Gaudium et Spes 3

The preface of GS concludes with a lengthier section attempting to answer the question “What does the Church have to say to the world?”

Though (humankind) is stricken with wonder at its own discoveries and its power, it often raises anxious questions about the current trend of the world, about the place and role of (human beings) in the universe, about the meaning of its individual and collective strivings, and about the ultimate destiny of reality and of humanity.

The state of human anxiety has not been lessened in the intervening years. The Church wisely acknowledges we live in extraordinary times. And for decades the Europeans felt that disconnect–perhaps as early as 1870, possibly earlier than that with the onset of the industrial revolution and the continued, if not persistent sense of injustice in society. An injustice, by the way, that many perceived the Church, in the face of things, was impotent.

Hence, giving witness and voice to the faith of the whole people of God gathered together by Christ, this council can provide no more eloquent proof of its solidarity with, a, well as its respect and love for the entire human family with which it is bound up, than by engaging with it in conversation about these various problems.

A humble beginning, and one probably not satisfactory to some bishops.

The council brings to (humankind) light kindled from the Gospel, and puts at its disposal those saving resources which the Church herself, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, receives from her Founder. For the human person deserves to be preserved; human society deserves to be renewed.

This offering is unconditional, note. The Church offers resources, and acknowledges in turn, that preservation and renewal are the God-given prerogatives of those outside the Church. Non-Catholic readers should know that:

Hence the focal point of our total presentation will be (people themselves), whole and entire, body and soul, heart and conscience, mind and will.

Believers and non-believers alike share a “noble” destiny:

Therefore, this sacred synod, proclaiming the noble destiny of (humanity) and championing the Godlike seed which has been sown in (them), offers to (humankind) the honest assistance of the Church in fostering that (family) of all (people) which corresponds to this destiny of theirs. Inspired by no earthly ambition, the Church seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit. And Christ entered this world to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served.(John 18:37; Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45)

And so we have it: the Christ of the Gospels provides the inspiration. The context of these references is telling; check it out: In John, Jesus is on trial. In Matthew and Mark, he is mediating a dispute among the apostles on the heels of the third prediction of the Passion. This is worth some reflection: Christ’s earthly ministry, a ministry GS implies we should adopt, was defined at moments of personal upheaval, conflict, injustice, and misunderstanding. It is closely identified with the Passion.

Perhaps these references were not chosen randomly. The friends of Jesus were themselves scattered and in denial when Jesus firmly gave witness to the truth. His friends were likewise involved in arguments instead of reflecting on the very Passion that was predicted, indeed, inevitable.

I think Gaudium et Spes is a hopeful document, but the hope is tempered by a realism: an acknowledgement that the Church sometimes stumbles over itself to give an authentic witness. Yet the hope for a “conversation” is all that is set before the world. The hope is also colored by the realism of Christ’s suffering and death: a significant starting point for the rest of the discussion.

Thoughts? Comments?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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