What is the Purpose of the Church?

My St Peter's_edited-1Last week at our teen club meeting I asked a question of the teenagers, and I was a little surprised at the answers I got. I asked the question, “What is the purpose of the Church?” I got back a variety of comments such as to help people, to show people goodness, to teach the gospel, to show people to follow Jesus, but only eventually did I get the answer I was looking for: to lead people to heaven; to save souls. That is the purpose of the Church, and when I said it of course the kids agreed, but it wasn’t what they first thought, and it occurred to me that maybe that is the cause of many of the problems that we have today with people who either do not embrace the Church, do not follow it as fully as they should, or do not understand why we hold the positions we do. Because they don’t understand what the Church is all about, they don’t understand our insistence on certain teachings. This is not the first time that I’ve come across this.

Recently I had a phone conversation with a man who was rather angry because a layperson I invited to speak after Communion mentioned that gay marriage was wrong. He was furious with me because he thought that the Pope had allowed gay marriage when he said “Who am I to judge?” When I explained to him that that’s not exact at all what the Pope said he started giving me his diatribe of “Well, see this is why people don’t follow the Church any more. The Church insists on holding these unpopular opinions and the Church has to change and say what people want to hear if they want to get people to come. When I asked the man, “What is the purpose of the Church?” he couldn’t answer me. He actually said, “I don’t know!” I said to him, “So you really don’t know what the purpose of the Church is, yet you can be firm in telling me that the Church is wrong in teaching that gay marriage is not permissible.” He then just yelled some more insults at me and hung up. Don’t we need to know what the goal of the Church is before we can assert with force that the Church’s teaching is wrong? Sadly, many people have totally lost track of what we’re all about.

I recall a woman who once called me asking if I could do her wedding even though she needed an annulment.  She told me she knew that technically she needed an annulment. I said to her, “No, truly you need an annulment.” “Well, Father,” she asked, “can’t you just marry me anyway without it? The way I look at it God just wants me to be happy and marrying this man will make me happy so, why won’t you do it?” I tried to explain to her that she had it all wrong, that God doesn’t just want us to be happy. Jesus didn’t have to suffer and die on the cross to help us figure out whatever is going to make you happy and then do it; that was Original Sin! In fact he’s called us to quite the opposite: not just to listen to what you think is right and what you feel is right but to listen to and follow what God teaches us. That was the whole temptation from Satan. God had warned Adam and Eve not to try to listen to their own hearts and heads and what they think is right, because they can be wrong, but God can’t. Basically God was saying, “I am God and you are not. I am all-knowing, you are not. If you follow your own heart and mind you can be wrong, but I can never be wrong. So do and follow all I tell you and your life will be perfect.” Of course, they didn’t listen to God, and when they decided to choose for themselves what was right and wrong instead of listening to God they destroyed Paradise. When I told the girl on the phone this she didn’t want to hear it and abruptly hung up the phone on me.

But that’s the problem we’re facing: in so many situations people somehow got the got the idea that the Church is here just to make people happy. No, the Church is here to show people the way through a fallen world to return to what we lost by Original Sin. It was the disobedience of Adam and Eve to the will of God that lost that unity – that Paradise – that we once had. Christ, by his obedience to the Father even unto death, reversed the disobedience of Adam and Eve, and now, when we are obedient to him we allow him to lead us to union with him – which is what “going to heaven” means – to be one with God. Our beliefs are not arbitrary and they are not decided by vote or opinion but by the truth revealed to us by God and preserved through the Church, what we call the Deposit of Faith.”  Just because the majority of people don’t agree with it does not make it all of a sudden wrong, or because now a majority of people accept it doesn’t automatically make it in fact a means to union with God.

eating-junk-food-can-cause-weight-gainIf you want to have a healthy body, you know that you can’t eat junk food. Well, imagine if people were to say “We like junk food; therefore, we think we should be allowed to eat all the junk food we want!” Nutritionists are simply going to tell you you’re wrong, that junk food doesn’t make you healthy. They tell you you have to severely limit your intake of it, perhaps even avoid it all together. You don’t like it. You want to be able to eat all the junk food you want and still be healthy, but your opinion or desire doesn’t change the fact that junk food is not healthy. Even if nutritionists should decide to appease people and tell them, “Okay. Since you believe there’s nothing wrong with junk food and a majority of you feel that way, then we’ll now declare that junk food is good for you,” does that now make junk food healthy? Your opinion can’t change the truth. In just the same way, when God reveals that something such as gay marriage, contraception, abortion, whatever it may be, is not healthy for your soul and does not lead us into union with him, all the opinion to the contrary doesn’t change the truth that these activities do not make us healthy but are harmful to that union with God, which is the definition of a sin.

