A few months ago, I wrote that I had learned something surprising about the damned. I had always thought that, although some cursed souls might reject God entirely, the majority of them were souls who, though they might have tried to serve God in this life, simply did not love Him well enough to be saved.
On the contrary, all of the damned, not just some, are, simply put, the souls who are at eternal enmity with God. They die without any real love in their hearts whatsoever. Christ said, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”
Looking at this verse, it may seem like love follows upon obedience, so loving Him is not as easy as it might appear. While Our Lord only spoke truth, and that verse is no exception, He also pardoned the good thief, whose first great act of obedience was mere hours before his death.
Christ also said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out.” Furthermore, His Church offers opportunities for Confession to anyone, regardless of how many evils they may have committed, since the greatest transgressors have the greatest need for forgiveness. All souls, whether they end in damnation or beatification, will be judged according to their desire, and if they truly love and desire God they will receive Heaven, for with Him there is no concept of “not enough love.” God in His mercy can do anything, even raise our poor, imperfect human love to what it ought to be.
Thus, having this new knowledge in my mind, I wondered: if the most important thing to receive Heaven is that each person have a heart that is disposed to loving Him, even if for just moments before death, why did He give us the Church in the first place? Is it not possible for those outside the Church to love Him as well as the ones inside? Well, yes, but God is omniscient and will always make the wisest decisions possible, and the creation of His Church is no exception to this.
How Can We Know God?
First and foremost, the Church is how we come to know God, Who He is, how great His love for us is, and how we may please Him, for example. A love in a God Who has revealed Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is much more tangible and lasting than a believe in nebulous “powers that be.”
Other religions, though they may be more specific than the latter, do not teach as personal a God as Christianity. In Islam, for example, it is taught that even in Heaven, a veil still separates the saved from Allah, so He never fully reveals Himself to a human.
Hindus have many varied beliefs about their god or gods, from disagreement about the number of them to believing they don’t exist at all. Certain sects of Buddhism, without believing in a God, teach about a Buddha called Amitabha, who is able to send the souls who call upon him to rebirth in a blissful paradise. A crucial difference between this and Christianity is that while Amitabha helps souls, though my study of this is only cursory, Amitabha does not immediately appear to love to the point of sacrifice.
Additionally, no belief system save Christianity teaches that God went so far as to take on human form, much less suffer a gruesome death, only for love of man. But, beyond the question of whether man is loved, without a somewhat definitive understanding of the existence of God and Who He is, mankind has few if any ways of understanding that he, in turn, is called to love Him at all, instead of simply existing without meaning.
How Do We Love God?
A second reason for the importance of the Church is, once man knows and understands that he is made to love God, he can understand how best to grow in that love through the Church. Would it not be saddening if we had been left with the phrase, “Love God as best you can” and no idea of how to do that? This could have various different results. One is immediately despairing of any success at all. Another is reducing “love” to a feeling or direct answer to prayers, which if they are not received, leave people to become angry or despair and give up anyway. The third potential result is deciding that it is sufficient to throw God to the back of our minds, and think, “Oh yeah, I love God,” once in a while, without ever changing our actions to reflect that love.
While, again, repentance is theoretically possible until the last moment of our lives, if we do consciously wish to love God before that, we humans, as a consequence of our fallen nature, need actual instruction to ensure something better than those three outcomes. Knowing this, God gave us the Church, so that, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we can know when we are following Him—maybe not to the degree of perfect obedience of an angel, but to the greatest degree that we are able to meld our wills with His.
The Gift of the Sacraments
A third reason is the sacraments. They serve to make His love for us all the more tangible. For example, Baptism removes the stain of original sin and enables us to receive graces and the other sacraments. Through Confession we are able to let go of our actual sins and have total assurance of His forgiveness.
In Holy Communion we physically touch Christ and assimilate Him into our bodies, in order that He might make us one with Him. In short, all the sacraments help to bring us closer and closer to God through earthly means. While many people have loved and continue to love Him without them, a tangible reminder of His love for us can only do good to the souls who accept it, and help them grow in love for Him.
Those seem like substantial enough reasons, don’t they? But most importantly, it is through the teachings of the Church that we come to love Him better, as we were made to do. All the Church offers us by way of sacraments and instruction serves to bring us to an ever increasing love of her Lord. He gave us the Church in order that He might bring us to Himself through her. Thus, the Church gives us a greater happiness in this life as we follow Him and helps us toward our final end of Heaven.