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The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 7
A reflection by Fr Luis Garza, LC, on how Catholics can take an effective stand in the culture war today.

"Against the spirit of the world, the Church takes up anew each day a struggle that is none other than the struggle for the world’s soul" (John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope).

October 3, 2011. The Catholic Church has been a builder of culture for over two millennia, and has faced different forms of “culture war” throughout its long and battle-scarred history. But perhaps never has the Church faced a challenge like the “battle for the soul of the world” in the 21st century.

For those with an interest in understanding the roots and consequences of the cultural battle underway in today’s world, we present The Battle for the Soul of the World, by Fr Luis Garza, LC. Originally presented as a series of lectures for university students attending a leadership conference, it is offered here as a formation resource for teams and individuals who will find the lecture notes to be thought-provoking material for reflection and discussion.

The complete text with study guide questions can be downloaded in PDF format here. Part 7 of the 10-part series is presented below, and the following parts will be published on the web site on Mondays.


Finally, let us not be swayed by the New Age ideas and by the line of logic that ultimately dries up our faith:

Christ yes, the Church no;
God yes, Christ no;
Spirituality yes, God no;
Liturgy (folklore, in the end) yes, spirituality no.

Such rationalism leaves us empty.  To avoid it, I suggest that you understand well the essence and interior constitution of the Church so as not to dismiss it, as this would be a slippery slope to oblivion.  If you keep your faith in the Church, you will keep your faith in Christ and God.  You will live a deep spirituality that reaches transcendence and will live the liturgy as the expression of that spirituality and relationship with God.

The Church is sacramental by nature:  in the words of Vatican II, the Church is a mystery, a sacrament of salvation.  So the approach is twofold:  on the one hand, we try to understand what the Church means, making use of the images found in Scripture, as did Vatican II:  the People of God, the Mystical Body, etc.  These images make us understand one aspect of this essence, but they are not perfect.  We cannot build our entire ecclesiology upon them.  The other way to approach the mystery of the Church is by trying to understand at least some aspects of its essence.  So, we need to refer to Vatican II, which states something startling about the Church, namely, that it is related to the mystery of the Incarnation.  It is truly a continuation of that mystery.  The Incarnation tells us that the Church is Christ’s presence among men and in the world.  The Scriptures are Revelation.  If both are found in the Scriptures, then we must keep both.

Through his Incarnation, Christ is present here on earth.  If this is true, then the Church does not belong merely to the external aspects of our being; rather, it is deep inside us.  Like Christ, the Church has a physical dimension, but be careful—it is not that the Church has a physical aspect just because it is a social being.  When we speak of it as something physical, we are not to understand it as a sociological concept but as something much deeper, something that touches upon all of created reality.

Everything we see in the Church is a reflection of its “physical presence.”  But at the same time, this physical presence also invokes the specifically spiritual reality of the Church.  That is why we call it sacramental:  the outer dimension invokes the inner, supernatural dimension.  Of course, this is not magic; it is this spiritual-physical reality that Christ’s Incarnation brought into the world.

The Church is made up of human beings because, if Christ became man, then his presence is not only in the created material world but is the most important reality of human existence.  In some ways, by virtue of our very existence, we are all living witnesses of Christ’s Incarnation.  The Incarnation does not erase sin or error, and thus the Church suffers for what we are:  our sins, difficulties, defects, etc., but it also rejoices for our virtuous deeds.

Institutional, charismatic and sacramental structure:  this idea offers the best way to join deeply something which is normally separated.  We often hear, even from theologians, about the institution as opposed to the charism, as if the two could not come from the same source.  Yet, from the Incarnation, they clearly have the same genetic principle.  They are co-essential to the Church.  You cannot have one without the other.  When you hear of “giving more room to charism” and “less to the institution,” it means there is a misconception of the Church.

