Many Catholics say that they love Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, best of all the documents of the Second Vatican Council. No less than Pope John Paul II said in a 1995 address marking the 30th anniversary of its promulgation: “I must confess that Gaudium et Spes is particularly dear to me, not only because of the themes it develops, but also because of the direct participation that was allowed to me for its elaboration.”
There is something unmistakably appealing about Gaudium et Spes: its expansive vision of the church, its reengagement with a world long viewed as hostile to authentic faith, its recognition of the good found in society, its openness to certain movements and “signs of the times” as indicators of divine guidance, etc.
In his address, the Holy Father commented on the many changes in the world since the pastoral constitution’s appearance: “The cold war is ended, science and technology have made unprecedented progresses: from flight into space and the landing on the moon, from heart transplants to genetic engineering, from cybernetics to robotics, from telecommunications to the most advanced telematic technologies. To the factors of change connected to urbanization and industrialization, the incredible increase of the mass media has added to this, they will always have greater influence on the daily lives of people in every part of the world.”
Other positive developments have occurred in the decades since Pope John Paul spoke: the rise of instantaneous communication and the internet, Smartphones, social media, microsurgery, and many others. But the world has also witnessed unsettling realities: cultural wars, tribalism, radical fundamentalism, terrorism, the loss of privacy, the erosion of human rights, and a growing divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”
Gaudium et Spes acknowledged humanity’s search for meaning and an experience of the divine in a world marked by constant change. The church offers the men and women of our age, and of every time and place, the enduring message of the Gospel and arms opened in friendship to all on the human journey. Moreover, the pastoral constitution tells us that we are not powerless before the currents of time, but possess the message of eternal life and salvation in Jesus Christ. That is something we need to hear again today.
In this Issue
Paul J. Wadell is our guide to exploring Gaudium et Spes, the last of the conciliar documents to be promulgated at Vatican II on December 7, 1965. His article is so beautiful a summary of the decree’s core ideas and teachings that you might want to read it slowly and savor it. Father Norman Pelletier looks at Gaudium et Spes through a very particular lens ― that of religious life. He spent many years in leadership of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament on the international and provincial levels.
The three short articles in the Eucharist: Living & Evangelizing section touch on a variety of topics: the origins of the Eucharist (Niranjan Rodrigo), its ongoing challenge and transforming power (Frank A. Squitteri), and the reverence which has been shown the mysterium fidei through the ages (David W. T. Brattston).
Victor M. Parachin suggests 24 very practical ways to enrich your gospel living and spirituality this Lent. The church’s great penitential season has always been about renewing the quality of our Christian life and discipleship by getting back to the basics.
By doing so, and by God’s patience and grace, we will arrive at the new life of Easter. The nourishment of word and sacrament sustain us on the way.
Anthony Schueller, SSS