Q&A – Edward Sri unveils faith in new book

Catholic author Edward Sri, theology professor at the Augustine Institute and content director of the Symbolon film series, is tackling questions regarding the Catholic faith with his latest book, Love Unveiled: The Catholic Faith Explained (Ignatius Press). It is an insightful book that not only addresses many of the misunderstandings people have about Catholicism but also seeks to equip practicing Catholics with the knowledge and rhetoric needed in order to live their faith in today’s culture. Denver Catholic sat down with Dr. Sri and chatted about the inspiration and ideas surrounding Love Unveiled.

Q: How does “Love Unveiled” differ from other books that explain the Catholic faith?
Edward Sri: I hear a lot from pastors and catechists around the country about how the people coming to our churches today are different than they were 10 or 20 years ago. They’re coming with new questions, a new mindset, and we need to be able to present the faith in a way that engages where men and women are at today.

They wonder about all of these moral issues about sex and life, about marriage. “Do we really need all these moral teachings? Can’t we all just love each other, be tolerant and get along? Why do we need morality?” They’re coming from a relativistic perspective. Many of them are wondering “why do I need a church? Can’t I just be spiritual and find my own way to God?”

I also hear this a lot from parents who have children in high school, or college or young adult years.They brought their kids either through Catholic school, or religious education, but they’re still seeing the impact of the culture on their children and saying, “Wow, why are my kids not practicing anymore?” or, “Why are they not getting married in the Church?” or “Why do they have all of these questions and doubts now?”

I think we need to be able to present the timeless teachings of Jesus Christ, but in a very timely way that is going to help people address the issues that they’re facing just by living in the culture. There are many books that help explain the faith in a general way, but what we’re trying to do with this particular book is walk through the faith in light of the present cultural situation and the challenges we face in our secular world.

Q: How do you address the tension between living as a Catholic in a culture that largely rejects much of the Church’s teachings?
Sri: The influence of the culture is so powerful; we can’t underestimate that. When the church describes the art of passing on the faith, it uses the the parable of the sower. The seed in that parable is the teaching of Christ, but the Church says that it’s not enough just to sow the seed. The Church says we have to be mindful of the soil in which the seed is landing. If there are a lot of weeds around, the weeds will choke the plant.

Dr. Edward Sri’s new book, “Love Unveiled,” explains the Catholic Faith and how it relates to modern culture. (Photo provided)

In our culture today, there are a lot of weeds out there that will confuse young people, married couples and adults, and their faith life will start to be choked from them. Things like, “What is love?” A lot of people think love is just about feelings, but love is seeking what’s best for others and living like Christ in sacrificial love. But our culture offers a very confused view of love that leads to a lot of confusion and heartache when it comes to dating, sexuality and marriage.

Another big question people have is about morality. “Don’t impose your views on me” is a common perspective today, very relativistic. We need to see God’s moral law is about his love. He created us to be happy, and he gives us the moral law because he loves us and he wants us to know that way of life that leads to true happiness.

Q: What is the Symbolon video series and how does “Love Unveiled” relate to it?
Sri: Symbolon is a video series that the Augustine Institute produced, featuring dozens of great teachers from around the country. I was blessed to serve as the host and content director for the program. In the first year of its release, it’s already being used in over 4000 parishes around the world. It’s being used for RCIA, for men’s and women’s groups, Bible study groups, and adult faith formation in parishes, and a lot of of dioceses are using it for catechist formation.

We’ve received a lot of feedback from parishes and families around the country about how the Symbolon series is evangelizing. We hear of so many conversion stories: people converting to the Catholic faith, people coming back to the faith, and many adult Catholics saying things like, “Symbolon is giving me an understanding of the faith I never got growing up.”

As the video series was being released, we thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a book that could do the same kind of things—engage the culture and help people rediscover the Catholic faith, address their questions and draw them deeper in the faith?” The Love Unveiled book is based on the Symbolon series and can be a resource to accompany the videos, but it was written to stand on its own so that any individual would benefit from it, even if they never heard of Symbolon. 

Q: What audience did you have in mind when you were writing “Love Unveiled”?
Sri: I had two kinds of people in mind. First and foremost, I was  thinking of the many CatholicsI meet around the country who ask me, “Why didn’t I learn this when I was younger?” Many adult Catholics admit they have a fuzzy understanding of the Catholic faith. They might remember there are Twelve Apostles and Ten Commandments and seven sacraments, but they admit they have almost zero understanding about how it all fits together and what difference it makes for their lives. This book is trying to show how all the pieces fit together.

It covers all of the essentials we need to live our faith deeply, everything from Jesus, the Bible, Mary and the sacraments, to prayer, the moral life, Catholic social teaching and complicated moral issues about sexuality or human life.

Second, I have in mind people who are searching. Young people who don’t think the Church is relevant, Catholics who are no longer practicing, and even non-Catholics. The book addresses the secular, relativistic questions: Isn’t one religion as good as another? Why do I need a church? Shouldn’t each individual be free to make up his own morality?

It also addresses the Protestant questions — questions about Mary and confession and the Pope and where in the Bible these things are taught. The book also includes dozens of photographs from sacred art, the Holy Land and the churches in Rome to draw people into the beauty of the faith and into the places Jesus walked, the apostles preached and the martyrs died. Every two or three turns of the page has something visual to capture the imagination with the real history and beauty of the Catholic faith.

Q: What impact or effect are you hoping for “Love Unveiled” to have?
Sri: In the introduction to “Love Unveiled,” I pose this scenario to the reader: imagine going to your local grocery store and asking someone, “What does the Catholic Church stand for?” What kind of responses do you think you’ll receive?

Everyone is going to say things like, “The Catholic Church is against abortion, against gay marriage, against contraception.” Nobody’s going to say the Catholic Church stands for the God who is love, the God who made us out of love, the God who invites us to share in his love, and even though we turned away from him, he sought us out and died for us out of love.

Love is at the heart of the Gospel and our Catholic faith. Yet, that’s not the impression people out in the world have of the Church, and sadly, many Catholics don’t have that understanding either. What I try to do in the book, then, is show how everything we believe and do as Catholics is rooted in God’s love for us and our call to share in that love. Everything—all the rituals, doctrines, prayers, moral teachings—everything in our beautiful Catholic faith is about our growing in the love of God, which is where we will find our happiness. For it is only in God’s love that our hearts deepest desires will be fulfilled. My hope is that people will encounter that Love who loves us—God himself—at a much deeper level and be equipped to share and explain that Love who permeates the entire Catholic way of life with others.

Sri will be speaking about Love Unveiled at St. Mark’s in Highlands Ranch at 7 p.m. on Nov. 17, and also at St. Mary’s in Littleton at 7 p.m. on Dec. 3. Go here to order a copy of Love Unveiled.

COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

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The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.