Sacrament of Holy Orders with its three sacred powers:  this principle also helps us understand one of the pillars of the Church.  The sacrament of Holy Orders gratuitously grants the full power of Christ to a person who is not chosen or empowered by the community; the power is Christ’s gift, mediated by the Church, which is enabled to carry out acts of salvation, to teach and govern, in the name of Christ.

Here in this sacrament lies one of the many differences between the Catholic Church and Protestant denominations.  Protestants see no difference between the pastor and the believer.  In the Catholic Church, the pastor represents Christ.

The common priesthood of the faithful and the three “munus”:  But what about the faithful?  They also have the ability to save, teach and govern, but not in the manner and degree as an ordained minister.  The difference between the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood is not only a difference of degree but also of kind.  It is something deeper and different.  But the faithful also have this capacity, and their presence in the Church is not irrelevant.  Their presence in the Church is vitally important and complementary to the ordained minister.

The faithful cannot be passive; they are not there only to listen and obey.  They are the Church and represent Christ in their own way.  They are to sanctify the Body of Christ.  Their mission is to teach the faith to others; they can take part in the government of the Church, participating in parishes, groups and communities.  However, we must admit that this way of understanding Catholics is something that only recently has been given attention.

The Bishop of Rome and the Bishops:  the fullness of the priesthood is the episcopate.  The bishop has special powers.  Specifically, he has the power to ordain new priests and bishops, whose power to govern and teach with the authority of the Magisterium preserves the Church and tradition.

Of all the bishops, tradition assigns a special role to the Bishop of Rome, which is the See of Peter.  Christ promised that Peter and his successors would be the rock, the first among the rest.  Although no sacramental difference sets him apart from the others, he has a special mission to tend the flock.  Precedence is given to his Magisterium over the teaching of others.

Dioceses and Parishes:  at first, bishops were not assigned a particular territory but would move about from one place to another.  When the Roman Emperor Constantine allowed Christians to practice their religion freely, bishops began to settle down, and they were assigned territories which coincided with the geographical division of the Roman Empire.

Parishes were a division of the Empire.  Today they are only a geographical division within the diocese.  The Catholic parish is distinguished for being universal, open to everyone and serving all people.  All communities can live there, and all are embraced and promoted.  The parish has been called a community of communities.

Movements of salvation:  in the history of the Church, the Holy Spirit has always acted by promoting holiness and apostolate.  In some cases it has moved individual persons, but in many others, it has acted by creating communities.  After Christ’s coming, the “Desert Fathers” were the first to create, as a group, as a community, a movement of salvation.  And so, there is nothing strange or particularly new about movements today.  Probably their pervasiveness and the fact that they are a universal phenomenon is the only novelty.  Certainly, they experienced difficulties inserting themselves into pre-existing geographic structures, but these were mainly due to communication problems.

These movements derive their life from a charism.  As you know, a charism is “a grace freely given for the good of others.”  Charisms are fruits of the Spirit, and entail a call to a mission.  Basically, the master strategist is the Holy Spirit; the members of the movement only act on his direction.  Another important aspect of the movements is that they are under the authority of Rome, the See of Peter.  The reason for this is that in many cases, these movements are not just called to a local mission.  The Holy Spirit converts and transforms many people of different cultures and religions.  Therefore, without the relationship with Rome, two things would be lacking in the movements:  true universality (catholicity) and approval or acceptance.

Autonomy of the Church and the world:  finally, we would like to analyze how these two realities (the Church and the world) interact.  In some ways they are very different, but they are also united.  By his Incarnation, Christ conquered the world, and the Church is born of that mystery.  We must not forget, however, that a Christian is “not of this world,” and the world crucified Jesus.

We understand that the world suffers the effects of original sin, which also affects creation, and this is what sets the world and the Church at odds.  Something must be done so they can live in peace.

