible itself does it teach that Scripture is the only source of divine authority. Indeed, before the New Testament was written the Apostles were already preaching and instructing people on the Christian life.

As well, until the Protestant Reformation during fourteen centuries Christians had always understood Scripture within the context of the Church and its traditions.

Mary and the saints is another contentious topic and Sri dedicated a chapter to explaining the Church’s position on it. We regard Mary as our spiritual mother and do not worship her, thus falling into idolatry, Sri said.

We honor and respect Mary and the saints, recognizing the great things God has done in their lives. This does not take away from the attention we give to God. “After all who praises the artist more, the person who focuses only on the artist himself while ignoring his works? Or the person who praises the artist by admiring his masterpieces?”

Sri deals with many other topics in his book, ranging from the sacraments to moral issues and prayer.

In his conclusion he explained that God has revealed himself to us so that we might respond to him in love. God challenges us to examine our priorities in life and invites us to make him the foundation of our lives. Sri’s book is indeed a good starting point to understand more fully this loving invitation.

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