A commenter (“Midwest Lady”) in my post entitled, “Catholics and Mental Illness: Are We Doing Enough?” asked an interesting question that, frankly, we Catholics don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about (IMHO). She wrote, “What is the basic mission of the Catholic Church?”
I thought the question was worth its own post. What is the basic mission of the Church? Is it to give people something to do on Sundays? To solve social problems (as “social justice” Catholics assert)? To tell people what to do (as many social conservatives imply)? To give people another world to think about so they don’t have to worry so much about this one (as Marx suggested). To “affirm people in their okayness” (as Mark Shea likes to put it)? To attempt to appease an angry God that probably doesn’t exist anyway (as Hitchens argued)?
Because I’ve had the privelege of teaching a sociology class at Franciscan University called, Christianity and Society, I’ve spent a fair amount of time researching and discussing that exact question with my students. That said, it really doesn’t take that much thinking and researching to discover the mission of the Church.
In my response to “Midwest Lady,” I originally wrote, “The mission of the Church is to win souls for Jesus Christ and to work to build God’s Kingdom on Earth.”
To which she reasonably asked, “What does it mean to ‘build God’s Kingdom on Earth?'”
That is a great question. Here’s how I’d summarize what I think that phrase means, again, based on my reading and class discussion especially of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church
“to build God’s Kingdom” means “to work to create a world that reflects the innate, God-given, dignity and worth of every human being.”
Each person is created in the image and likeness of God. It is the Church’s responsibility to remind everyone–believer or not–through its works and words, that each human being is a unique and unrepeatable person who has a God-given right to be treated only with love and can only become who they truly are by dedicating themselves to loving others. In light of this, it is the Church’s mission to proclaim and model an authentic vision of love that springs from God’s own heart; a vision of love the protects the inherent dignity of each person, promotes the life and health of each person, encourages relationships rooted in mutual self-giving, and strives to create a civilization that supports the fulfillment of each person. By doing so, ultimately, the Church helps each individual fulfill his or her destiny, which is a total, loving union with God and each other.
What do you think? How would you describe the “Basic mission of the Catholic Church” if someone asked you? Likewise, considering the definition above, where do you think the Church does a good job of living up to its mission, and where do you think it needs to do better? I’ll be interested to read your comments.