Christianity, and specifically Catholicism, is the only religion on earth that separates the Church and the world, while admitting autonomy between them.  Muslims, Hindus, etc., mix social life and the world with religion.  For them, religion as a higher wisdom actually controls everything, and there is no rightful autonomy of the created order.  We, however, cannot agree with this worldview.  We understand that, although both have the same principle, the world lives by itself and has its own laws.  Ultimately, these laws cannot contradict the truth because there is only one truth, but they are not religious laws.

Thus, the distinction between church and state is perfectly clear.  In other religions, unfortunately, there is confusion and a mixing of the two and, given the inflexibility of religious principles, we see intolerance towards any other religion (as in the case of Saudi Arabia) or any commanding principle of the state other than the one indicated by their sacred books or religious principles.

The question then to be asked is, if the church and the world are autonomous, how can there be a relationship between them?  How is it possible that they use principles that do not contradict each other?  From a theoretical point of view, the answer is quite simple, because human nature, created by God, holds the secrets of revelation, and the mind, without reference to religion or revelation, can discover what is good and true and use it as the basis of society.  There is no—nor must there be—clash between the truth we know by revelation and the truth we know by reason.  We can discover that human life cannot be destroyed, discarded, or used as a means rather than as an end.  We can discover that all human beings are equal, etc., without referring to revelation or the Christian religion.  If our society is not based on the principles of natural law, sooner or later society will pay dearly.  The example of Nazism or communism is still too recent to forget.

All these explanations of the Church presuppose the concept of the Magisterium, and thus, we have to understand well what it is and how it works.  We are all (the Pope included) servants of the Truth given to us by Christ.  The Pope has the mission and the assistance of the Holy Spirit to point out that truth.  We must give the consent of our hearts to his pronouncements and teachings.  This does not mean we lose our intellectual freedom, as if we may no longer think.  Above all, we must remember that the Magisterium regards faith and morals (there are obviously aspects of human knowledge that are used to establish a principle of faith and morals, but the Magisterium is not intended to teach nuclear physics).  Theology is precisely “faith seeking understanding” and the Magisterium, in teaching something about faith, expects the theologian to work towards a better understanding of this pronouncement.  Therefore, not only is intellectual freedom not lost, but it also calls for the collaboration of the theologian, even if it is obviously assumed that the theologian is living and professing the faith of the Church. 

I have sometimes heard of great confusion about infallible teaching.  First of all, we should say that the Pope has the charism of infallibility because the Church cannot lose the faith or fail to be faithful to revelation, and the Pope represents the Church.  On the other hand, again, the Pope’s infallible teachings are limited to the realm of faith and morals.  Finally, in the minds of many people, infallible teaching is limited to what is called ex cathedra teaching.  It should be noted that this type of teaching has a very specific procedure which has rarely been used.  In many cases, the Holy Father teaches something definitive without it being ex cathedra, and it must be accepted (the non-ordination of women, for example).

Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion
1. How does the relationship between the Church and the Incarnation help us keep a more unified vision of the Church’s various facets?
2. How does the sacramentality of the Church make it more than just another sociological entity?
3. What is the difference between the Catholic concept of the pastor versus the Protestant concept?
4. How have you seen the Catholic understanding of the laity’s role evolving over time? How have you seen the laity being awakened, including the youth?
5. What is unique about the Catholic conception of the Church’s relationship to the world?
6. What is the Pope’s relationship to the treasury of the Church’s teachings? 


The Battle for the World’s Soul, Part I - Artículo
The Battle for the World’s Soul, Part 2 - Artículo
The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 3 - Artículo
The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 4 - Artículo
The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 5 - Artículo
The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 6 - Artículo
The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 7 - Artículo
The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 8 - Artículo
The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 9 - Artículo
The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 10 - Artículo

Related articles
- The Battle for the World’s Soul, Part I
- The Battle for the World’s Soul, Part 2
- The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 3
- The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 4
- The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 5
- The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 6
- The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 7
- The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 8
- The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 9
- The Battle for the World´s Soul, Part 10

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