What is the purpose of the Church?
‘The Church's task is to make the kingdom of God, which has already begun with Jesus, germinate and grow in all nations. Wherever Jesus went, heaven touched earth: the kingdom of God was inaugurated... The Church serves this kingdom of God.' The YOUCAT (Youth Catechism)
This is the core purpose of the Church, to fulfil Jesus’ challenge - to make his kingdom a reality. This means that the faith of each Christian cannot be private to them and Jesus calls this out when he uses the analogy, ‘no one lights a lamp and puts it in some hidden place’ (Luke 11:33). In fact, the word ‘Church’ comes from the Greek ek-ka-lein, to "call out of". The Church is by necessity a community of believers.
To establish the kingdom of God that Jesus talks about so frequently, the Church has to tell people about him and his Gospel. ‘Gospel’ is from the Greek word ‘evangelion’ which just means good news. Salvation is seriously good news. But even before the events of his ministry, Jesus calls his first four apostles saying, ‘"Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”’. An inherent part of following Jesus, even then, was by bringing others to him and into his Church.
Importantly, anyone was allowed to enter into this Church. Jesus, before he leaves the disciples after his resurrection, commissions them saying:
'"Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you."' (Matt 28:19-20).
In fact, the very word ‘Catholic’ comes from the Greek word ‘katholikos’ meaning universal. As St. Paul says to the Early Church, ‘in the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens’ (1 Corinthians 12:13). In keeping with the way Jesus lived, the Church is not exclusive, it is for anyone who seeks him.
‘This treasure, received from the apostles, has been faithfully guarded by their successors. All Christ's faithful are called to hand it on from generation to generation.’ Catechism of the Catholic Church
Without Church lingo, at its best, the Church acts like a Hospital, like a University and like the Military.
Hospital - It has been said that the Church is not a museum for Saints, it is a hospital for the broken. Pope Francis recently para-phrased this, “The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle.’ ('A Big Heart Open to God', America Magazine). Put simply, we all, both those of faith and of no faith, are broken and need healing and the Church is where we come to receive healing from God. One of the fundamental ways in which we experience this healing is in the Sacraments of the Church.
University - '"Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”' - St. Theresa of Calcutta. One of the purposes of the Church is to make you the best version of yourself. This doesn’t mean making you a superstar, but it does mean helping you grow into a person who loves authentically and abundantly. So in a sense, the Church is like a university, one where you learn about yourself, God and others and how to love in each situation you find yourself in.
Military - The Military do two things really well, they recognise that first, each individual has a role in an overall mission and secondly, they need each other to be able to do anything. Just like soldiers in the military, as part of the Church we each have individual roles that no one else can do like us. St. Paul writes about just this, saying, ‘Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ’ (1 Corinthians 12:12). The Church is inherently diverse and always has been, and together, the people make up the Body of Christ. However, we can’t do it alone. We need friends and support and we need each other to strive towards becoming the best version of ourselves.