This document is listed as a “Pastoral” Constitution, treating the relationship of the Church with the “Modern World.” It was promulgated at the end of the Second Vatican Council, in December 1965. Its title comes from traditional Roman usage: the first phrase of the document text in Latin, which in this case means, “joys and hopes.” A quick description would be to say it is a compendium of the Church’s social justice teachings as the world’s Catholic bishops saw fit to underscore in the mid 1960’s. It seems to be a favorite of Catholic social justice folks.
My plan for it would be similar to the other documents I’ve discussed on Catholic Sensibility in the past several months: to post some very basic thoughts as a discussion starter on one section at a time. These would mostly be my own take on the substance of each section given in light of current events in the Church. These are meant to be fleshed out with visitor comments. Or better still, discussion and study in your own parish or communities.
The first three sections of GS make up a preface. Here’s the first of it:
1. The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the (people) of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of (human beings). United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for (everyone). That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with (humankind) and its history by the deepest of bonds.
Note the Pauline echo, especially mindful of the thanksgiving written in 2 Corinthians 1. It’s worth repeating in full:
- Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement. (3-7)
The apostle speaks of his own relationship with the Christians of Corinth, but the implication is clear for what the council bishops teach the Church:
1. Simply by being a follower of Christ, a person is cast into the apostolic role, especially that of an awareness of the joys and burdens of others.
2. The awareness is an intimate one, for each Christian is called to an aspect of Christ that involves true and deep compassion, indeed, we are called to take upon both holy suffering and holy encouragement for the benefit of others.
3. The compassion is by no means limited to believers alone; it embraces God’s desire for universal salvation which even predates the Paschal Mystery (see Isaiah 2:2, Isaiah 25:6, among many others).
4. As human beings, Christians cannot escape responsibility for our brothers and sisters, “especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted,” nor would we want to.
From the very outset of this document, important parameters are set based upon biology (some might say Natural Law) and Scripture. These aspects will be revisited often as we continue a close look at this document.
Thoughts? Observations? Elaborations? Comments welcome.