Homily no. 54 – ‘Vatican II: Gaudium et Spes’

Gaudium et Spes

The readings of this penultimate Sunday of the year certainly are of the nature of proclaiming ‘The End of the World.’  It’s typical of the end of the Church year to hear such readings … Jesus speaks of “wars and revolutions, … earthquakes, plagues and famines” — calamities that indeed we seem to see around us without fail as we watch/read/listen to the news.  But, as Jesus also said, “The end is not so soon.”  We wait in faith and hope …  The Church has a concern for these things, the things the world suffers, but knows that all things can only find their solution in Christ. 

The final document of the Second Vatican Council that I want to speak about in this cycle on the ‘Year of Faith’ is the ambitious, ‘Pastoral’ Constitution ‘On the Faith in the Modern World’ which runs to some 99 pages.  It was a document discussed in the latter sessions of the Council, and only promulgated on the very last day of Vatican II, 7th December 1965.  It was an attempt by the Council to ‘reach out,’ as it were, to people of all nations and religions, and state how the Church sees mankind, human life, the world, and its destiny.  It was designed to express both principles and practical aspects of the Church’s approach to the problems of the world.  The opening words of the document are very beautiful:

The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well.  Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts.  For theirs is a community composed of men, of men who united in Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, press onwards towards the Kingdom of the Father, and are the bearers of a message of salvation intended for all men.  That is why Christians cherish a feeling of deep solidarity with the human race and its history. 

The Catholic Church sees her mission as to all the world, not just to her own people, because our Saviour, Jesus Christ, is the one and only Saviour of humanity.  Therefore, what we believe is a message that has to be translated into one for all the world to hear.  This is the purpose of this final document of Vatican II.

Vatican II reminds us that the dignity of man’s calling is a high one, made in the image of God, and also through the loving partnership of marriage between a man and a woman.  But man suffers divisions and struggles because of sin; he is drawn to do those things which he ought not to, and brings upon himself all sorts of misery.  Man’s death, too, is an enigma, from which he understandably recoils, but which finds its only solution in the victory of Christ over death.  But despite the challenges, the Church has much to offer to the world, to build up the whole human race in faith, solidarity, and hope.

The practical areas, in which the Council goes on to teach, are:

i.          Marriage and Family Life — the Council is sure that the foundation of a world built on better principles has to start with the unit of the family, based on the unselfish, giving, love of a man and woman in married union.

ii.        Development of Culture — by which the Council means the music, art, literature, science and other creative endeavours which are proper to mankind.  These can be fulfilled in a positively Christian light, when they are seen as expressions of man’s intelligence given Him by a loving God.

iii.       Economy and Social Life — the Council desired to express the dignity of human work,but the injustice of excessive economic differences, the yawning gap between rich and poor.  The goods of the earth are there for us all, not for the few.

iv.        Political Life — the Council encouraged participation of all people in the political process, so that Government can be representative of the people.  The Council encourages us to vote and to make use of the freedoms we have, to use our social responsibility and to make life better for all citizens, remembering also that the whole human race is one family,and this trumps patriotism.

v.         War and Peace — taking its lead from the great encyclical of Pope John, Pacem in Terris, the Council has strong words about the horror of war, and the urgent need to work unceasingly for peace between nations, and avoid the arms race and those constant tensions.  The Council encourages international co-operation of the sort embodied in the United Nations, to resolve conflicts speedily and without bloodshed.

This great document makes a final call to harmony in the Church, that it might be the seed of unity and peace amongst man: In virtue of its mission to enlighten the whole world with the message of the Gospel and gather together in one Spirit all men of every nation, race and culture, the Church shows itself as a sign of the spirit of brotherhood which renders possible sincere dialogue and strengthens it.  Vatican II ended, then on a note of great hope, that the Church continue its God-given mission to serve mankind, and bring all people to God, for peace and harmony.  Let’s never lose this vision of the Council, that as the Church we offer the world all the good that God wants it to receive from Him in Christ.

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About Fr Philip Miller

I'm the Catholic Parish Priest at St Augustine's, Hoddesdon, Herts, UK, in the diocese of Westminster. This cycle of homilies is one of my contributions to this parish's life in the 'Year of Faith' (Oct 2012 - Nov 2013) called for by Pope Benedict XVI to renew the Church's understanding of the faith.
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