Purpose of life according to Catholic and Orthodox Churches?
The purpose of man’s life is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
For Catholics, the Baltimore Catechism puts it this way:
Q. 126. What do we mean by the "end of man"?
A. By the "end of man" we mean the purpose for which he was created: namely, to know, love, and serve God.
A Catechism Study has a more complete exposé on the subject:
What is the purpose of man?
The purpose of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” - 1 Cor. 10:31
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” - Rev. 4:11
“Whom have I in heaven but you? And on earth there is nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail. but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” - Ps. 73:25-26
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” - Phil. 4:4
Many people go through life asking “Why am I here?” But the bible tells us why. The thing is, we cant answer that question by looking at ourselves (which most of the world does) but instead looking to God and His Word. If you want to know how something is supposed to work and its purpose, we know that we would ask the creator of that thing. The same goes with us, we need to seek after God (through His Word) to know who we are and what we were designed for.
Before the fall, we were perfectly God-centered beings. But after the fall of Adam, we became man-centered and have struggled to know our purpose ever since. Instead of being satisfied with God (and Him alone), we became satisfied with ourselves (and other things in this world). Instead of seeking to enjoy God, we seek to enjoy ourselves and the things in our life.
By saying that we are to glorify God, we are not saying we are to make God “glorious”. God is already glorious just by the fact of who He is. We cant add anything to the worth of God. Instead we need to see glorifying God as “reflecting” God’s glory rather than adding to it.
For example, the world doesn’t make God glorious, it reflects His glory (Ps. 19:1). Same with us, we don’t make God glorious, we reflect it to others (which means it glorifies God!). Think of it like this, something created can not make it’s creator more glorious, it can only display the glory that the creator already has, and it does this by reflecting that glory through itself.
So what is the best way we can glorify God? Well, what is the best way we glorify things? How do we show others that we love our iPods, music, video games, etc? We show others how much we love those things by our enjoyment of them. Same goes with God. We show that God is glorious to us, in many ways, but ultimately by our enjoyment of Him. Now, that’s not the only way we can glorify God, but if we truly enjoy God for who He is, we will glorify him in other areas of our life as well.
Problem is, people don’t want to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Instead we are happy to enjoy and glorify things, money, the world, and even ourselves! We settle for such lower standards and enjoyments than the best thing in the world – God. And therefore we have sinned before Him and are held accountable for those sins. Thank God we have a savior in Jesus Christ!
In this life, we will never fully glorify God, or enjoy him fully as He deserves. That will only come after we are with God in heaven. But as we seek after God each day, we will continue to grow and glorify Him in our lives as we show his glory to others by sharing our faith, encouraging each other, preaching and teaching to others, etc.
So, every day seek God in all areas of your life. Reflect his glory to others. Show your enjoyment of Him to the world over the things that the world enjoys. By doing this, we point towards why we were truly created – to glorify God and enjoy HIM forever!
Unsurprisingly, St. Thomas Aquinas speaks to us on this subject matter.
The Purpose of Human Life According to Thomas Aquinas
Understanding God, or at least reaching for that understanding (ever impossible to secure), is for Aquinas the telosof humans. Again, we can argue with Aquinas here on the privilege he gave to the intellect over other aspects that might define human nature, but it’s an illuminating argument nonetheless. What Aquinas tried to say was that humans’ ultimate good consisted in knowing God and to be in His presence for eternity.
“Now, the ultimate end of man, and of every intellectual substance, is called felicity or happiness, because this is what every intellectual substance desires as an ultimate end, and for its sake alone. Therefore, the ultimate happiness and felicity of every intellectual substance is to know God.”
For the Orthodox, like Catholics the purpose of life is to ultimately know God.
There is a very simple, one word answer. The Scripture says that "God is love", and the Greatest commandment tells us to "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.". Therefore, we were created, simply because of love. God chose to create man in His image and likeness, because of love. Since love wants the best for its beloved, God, being the best, must want to share of Himself with man.
This is why we were made in the image and likeness of God. In order for God to share of Himself with us, we must have the capacity to understand Him. He is a totally free and immortal being. We were also created to be immortal (once the human soul comes into life, it will never die, or cease to exist), and we also were created with free will, since God is free.
Free will, properly used, makes a man full of holiness, peace, the knowledge of God, and able to always freely choose good.
What is good? Since God is the only supreme good, we do good when we act as He acts. These actions are described by the virtues, love, kindness, and all the rest.
We were made immortal, and with the capacity to be holy. This is because God wants us to know Him, and it is impossible to know someone without being like them. The proud man does not understand humility. The rapacious man does not understand kindness. To understand God, we must become like Him.
This leads us to our purpose: to know God, and how it is fulfilled, by exercising and strengthening our God given free will to become like God, so that our soul is able to understand His revelation of Himself to our human heart.
The Scripture puts it this way:
"And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." (John 17:3)
There is obviously much more to this story, because it is obvious than many men do not know God or act like Him. - The meaning of life