Summary: The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World gives us a kind of charter for the substance of the New Evangelization.

Monday of 34th Week in Course 2012

Documents of Vatican II: Gaudium et Spes

The redeemed pictured in John’s Revelation stand in the Father’s house on Mount Zion, that is the heavenly mountain, and they are with the Lamb, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. What are they doing for all eternity? They are singing an oden kainen, which we translate “new song,” but it’s not recently written. In the biblical tradition, an oden kainen is a new kind of song, one that derives its meaning from the act of redemption. The reason that only the biblically perfect number can learn it is that they are the ones redeemed from sin by the Lamb. They are the Lamb’s men invited to the Lamb’s feast. There is nothing here of Puritanism or Jansenism. These men, the firstfruits of the great harvest of souls for the general resurrection, have not been defiled by immoral sexual acts. You may recall that, in the OT, idolatry went hand in glove with temple prostitutes. These so-called priestesses tempted men out of their marital covenants to “worship” in the temples of the fertility goddess, Astarte. In Revelation, this old demon shows up as what John calls the “great whore of Babylon.” The saints pictured here have had nothing to do with this immoral worship, which extended in the Roman empire all the way up to the time of Constantine.

Here also, in the last week of our liturgical year, the Church repeats the story of the poor widow who gave her last coins to God. This is the cold time of year, when the Church is constantly reminding us of our duty in justice to aid the poor. This widow, like so many, especially in this ongoing economic peril, walked out of the Temple with only the clothes on her back. The rest of the story is what the Church would do in her behalf–to give her aid, comfort, food, warmth, and love.

In 1965, the Council Fathers gave us a great, and often misunderstood, gift, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. It begins with a paragraph that might have been a reflection on today’s gospel: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men 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 men. 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 every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.”

Gaudium et Spes was addressed not just to the members of the Catholic Church, but to the whole of humanity. It did so in order to fulfill a yearning “to explain to everyone how it conceives of the presence and activity of the Church in the world of today.” And it does so with a Christ-center: “the council focuses its attention on the world of men, the whole human family along with the sum of those realities in the midst of which it lives; that world which is the theater of man's history, and the heir of his energies, his tragedies and his triumphs; that world which the Christian sees as created and sustained by its Maker's love, fallen indeed into the bondage of sin, yet emancipated now by Christ, Who was crucified and rose again to break the strangle hold of personified evil, so that the world might be fashioned anew according to God's design and reach its fulfillment.”

The Fathers of the Council, I think, did well to remind the world that it is Jesus Christ who has freed us from sin. What the Council did not go on to say immediately–it did so at length in the rest of the document–is that the refashioning of the world “according to God’s design” is the function of the Church that Christ established. I’m not entirely surprised that the next paragraph in this introduction talks about man being “stricken with wonder at its own discoveries and power.” Remember that the Council was convened only about a decade and a half after the end of the worst world war in history. DNA was discovered only fifteen years earlier. The Cuban missile crisis happened during the first weeks of the Council; we all feared immanent death. Four or five nations were still testing thermonuclear weapons in the atmosphere, and cancer rates from the fallout were beginning to rise.

Today, as we continue the Year of Faith, we can look more calmly on this document, and glean from it good news we can share with the tools of the new evangelization. The Holy Father and recent Synod tell us we must promote among our fellow humans a personal encounter with Jesus in the Church. That must be the focus of our ministry, as we go forward in faith.

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