Cutting-edge Battle for Souls
Updated: Sep 9
When I was sixteen years old, I transferred from a tiny Catholic school to a public high school with over 2,000 students. It was a bewildering atmosphere. I was strong in my faith and wanted to find people that could at least share my same values. So, I ended up hanging out with a lot of the evangelical Christians on campus.
One young man was skilled in apologetics. He was hoping to become a Baptist pastor someday. He would approach me and offer written materials purporting to prove the falsity of the Catholic faith. Thankfully, I also had a good apologetics background. I remember reading the Envoy magazine every month, looking forward to the apologetics ammunition that I would get for my upcoming encounters. I do not feel I was aggressive, but I did not want to represent my Catholic faith poorly. "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope." (1 Peter 3:15)
Over lunch, this young man and I would debate aspects of the faith. We must have been somewhat good because small crowds began to form. I did not have any Catholic friends who would attend, but my Christian friends were supportive at least to the point that they showed appreciation for my points.
One of my favorite verses was Matthew 16:18 "And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it." It seemed to me like a slam dunk. How could anybody argue against that? It was clear that Christ had intended for the Catholic Church to carry his word to posterior generations.
But my mentality as a young man was very much defensive. I wanted to defend the faith. There is nothing wrong with this, but is it enough?
Recently, I have reflected frequently on this verse. And I think this verse summarizes a shift in my approach to evangelization over time. For many years, I was on the defensive, wanting to defend the faith. "Christ founded his Church on the Rock of Peter, so you have to accept that the Catholic Church is the one, true church." More recently, however, I have come to focus more on the last part of the verse: "the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it." The phrasing is a little old-fashioned, and perhaps for that reason, it does not jump out at us. But it is actually incredible. We are not called as the Church to sit back and avoid making enemies. Rather, we are called to invade the gates of Hell and rescue souls. (this does not mean that we can pull souls literally out of hell, but rather that we are called to be on the offensive.)
I remember watching Pope Francis at World Youth Day in Brazil. His words in Spanish were powerful. "Jueguen para adelante." "Young people, please: don’t put yourselves at the tail end of history. Be active members! Go on the offensive! Play down the field, build a better world, a world of brothers and sisters, a world of justice, of love, of peace, of fraternity, of solidarity. Play always on the offensive!" (Pope Francis, 2013)
How do we make sure that we are on the offensive nowadays?
The spread of depressive states has become disturbing. They reveal human, psychological, and spiritual frailties which, at least in part, are induced by society. It is important to become aware of the effect on people of messages conveyed by the media which exalt consumerism, the immediate satisfaction of desires, and the race for ever greater material well-being. (Pope John Paul II, 2003)
Who is going to combat the spread of mental illness on behalf of the Church? In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Divine Mercy Clinic and Family Center (www.dmclinic.org) is at the forefront of this battle for souls. Psychology means literally "study of the soul", but has often been practiced in a very secular atmosphere. Here, we are able to care for the whole person, with attention from both clinicians and priests.
Recently, I have been getting to know various priests in the area and there is a real excitement to have a resource that can help with parishioners who are experiencing mental disturbances or who need help in determining if there could be a demonic influence in their life. They look to us for help.
One important principle of spiritual life is "first the man, then the saint." This means that before we are able to grow in holiness, we need to form ourselves as well-rounded human beings. With all the family of origin issues, confusion of identity and even just the frantic stress of everyday life, this clinic offers a valuable service to help men and women heal their interior and work on becoming saints.
If the Church of the 21st century is going to be relevant, it will have to have cutting-edge tools that are up to speed with the problems of the time. Divine Mercy Clinic is one of these tools. Let's make the most of it.
Divine Mercy Clinic and Family Center. https://www.dmclinic.org/
Pope Francis. (2013). Prayer Vigil with the Young People.
Pope John Paul II. (2003). International Conference Promoted for Health Pastoral Care on the Theme of "Depression". https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/speeches/2003/november/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20031114_pc-hlthwork.html