The Church's Essential and Ultimate Mission | Carl E. Olson | Catholic World Report editorial
Is the paramount duty of the Church and its faithful to aid those in need?
What is the purpose, the goal, and the essential mission of the Church?
That is the first question I put to a group of catechists earlier this month as we embarked on a week-long course in ecclesiology, part of the Archdiocese of Portland's ministry formation program. It was the central question of the entire course, which was based on the structure and theo-logic of Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
I also asked my students, “What do most non-Catholics think is the Church's purpose, goal, and essential mission?” They agreed the Church is often perceived and presented as a merely human institution that is either a sort of social club or a political entity. As such, the Church is then praised when it emphasizes messages and concerns aligning with the trending beliefs and inclinations of the dominant culture, or criticized when it fails to be “on the right side of history” and proclaims doctrine deemed “backward” and “out of touch” with expressive individualism—to borrow an apt phrase from philosopher Charles Taylor—and secular ideals.
So, the Church is criticized for being bigoted and intolerant for what she teaches about marriage, homosexuality, family life, and related matters. But she is praised for her concern for the poor and the needy. This combination results in many commentators insisting, in various ways and forms, that the Church really needs to jettison the former and focus solely on the latter. After all, some further state, caring for the poor is thepurpose, goal, and essential mission of the Catholic Church. In fact, this is not so much argued as simply asserted, as if it is a truism known by all except those glowering, gloomy conservative Catholics who obsess over moral behavior and worry about what sins are being committed in bedrooms across the nation.
For example, a recent essay in Fortune magazine, “This pope means business” (Aug. 14, 2014), which praised the managerial skills of Pope Francis, took care to point out that “The church has often promoted issues that tended to divide Catholics more than unite them. And the backlash made Rome look defensive, as many bishops and cardinals viewed their role as defending Catholic doctrines against a hostile culture of secularism.”