A friend of mine shared a passage from Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes #69 that knocked my socks off, which I will share below.
Reading it prayerfully the other morning gave me new material for the Sacrament of Penance this coming Saturday.
What are the laity to do?
This conciliar Constitution was Pope John Paul II’s favorite conciliar document, as it offered (among other things) a model and impetus for the New Evangelization’s imperative to bear witness to the Gospel’s social, cultural, political, and economic implications in every circumstance of life. In this sense, Gaudium et Spes offers a prophetic template for living out the lay vocation, which means first and foremost governing the temporal order according the God’s will as it has been made known through the natural law and in Christ.
Again, the lay vocation is in essence not churchy, but secular, i.e. laity don’t become saints primarily by being involved in the parish, but by being involved in the world of family, business, culture, politics. The parish exists to foster and serve this secular form of lay sanctity, just as the holy Mass culminates with the imperative verb, Ite! Go!
One could say, and I steal this phrasing from Dr. Jim Keating, the Church’s social teaching is the theology of the laity as it offers to the lay faithful the content for living out their secular vocation. This is why I am convinced that every Catholic should have next to their Bible and Catechism a copy of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church; or at least a link to it’s online version. It summarizes in an authoritative way the Catholic approach to a not-of-the-world life in the world.
There was a particular insight I received from my friend as we meandered toward this quote that really gripped me: a casual reading of the Gospels would make you conclude that we are saved by giving alms. Wow! I then recalled an article I had read on this a couple years ago, which he said he knew well. I highly recommend it to you.
Then he shared with me this conciliar quote…
Aside from the particular policy forms this vision has/can/will take (the devil’s in the details), the principles embedded in this quote — drawn especially from the Hebrew Prophets and Jesus himself –should stand always as a blazing sun illumining the dark corners that ever-threaten the success of the Christian experiment:
God intended the earth with everything contained in it for the use of all human beings and peoples. Thus, under the leadership of justice and in the company of charity, created goods should be in abundance for all in like manner. Whatever the forms of property may be, as adapted to the legitimate institutions of peoples, according to diverse and changeable circumstances, attention must always be paid to this universal destination of earthly goods. In using them, therefore, man should regard the external things that he legitimately possesses not only as his own but also as common in the sense that they should be able to benefit not only him but also others. On the other hand, the right of having a share of earthly goods sufficient for oneself and one’s family belongs to everyone. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church held this opinion, teaching that men are obliged to come to the relief of the poor and to do so not merely out of their superfluous goods. If one is in extreme necessity, he has the right to procure for himself what he needs out of the riches of others. Since there are so many people prostrate with hunger in the world, this sacred council urges all, both individuals and governments, to remember the aphorism of the Fathers, “Feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him, you have killed him,” and really to share and employ their earthly goods, according to the ability of each, especially by supporting individuals or peoples with the aid by which they may be able to help and develop themselves.