28 February 2013
A key point about Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the World) is that it is addressed to all peoples regardless of beliefs, Caritas director Julianne Hickey told the symposium.
The second important fact about this document is that it came from the floor of Vatican II rather than being drafted beforehand.
It was promulgated on the last day of the council and is by far the longest of the documents.
‘I was born into a church and community whose lives were filled with joy and grief yet there was hope amid the anguish.
‘There were many [in the Rhodesia of the time] who were reading the “signs of the times” and responding. Jesuits, Dominicans, The Zimbabwean Justice and Peace Commission lay people, priests, youth groups…And these people and groups were an inspiration for my life and faith journey.
‘Overall Gaudium et Spes proposes to speak to all people in order to shed light on what it called the mystery of man. It is all about the human person, the individual, the community, the entire human family.
‘It was concerned in cooperating to find true and just responses to the enormous challenges of our time, to the outstanding issues.
In a clear indication that the Church is awake and sensitive to the events, the document focuses on several happenings in the modern world:
- It condemns poverty;
- warns about the threat of nuclear war; and
- exhorts Christians to work to build structures that uphold justice and peace.
Part two of the document deals with problems of special urgency, marriage and family – recognising the great challenges facing the family in the 1960s and certainly today; culture – human beings can come to an authentic and full expression of their humanity only through culture – socio-economic life – placing all economic development at the service of the human person.
‘In this context Gaudium et Spes speaks about human labour – how it is superior to all the other elements of economic life, and how the human person is a partner in the work of bringing God’s creation to perfection.
‘Furthermore, Gaudium et Spes makes it clear that the political community exists for the common good (cf. Part II, chapter 4). This political community and public authority are based on human nature and belong to an order of things that have been divinely fore-ordained. For this reason those who serve in politics contribute greatly to the building up of society.
So much of the flavour of the document is contained in the opening two sentences:
“The joys and the hopes, the grief and the anguish of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, are also the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ.” (#1). This shows the council’s primary task, to demonstrate the solidarity of the church with the entire human family.
The dignity of the human person is basic to everything else in the document, everything else in the Church and in life.
‘The council placed Christ at the centre and refused to read humanity, society or culture apart from him. In other words, it’s not our faith, our church, isolated and separate and apart. No, we are in the heart of humanity. We strive for human dignity and to be truly, fully human.’