Moral teachings tell us what leads us to union with God (salvation) and what harms that union (sin). If we were to say that something that was once revealed as a moral absolute has now changed, that what was once sinful is now holy, that would imply that God had changed, and that’s a metaphysical impossibility! We know that drinking rat poison would kill us. For rat poison to now be good for us there would have to be a complete metabolic change in the very structure and essence of the human body. If 96% of people now believe rat poison is okay and we should now be allowed to drink it, that doesn’t change the fact. Opinions don’t change truth.

rat poisonIf a doctor should have a patient who was insisting that the doctor allow him to drink rat poison, if the doctor cares about his patient and is doing his duty, he doesn’t tell the patient drinking rat poison is healthy no matter how much he whines, pickets, petitions, carries on, or threatens to go to another doctor who will tell him it’s okay. Imagine if the doctor were to say, “Oh, I don’t want to lose any patients, so I’d better allow him to drink rat poison or he’ll leave me,” and he tells him it’s okay, what is the outcome? A dead patient! What would then happen to the doctor? He’d be sued for malpractice, lose his license, and probably be sent to jail as a killer! His duty is to counsel his patients only in the truth. If he tells them otherwise he would be held accountable for their death. If they guy refuses to listen to the doctor and threatens to leave him, the doctor can only say, “Well, you are wrong. Drinking rat poison is not healthy, and if you drink it you will die. You may choose to leave and find a doctor who will tell you it’s okay, but that doctor will not be teaching you the truth, and if you follow his advice, you will die!” In the same way, if the Church truly loves her members, she does not tell them it’s okay to do something that God has declared is sinful no matter how much they demand it. If we were to do that, the person would die in sin and we’d be responsible for their death. We cannot change the truth because people don’t like it, and we cannot change the teachings because people may choose to leave. We may only teach the truth.

 

And so, my brothers and sisters, if you feel concerned or confused about what the Church teaches and don’t understand one thing or another, remember that the purpose of the Church is not to be a social club. Our purpose is not to try to win in as many people as we can by promising anything that will make people join us. Our purpose is to save souls, and the only way we do that is by teaching the truth, by pointing out what is sinful and calling people to avoid sin and embrace what is holy. No opinion, no changes in popular acceptance of an idea can ever change that. To do the work of the Church means simply to preach the Gospel of Jesus, the good news that calls us away from sin and to union with him, and nothing else. Lies destroy and kill. Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly. That life is only found in obedience to the truth, the truth that will set us free.

i-am-the-way

2 thoughts on “What is the Purpose of the Church?

  1. Thank you for your response. Let’s imagine it this way:

    When you buy a car, it comes with a manual that tells you how to keep it running smoothly. Everyone knows you need to fill the gas tank with gasoline when it is empty. Everyone pretty much does that. In addition, we are told to have regular maintenance, check tire pressure, clean the oil and air filters, change the oil, etc. in order for the car to run properly. If you do everything you’re told in the manual, your car should serve you well for many years. But suppose you don’t? Suppose you forget to change the air filter or don’t believe it is necessary to change the oil? The car will still run, but its performance will be inhibited. These are perhaps minor things. But let’s say you decide you don’t want to spend the money on gasoline and decide to put water in the gas tank because it is cheaper. You’ve just killed your car!

    Just like with car care there are some things you should do and some things you must do (or must not do), so it is with our faith. Some things, if you do or don’t do them or essential teachings that you reject, you basically kill your relationship with God. These are normally called mortal sins. Others may not kill your whole relationship with God and end up condemning you, but they weaken the power of that relationship, making it harder for you to grow into total union with God, which is precisely what “going to heaven” means. So while the action or the withholding of consent may not kill our relationship and “send us to hell,” it doesn’t strengthen it either; on the contrary, it makes it harder for us to come into union with Christ and “go to heaven”.

    As for teachings we don’t understand or have trouble accepting, by all means ask questions and seek information. Perhaps you will receive a satisfactory answer. But in the meantime, that’s where faith comes in. “Faith” is not following the teachings we understand (how hard is that?) but precisely following the teachings we don’t. St. Thomas Aquinas explained that we put faith in God while we seek understanding, not withholding assent until we understand; that would be science and not faith. So tell God you don’t understand why we believe whatever it is, but ask Him to help you put faith in it and accept it while you seek to understand the teaching. That’s what Peter did when Jesus revealed his teaching on the Eucharist and many people walked away. He asked the apostles if they too wanted to leave him because they rejected the teaching, but Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (cf John 6) In other words, Peter was saying, “Lord, I don’t understand this any more than those who left, but I have come to believe in you with all my heart and I accept whatever you teach as true, and I hope some day I will understand!” That’s faith in action!

  2. Liz says:

    So, if there is one teaching of the Catholic Church that we can’t accept or believe does that mean we aren’t going to be able to enter heaven? I have been struggling with this over the last couple years and often wonder why I keep on if this sin of unbelief will keep me from heaven? Are we expected to believe and accept everything unconditionally?
    I do understand that the Church teachings will never change and I do love the Church ; just having a hard time with a few things—

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