Men, Women and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility, by Edward Sri. Servant Books: Cincinnati, OH, 2007. 165 pages. ISBN: 0867168404. Reviewed by Dennis L. Wingfield.
To assist in our ministry to couples with troubled marriages, we were looking for a concise and easy-to-read book which would help couples understand the wonderful teachings of John Paul II on marriage and relationships. Sri’s book, Men, Women and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility, fittingly addresses this need.
Edward Sri is an Associate Professor of Sacred Scripture, Theology, and Catechetics Chancellor at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado. Sri has an STD from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Rome), an STL from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Rome) and an MA from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. He is a nationally-known speaker on Scripture, Catholicism, Mariology, and Theology of the Body and has authored many best-selling books.
Blessed John Paul II’s book Love and Responsibility was written in the late 1950s in Soviet-dominated Poland. Like no other book, it sheds light on the mysterious relationship dynamics between men and women. While John Paul II’s book on marriage, Theology of the Body, is more well-known, Love and Responsibility delves into the dynamics of love between men and women at all stages of relationships. In a culture that is seriously confused about love, sex and marriage, Sri has written Men, Women and the Mystery of Love to bring the brilliant insights of John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility to men and women who are struggling to establish deep, meaningful and lasting relationships. Regarding the impact of Love and Responsibility, Sri opines:
But beware: “Love and Responsibility” is truly life transforming. John Paul II’s vision for love is so captivating that it may change the way you think about love, friendship and relationships as a whole. If taken to heart, the wisdom from “Love and Responsibility” will change the way you interact with the opposite sex. It will change the way you date. It will change the way you relate to your spouse. It will make you a better husband and wife (2).
I know of a woman that has two children out of wedlock. Her life was totally transformed by reading Sri’s book. She is now able to discern between lust and true love in her relationships while living a chaste life until marriage. There is no better endorsement for Sri’s book than this.
Relative to his reason for writing Men, Women and the Mystery of Love, Sri states:
I intend this guide through “Love and Responsibility” to be very practical-helping readers understand John Paul II’s vision for relationships between men and women and then make application to their own lives. I do not intend to offer an academic analysis or a comprehensive treatment of this work. Even less do I intend to enter scholarly debate about men and women’s issues and sexual ethics. Rather, I simply aim to make some of the insights from this challenging philosophical work more accessible to the average lay reader and offer some of my own reflections along the way (4).
This book is made for a variety of situations: small-group study, marriage preparation classes and other parish settings, or individual personal reading. And it is made for a wide range of people-young adults, engaged couples, newlyweds, single people, people married for thirty years, and even priests and religious brothers and sisters. Each chapter includes some reflection questions that can be used either for group discussion or personal consideration. It is my hope that these reflections will help readers benefit from John Paul II’s vision for love and sexuality and find great relevance for their own lives (5).
Sri writes in a compelling and easy-to-understand style. This is contrasted with the complexities of John Paul II’s philosophical arguments which involve looking at a broad concept and then closing in on the key point in ever-tightening circles. Many find his style overly repetitive and tedious. Sri has succeeded in making John Paul II’s somewhat difficult teaching in Love and Responsibility accessible to the average lay reader. Relationship examples are used throughout the book. They adeptly demonstrate how John Paul II’s teachings on love and sexuality relate to everyday life. Each chapter ends with references to the relevant topics in Love and Responsibility, followed by questions which further help readers contemplate these teachings and apply them in their own lives.
The terminology and depth of analysis in Love and Responsibility will likely overwhelm the average lay reader. Sri breaks John Paul II’s ideas into manageable and understandable pieces. Sri does not engulf the reader with philosophical terminology but explains each concept in common language while adeptly using examples to further the reader’s understanding. Sri makes good use of quotes from John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility to drive home key concepts.
Chapter 12 of Sri’s book goes on to explain how an understanding of John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility will help those interested in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body make more since out it. Readers approach Theology of the Body with enthusiasm only to “quickly find themselves overwhelmed by the depth of John Paul II’s philosophical, theological and, indeed, mystical thought on this topic” (151). Sri gives the reader a clear and concise overview of key concepts from Theology of the Body such as the Law of the Gift, Original Solitude, Original Unity, Original Nakedness, and Original Shame. He explains John Paul II’s vision of how the Holy Spirit transforms man’s selfish and lustful heart through the total self-giving love of Christ. This results in the transformation of the relationships closer to God’s original design for men and women before the fall (160).
Sri hits the mark in his intention to deliver a very practical book which helps the average lay reader understand John Paul II’s vision for relationships between men and women and how to apply this wisdom to their own lives. Although Sri’s intended audience is the laity, we highly recommend this book to pastors, pastoral ministers, lay leaders and seminarians as a valuable asset in working with people in the parish that are struggling in male-female relationships. Many of the issues we see in our ministry to couples struggling in marriage are addressed in this excellent book. Sri’s book is an easy read and gets to the heart of relational issues which men and women are facing in their lives. Sri’s book is also am excellent primer for those looking to delve into the deeper theological study of John Paul II’s epic work Theology of the Body.