I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and saw this post that was of a meme contrasting a photo of the beautiful Sainte Chapelle Cathedral with a church that had a plain and bare modern altar, plain wood cross and walls that were stark and white. The person who posted it was obviously making a statement about the beautiful architecture from the Dark Ages and how it differs from modern places of worship. I agree that one was more beautiful and attractive to the soul – drawing one to God and heavenly things. But that was not what struck me. What caught my attention was the comment made by someone else. Basically the comment was that both photos depicted money that was wasted on tax free “buildings that no longer house or feed the homeless”. I realize that there may be others that agree with the commentary since I have heard similar words from other people.
However, this moved me to think about the mission of the Church and the mission of a Carmelite. Cardinal Sarah in his book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise noted that, “The Church’s mission is not to solve all the social problems of the world, she must repeat tirelessly the first words of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry in Galilee: “ The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)”
Feeding and housing the poor is fundamental to the mission of the Church, but more importantly is the salvation of souls. This is the primary mission of the Church – to draw souls to God, inspire them to conversion and bring these prodigal children back to God who is merciful. Beautiful buildings like the Sainte Chapelle Cathedral is one way to draw souls to God. It is because of its beauty that the building can aid a soul to think of God. These beautiful buildings are for all to enjoy, rich and poor alike, even for the non-believer.
Now the Church has always been interested in the needs of the poor. This is evident in the many hospitals, clinics, schools, and universities that the Church has founded, not to mention the many works of charity that she attends to through soup kitchens, orphanages, homes for the elderly, etc. The Church is often on the front lines in fighting for the end of poverty. Additionally it must be noted that we are all responsible for our neighbor in need. The Church also seeks to avoid the scandal of having much of the world that enjoys “an abundance of wealth, resources and economic power, and yet a huge proportion of the worlds citizens are still tormented by hunger and poverty, while countless numbers suffer from total illiteracy. (Gaudium et spes)
The worst poverty, however, is to be without God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 341 that “The ultimate purpose of the mission of the Church is none other than to make men share in the communion between the Father and the Son in their Spirit of love.” Which is why the Lord commanded that the message of the Gospel be preached to all men. For He says in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and Lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age.” The truth has been entrusted to the Church, and she must go out and bring all men to the truth. God wants all to be saved and this is the motivation for all of the Church’s activity.
When I was in formation for the Secular Discalced Carmelites my formation director encouraged me to pick up and reread St. Teresa’s The Way of Perfection each year. I have to admit that I did reread it a few times, but haven’t done so every year. So I decided to pick it up again and use it as my daily spiritual reading. The beginning of the book brought to my attention once again the missionary activity of a Carmelite. St. Teresa is clear in the first three chapters that this is to pray for the preachers and teachers of the Church and for the salvation of souls. St. Teresa noted that priests and theologians “are the persons who must strengthen people who are weak”. She saw that those who labor for the Church need God’s grace, and she wanted her sisters to beg God to help them. She also thought that they needed protection from the enticements and seductions that come from the world. While the Carmelite prays seeking intimate union with God, this is not the only reason a Carmelite prays. Our prayer is at the service of the Church. This is our mission.