Law and love in Catholicism

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is my quick, go-to reference for clarity on Catholic teaching, whether simply for personal reflection or for sharing with a broader audience. But I've never actually read it cover to cover. I've studied large chunks of it in classes, and growing up I read various versions of the Baltimore Catechism in their entirety, but not the "CCC." I simply flip through the index at the back, find the right paragraph, nod with satisfaction and move on.

But one day — inspired by a family friend who converted to Catholicism after reading all 2,865 paragraphs of Catholic goodness — I decided to begin reading the entire Catechism.

When I read the first paragraph, I could have kicked myself for not taking this approach sooner. It puts everything into context. Every teaching of the Church comes back to this fundamental idea of Catholicism: sharing in the life of God.

That first paragraph reads:

"God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life."

Two main thoughts struck me in reading this passage. First, the Church begins its summary of beliefs with a deliberate focus on our relationship with God, on the intimate sharing in God’s very being. The Catechism could have started in many different ways, but our relationship with God was deemed important enough to be placed first.

Second, it is so important to have a rounded understanding of Catholic doctrine. If we don't consider the whole picture, different pieces can look distorted. Perspective can change in realizing that every teaching brings us back to this relationship: to knowing, loving and serving God.

Relationship is key in God's plan of salvation. However, the teachings are also important, as they are an extension of that relationship. They reveal God to us. They lead us to him. As Jesus says in today's Gospel: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill" (Mt 5:17).

How have you maintained that balance of law and love in your perusal of Catholicism?

Jennifer Rey is the web editor of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing.