Sunday 14 October 2012

The Second Vatican Council After Fifty Years: Gaudium et Spes - The Church as a Sign of Hope in the World

By Artur Suski, S.J.


Gaudium et Spes is the longest of the four Apostolic Constitutions of the Second Vatican Council, as it covers a broad spectrum of topics dealing with the Church’s involvement in the world. With this constitution the Church desires to speak a word or two to all of humanity: to those things that are good in the world as well as to those that are not so good. The Church felt compelled to do so because of the sense of responsibility that she felt for all people – can a mother remain silent when her children are in peril? Or conversely, can she remain silent when the occasion calls for celebration? In both cases the truth must be spoken, for “the truth will set [us] free” (Jn 8:32).

In this long and winding document, there is a discernible thread that makes its way through all the chapters.This thread is the backbone of all the pronouncements of the constitution: “The Church firmly believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all, can through His Spirit offer man the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme destiny” (GS 10). In other words, the Church proclaims to the world that Christ needs to be at the centre of the life of the world; he needs to be at the centre of all our endeavours if we want them to be worthy of true human dignity. It is only through Christ that we human beings most fully discover our true nature and identity. Looking at it from another angle, the Church calls the world to examine its relationships: the relationship with God, the relationship with each other, and the relationship with creation.

For example, the evolving technological and social advances of the past centuries are to be lauded. The Church sees these as a great gift to humanity, a gift that springs from the creative intellect of the human being, an intellect given to us by God in order that we develop it; however, it isn’t always that simple. Although humanity has come up with some exciting innovations, the contemporary world is nevertheless found lacking in something. We have become too materialistic and too scientific in our approach to life. Injustices against the weak and poor abound. We are seen as numbers and we see others as numbers. Consequently, the spiritual and cultural dimensions of the human person are not developed. In fact, they are often left out of our lives altogether.

Given this reality, Gaudium et Spes reminds us that we are deeply spiritual beings that thirst for God in our heart of hearts. It is only through a life with God at its centre that a person achieve his truest nature and develop as a human being. Because we have excluded God from our families, our economics, our educational system and our governments, we have amassed tremendous disorder in our relationships to God, to one another, and to creation.

Therefore, this constitution calls the world to embrace the Light of the World as its remedy and salvation. Our encounter with Christ changes us and orders our relationships. All our relationships flow from our primary relationship with God. If this is severed or distorted, it is of no surprise that the other relationships also take a turn for the worse. According to Gaudium et Spes, the best way to pass things along to humanity is to cultivate this deep love of God and neighbour in the smallest yet most important unit of society: the family.

The Council calls upon the family to be a pillar of society: husbands and wives, love one another with the love of Christ! Make sacrifices for your children! Teach them the faith by your own faith-filled lives! If our families are God-filled, our children, who are the future of a society, will be the change that we need.

In the end, the document is one of hope, as its name Gaudium suggests. Christ is our hope, for nothing is impossible with him. Economics, politics, and all other aspects of a society’s life will be transformed if its members become other Christs. Is this a daunting task? Most definitely it is. Nevertheless, the Church hopes that each person will take this call upon himself, otherwise all the good that has been achieved through technological and societal progress will be used in a disordered fashion.

The citizens of the world should ask themselves: what are our priorities and which values do we hold as dear? Are these built upon goodness and truth, or are they built on a desire for personal gain? The Church calls us to re-examine our values. She calls us to re-think our priorities. She calls us to love as Christ loved and to live as Christ lived.

Go to another post in our Second Vatican Council series:
Dei VerbumLumen GentiumSacrosanctum Concilium

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