Gaudium et Spes 43

GS 43 begins a substantial section with a reminder to those who might think total withdrawal to religious territory is a serious option:

This council exhorts Christians, as citizens of two cities, to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit. They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come,(13. Cf. Heb. 13:14.) think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities.

Christian faith implies an even deeper regard than ordinary human beings for secular duties:

For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation.(14. Cf. 2 Thess. 3:6-13; Eph. 4:28.)

Another malady is addressed, too:

Nor, on the contrary, are they any less wide of the mark who think that religion consists in acts of worship alone and in the discharge of certain moral obligations, and who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life. This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age. 

Justice, worship, and morality are intertwined for the Christian:

Long since, the Prophets of the Old Testament fought vehemently against this scandal(15 Cf. Is. 58: 1-12.) and even more so did Jesus Christ Himself in the New Testament threaten it with grave punishments.(16 Cf. Matt. 23:3-23; Mark 7: 10-13.)

The Council says that if one thinks there is a conflict between religion and justice, try looking again.

Therefore, let there be no false opposition between professional and social activities on the one part, and religious life on the other.

It is a matter of grave sin, according to the Church:

The Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation.

Phrased positively:

Christians should rather rejoice that, following the example of Christ Who worked as an artisan, they are free to give proper exercise to all their earthly activities and to their humane, domestic, professional, social and technical enterprises by gathering them into one vital synthesis with religious values, under whose supreme direction all things are harmonized unto God’s glory.

Next, the role of the laity is spelled out in more detail. Note the guiding principle of a “well-formed” conscience.

Secular duties and activities belong properly although not exclusively to lay (persons). Therefore acting as citizens in the world, whether individually or socially, they will keep the laws proper to each discipline, and labor to equip themselves with a genuine expertise in their various fields. They will gladly work with (others) seeking the same goals. Acknowledging the demands of faith and endowed with its force, they will unhesitatingly devise new enterprises, where they are appropriate, and put them into action. Lay (persons) should also know that it is generally the function of their well-formed Christian conscience to see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city; from priests they may look for spiritual light and nourishment. Let the lay (people) not imagine that (their) pastors are always such experts, that to every problem which arises, however complicated, they can readily give (them) a concrete solution, or even that such is their mission. Rather, enlightened by Christian wisdom and giving close attention to the teaching authority of the Church,(17. Cf. John XXIII, encyclical letter Mater et Magistra, IV: AAS 53 (1961), pp. 456-457; cf. I: AAS loc. cit., pp. 407, 410-411.) let the lay (people) take on (their) own distinctive role.

A worthy lesson for those of us in parishes and other groups self-identifying as a Christian group:

Often enough the Christian view of things will itself suggest some specific solution in certain circumstances. Yet it happens rather frequently, and legitimately so, that with equal sincerity some of the faithful will disagree with others on a given matter. Even against the intentions of their proponents, however, solutions proposed on one side or another may be easily confused by many people with the Gospel message. Hence it is necessary for people to remember that no one is allowed in the aforementioned situations to appropriate the Church’s authority for (a personal) opinion. They should always try to enlighten one another through honest discussion, preserving mutual charity and caring above all for the common good.

Since they have an active role to play in the whole life of the Church, lay (people) are not only bound to penetrate the world with a Christian spirit, but are also called to be witnesses to Christ in all things in the midst of human society.

Second, clergy are singled out with a serious charge:

Bishops, to whom is assigned the task of ruling the Church of God, should, together with their priests, so preach the news of Christ that all the earthly activities of the faithful will be bathed in the light of the Gospel. All pastors should remember too that by their daily conduct and concern(18. Cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Chapter III, n. 28: AAS 57 (1965), p. 35.) they are revealing the face of the Church to the world, and (people) will judge the power and truth of the Christian message thereby. By their lives and speech, in union with Religious and their faithful, may they demonstrate that even now the Church by her presence alone and by all the gifts which she contains, is an unspent fountain of those virtues which the modern world needs the most.

Again, dialogue with people of the world is lauded:

By unremitting study they should fit themselves to do their part in establishing dialogue with the world and with (people) of all shades of opinion. Above all let them take to heart the words which this council has spoken: “Since humanity today increasingly moves toward civil, economic and social unity, it is more than ever necessary that priests, with joint concern and energy, and under the guidance of the bishops and the supreme pontiff, erase every cause of division, so that the whole human race may be led to the unity of God’s family.”(19. Ibid., n. 28: AAS loc. cit. pp. 35-36.)

The issue of unfaithfulness is raised humbly. The interpretation of “energetically” might be debated, and while some outside the Church seem ready to pounce on us for our sins, it does not abrogate the need for honesty.

Although by the power of the Holy Spirit the Church will remain the faithful spouse of her Lord and will never cease to be the sign of salvation on earth, still she is very well aware that among her members,(20. Cf. St. Ambrose, De virginitate, Chapter VIII, n. 48: ML 16, 278.) both clerical and lay, some have been unfaithful to the Spirit of God during the course of many centuries; in the present age, too, it does not escape the Church how great a distance lies between the message she offers and the human failings of those to whom the Gospel is entrusted. Whatever be the judgement of history on these defects, we ought to be conscious of them, and struggle against them energetically, lest they inflict harm on spread of the Gospel. The Church also realizes that in working out her relationship with the world she always has great need of the ripening which comes with the experience of the centuries. Led by the Holy Spirit, Mother Church unceasingly exhorts her (children) “to purify and renew themselves so that the sign of Christ can shine more brightly on the face.”

Experience is a teacher of the Church. Let it continue to be so.

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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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