In the last few years we have been hearing a lot about religious extremism. We are seeing a lot of examples of bad practice of religion, when it is used as an excuse for violence or corruption. It raises the question, what exactly is the purpose of the Church? Why did Jesus bring about a Church? Well the mission or purpose of the Church is to make God known to people and to make the work of Jesus Christ known to people. Jesus’ own life was about revealing God to us and of course dying for us in order to re-open the path to God for us. It is not just about filling churches, it is about teaching people about God and helping people to discover God. Sometimes it is said to me, ‘I wish such and such a person would just go back to mass.’ But just going back to mass is not enough. Faith has to come first. Once someone discovers God and begins to grow in their faith, then they see their own hunger for God and then they come to the church to pray with other people who also believe—like all of us here—to listen to God’s word, and to receive him in the Eucharist. That’s why we come here: to pray together and to be fed spiritually, because we are all trying to live the same way of life.
None of us are strong enough to make it on our own. We need the support of each other. So we listen to the teachings of Christ and then we celebrate the last supper, where Jesus made himself present in the form of bread and wine, so that he could be with us always. That is what the mass is.
The purpose of Christ coming to us was basically two-fold. First of all to make God known to us, to teach us about him and show us what God is like. Anything we want to know about God we will discover in Jesus. It says in the letter to the Colossians, ‘[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God’.
If I painted a picture of myself, it would just be a picture, but it wouldn’t move or speak. If God painted a picture of himself it would be the person of Jesus. Not just a picture, but a real person. That’s who Jesus is, the image of God. At one stage Philip, one of the Apostles, said to Jesus, ‘just show us the Father and then we shall be satisfied’. And Jesus said, ‘do you not understand that to have seen me is to have seen the Father?’ They are one and the same. So by looking to Jesus and learning about him, we are learning about who God is and what God is like.
The second purpose of Christ coming to us was to free us from the power of Satan, from the power of sin. So by dying for us, Jesus reopened the way to God for us. It is now open to us if we turn to him, but that is a choice that each of us must make. The mission of the Church is to let people know about this, what God has done for them and what is there for us all, by turning to Jesus Christ. This is really what makes sense of what our whole life is about. It doesn’t make any sense without God.
All people have a right to hear about God and to know about him. And it is our mission to make this known to people, because God has told us to. It should never be forced on people, but if this is the truth about God, which we believe it is, then people have a right to know that truth. It is up to them whether they decide to believe it or not.
Sometimes it is argued that we should just be helping the poor but not talking about God. However, poverty is not just about having enough to eat. Knowing that my life has a purpose is equally important. Helping people to come to know that they have been created out of love and that their lives have a reason is just as important as making sure people have enough to eat. So we are called to do both.
Is this mission still being fulfilled today? Of course it is. Here am I speaking to you about it two thousand years later. How much faith we do or don’t have is not really important. The fact that we are here at all is what is important. So the mission of the Church is to pass on this truth about God which God has made known to us. It is the message which makes sense of our whole life and all people have a right to hear this message. What is the best way we can pass on this message? By living it as well as we can ourselves. The best way we can teach others about what we believe in is by the witness of how we live, rather than by anything we say.
I will finish with the words of St. Francis of Assisi: ‘let us go and preach the gospel; and if necessary, use words.’