Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
The Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen very frequently noted that “If souls are not saved, nothing is saved.” The entire mission of the Church is predicated upon the salvation of souls. In truth, nothing else matters. At the end of each of our lives, we will be faced with the inevitability of death. Some die young, some die old. Some die after years of suffering, while others die in the prime of their lives. No matter who you are, how healthy you think you are, or what your state in life is, you will die. Furthermore, no matter what you believe, you will be judged by the Just Judge, Our Lord and King, Jesus Christ. And finally … this judgment will render one of two eternal destinations: Heaven or Hell.
Everything we do, think, say or profess in this life will lead to our eternal abode. This world is just a staging ground; a testing place. This world, ultimately is the mere scaffolding for the Kingdom of Heaven. When an architect and his builders create a marvelous structure, such as a cathedral, no one laments the removal of the scaffolding once the structure is completed. The same is true for this world. As Our Lord said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)
Of great concern in our modern times is the growing trend among the clergy in the Church to shift the focus away from the Last Things (Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell), and place them squarely on the world. Catholic hospitals, which were once run by priests and nuns, are now corporate entities. Catholic schools are likewise no longer run by priests and nuns. Catholic conferences and chanceries are now taking up the worldly standard of environmentalism. Works of charity have shifted to political agitation under the guise of “social justice.” And most scandalous of all, perhaps, is the big industry of social development, such as Catholic Relief Services, where CEOs pull in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in the name of helping the poor.
This is the scandal of it all … the corporal works of mercy are those acts of kindness and charity individuals provide to other individuals, not so we can have a better world to live in, but so we can save our own souls and bring other souls to Christ. Catholic hospitals no longer include evangelical works in the healing arts … the focus is solely on the body. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development funds socialist-leaning political agitation groups that have no interest or understanding in aiding the impoverished both in spirit and in body. And now, the Vatican is focusing its attention on empowering a global governing body (the United Nations) in the name of environmentalism, once again shifting more and more attention on this idea that man is capable of creating a heaven here on earth.
The truth is, Catholics, by and large, have lost the sense of a missionary spirit. On September 23, Pope Francis will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, who founded the mission system in California. Fr. Serra founded 21 missions during his lifetime, bringing countless souls to the Catholic faith. Through the missions, Fr. Serra educated the natives of California, taught them to read and write, to build, and he brought them out of the poverty they had previously lived in. The missionary model truly is the model for all development work engaged in by the Church.
The great missionaries of the Church, like St. Francis Xavier, St. Ignatius of Loyola, Fr. Pierre-Jean De Smet, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, St. Marianne Cope, and St. Pedro de San Jose Betancur all lived in the spirit of saving souls for the Kingdom of Heaven. And wherever great missionaries such as these went, education increased, and spiritual and physical poverty decreased.
But sadly, it seems that many priests, bishops and cardinals in the Church today have no missionary zeal, instead calling upon governments and financial monoliths to do what what had been done by the Church. Only, as the baton is being passed to the world, the conversion of souls is being forgotten. The words of the poet William Wordsworth are well applied here:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
Indeed, the leaders of the Church are tossing aside the greatest gift to mankind … which is the salvation of souls … for the trifles of this passing world.