|"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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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?