Isn't the Catholic Faith simply love unveiled?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jan 05, 2016

Transmitting and teaching the Catholic Faith is a tricky business. The way you go about it depends on a number of prior assumptions. For example, we will emphasize certain things and present key concepts differently based on whether the audience doubts God’s existence or already accepts God’s existence; or based on whether the audience does or does not accept that Christ is God; or on whether a nominally Catholic audience is favorably or unfavorably disposed toward the Church.

In sixteenth-century Europe, for example, where nearly everyone took Christianity for granted, the apologetical task took center stage. There was a need to teach the Faith by demonstrating both the authority of the Church and the superior truth-value of Catholic doctrinal formulations. The emphasis would have been much different shortly after Christ’s death, when Catholics were faced with persuading Jews that their religion was fulfilled in Christ—or converting the Gentiles, who were complete pagans.

The shape of the task shifts again in our largely post-Christian culture, in which nearly everybody is carefully taught that life is essentially meaningless. That is very pagan, of course, but it is a larger problem due to a kind of pervasive cultural consciousness—not present in the first century—that Christianity has been tried and found inadequate. What sort of presentation makes most sense in our present case?

If the last several popes are to be believed, the motivating factor in both our embrace and transmission of the Faith will have to be mercy. If it is true that many or even most people in our time are fundamentally alienated not only from God but from meaning itself, then we can reasonably say that many are, in effect, alienated from their very selves. The most likely way to overcome such alienation is through the message that we have been created for love, and that our lives find fulfillment only in love.

It so happens that this is the starting point of a new introduction to Catholicism by Edward Sri. The title reveals the book’s program: Love Unveiled. Remarkably, Dr. Sri offers an extended meditation on the title simply by portraying the Catholic Faith as a life-giving initiation into God’s love.

An impeccable point of view

Sri is a professor of theology at the Augustine Institute, the host of the film series Symbolon, and a founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. In explaining Catholicism as “love unveiled”, he deliberately leaves aside two previous approaches to the problem of evangelization. He avoids the Counter-Reformation project—so important in an age of warring Christianities—of inculcating the Faith through apologetics (regarding all non-Catholics as doctrinal adversaries). And he equally avoids the more recent Modernist reaction of seeking to promote a sort of cosmic harmony by emptying Christianity of its distinctive content.

Instead, Dr. Sri identifies God as love, and proceeds directly to God’s unveiling of Himself in a deliberate wooing of those He loves. This unveiling becomes complete in Jesus Christ who, quite literally, died for love. From there Sri explores our initiation into the power of love through the Holy Spirit and the life of the Church. He explains Mary, the saints, and the last things as colossal manifestations of God’s love. He teaches how we can nourish and sustain the Divine movement of love in ourselves through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, the Mass and Confession. He examines Catholic morality as an exercise of love, and he concludes with prayer as the encounter between God’s thirst for us and our thirst for Him—which is precisely the thirst of love.

Now, who should read this new book from Ignatius Press? The answer is just about everybody. The central concept may be deep, but the presentation is completely accessible. Love Unveiled (subtitled “The Catholic Faith Explained”) is an excellent first book for anyone interested in learning more about Catholicism, but it is equally important for skimming by Catholics who want to root their understanding of the Faith in its central reality as a participation in Divine love. Or perhaps re-root it: Sometimes, for those of us who take the Faith for granted, this central reality is the last thing that comes to mind!

Love is the core of mercy, and we owe it to everyone to recover the grace and role of mercy in this Jubilee Year. Mercy is love directed from one who is full to one who is in need, from one who is in some sense worthy to one who is in some sense not. Considered as between God and man, these poles are absolute. Considered as between ourselves and others, they are relative and changeable. But mercy is always a sharing of love, by one who is rich in it, with another who, in some respect, might fear to be lacking in it or to be unworthy of so great a gift.

This is the whole structure and dynamism of the Catholic Faith.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - Jan. 05, 2016 11:26 PM ET USA

    I don't want to object that contemporary men need mercy - they sure dont seem to show that they want it - but, as much as that might be true, the evident craving that all have, in our day, is for meaning. I Grant that meaning is not conveyed in explanations, for it transcends any explanation. Perhapd it arises from loving and being loved. It may after all come down to mercy.