April 13, 2006

Closing Up Shop

After much thought and prayer, all of the contributing editors and writers have decided that we can't continue with Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. This is primarily due to time constraints -- we all have too much on our plates. To illustrate how much we have on our plates: I was supposed to post this announcement on Monday. Better late than never, I guess. ;)

It has been wonderful and, at times, challenging to blog about Catholic social justice teaching in our complicated world. I know I can speak for all of us when I say that we're sorry to have to say goodbye to this project. But we must, and so this is the last post you'll see on Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. We will, however, be keeping the blog open as a resource to our readers and also to ourselves. We may be having to end this project now, but that doesn't mean we have to erase all the work we've already done.

In any event, we thank you for reading and for sharing this part of our journey with us. May God bless you and keep you; may he show his face to you this Easter Season, and may the joy of his resurrection bring you everlasting peace.

April 10, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 41

Gaudium et Spes 41 begins by suggesting that humanity is indeed experiencing a time of progress. But it is only through the reliance on God -- and the recognition that God fulfills our deepest human longings -- that this "development" can reach its full potential:

Modern (humanity) is on the road to a more thorough development of (its) own personality, and to a growing discovery and vindication of (its) own rights. Since it has been entrusted to the Church to reveal the mystery of God, Who is the ultimate goal of (humankind), she opens up to
(people) at the same time the meaning of (their) own existence, that is, the innermost truth about (themselves). The Church truly knows that only God, Whom she serves, meets the deepest longings of the human heart, which is never fully satisfied by what this world has to offer.

We might not always possess the full awareness of it, but God even works deeply upon believers themselves, to further the plan of salvation:

She also knows that (people are) constantly worked upon by God's spirit, and hence can never be altogether indifferent to the problems of religion. The experience of past ages proves this, as do numerous indications in our own times. For (people) will always yearn to know, at least in an obscure way, what is the meaning of (their) life, of (their) activity, of (their) death. The very presence of the Church recalls these problems to his mind. But only God, Who created (human beings) to His own image and ransomed (them) from sin, provides the most adequate answer to the questions, and this He does through what He has revealed in Christ His Son, Who became (flesh). Whoever follows after Christ, the perfect (human being), become (themselves) more (human). For by His incarnation the Father's Word assumed, and sanctified through His cross and resurrection, the whole of (the person), body and soul, and through that totality the whole of nature created by God for (human) use.

At this point, it's appropriate to ask, "What makes Jesus special?" It's also timely, for the celebrations of Holy Week point in a special way to the most profound aspect of Christ's example: his emptying, or kenosis. A person who throws herself in front of a bus to save a child. A person who has sacrificed tirelessly for the poor and needy. Even if these people are not believers, and not conscious in any way about the Paschal Mystery -- in such sacrifices, people make the choice to imitate Christ, to take up their cross and follow, even if they do not know Another has walked that same path.

The Church is in a difficult place today. More difficult certainly, than forty years ago. We need leaders who embody those core values of kenosis: people who can do more than talk about sacrifice. When we find them, I think the relationship with the modern world is eased, at least in the sense of being able to communicate clearly the Christian vision.

Thanks to this belief, the Church can anchor the dignity of human nature against all tides of opinion, for example those which undervalue the human body or idolize it. By no human law can the personal dignity and liberty of (people) be so aptly safeguarded as by the Gospel of Christ which has been entrusted to the Church. For this Gospel announces and proclaims the freedom of the (children) of God, and repudiates all the bondage which ultimately results from sin (cf. Rom. 8:14-17); it has a sacred reverence for the dignity of conscience and its freedom of choice, constantly advises that all human talents be employed in God's service and (people's), and, finally, commends all to the charity of all (cf. Matt. 22:39).

As I read this section, I think the laity have a special apostolate these days to assist in overcoming the poor image of the hierarchy. This last paragraph is certainly true, in spite of the sinfulness of those who have harbored sexual predators.

This agrees with the basic law of the Christian dispensation. For though the same God is Savior and Creator, Lord of human history as well as of salvation history, in the divine arrangement itself, the rightful autonomy of the creature, and particularly of (humankind) is not withdrawn, but is rather re-established in its own dignity and strengthened in it.

And who best to exemplify the confirmation and strength of human dignity? Lay people empowered by their relationship with Christ.

The Church, therefore, by virtue of the Gospel committed to her, proclaims the rights of (people); she acknowledges and greatly esteems the dynamic movements of today by which these rights are everywhere fostered. Yet these movements must be penetrated by the spirit of the Gospel and protected against any kind of false autonomy. For we are tempted to think that our personal rights are fully ensured only when we are exempt from every requirement of divine law. But this way lies not the maintenance of the dignity of the human person, but its annihilation.

GS alludes here, I think, to the notion of rights-plus-duties, rather than a rights-alone approach. Human rights are indeed an essential component of human dignity. Human rights are most often abused by leaders. The same leaders, of course, overemphasize duty and forsake the rights of others. Striking a balance in this is vital. Each person indeed has rights. But each person also has particular duties to fulfill in his or her role in a family, in friendships and associations, with the commitments of school and work, as well as within larger groups: in churches, neighborhoods, and political entities, including the world as a whole.


April 02, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 40

Returning from a pause in this site's examination of Gaudium et Spes, section 40 begins a brief chapter treating "The Role Of The Church In The Modern World." What has preceded this section is a set-up for the Church's brief reflection on exactly what is the place of the church in the world, as the document confesses:

Everything we have said about the dignity of the human person, and about the human community and the profound meaning of human activity, lays the foundation for the relationship between the Church and the world, and provides the basis for dialogue between them.(1) In this chapter, presupposing everything which has already been said by this council concerning the mystery of the Church, we must now consider this same Church inasmuch as she exists in the world, living and acting with it.

The Church embodies the action of the Trinity in our world. A body of mortal beings, it is confined to time, but has a role beyond the realm of experienced time:

Coming forth from the eternal Father's love,(2) founded in time by Christ the Redeemer and made one in the Holy Spirit,(3) the Church has a saving and an eschatological purpose which can be fully attained only in the future world.

The Church also has specific tasks entrusted to it:

But she is already present in this world, and is composed of (human beings), that is, of members of the earthly city who have a call to form the family of God's children during the present history of the human race, and to keep increasing it until the Lord returns. United on behalf of heavenly values and enriched by them, this family has been "constituted and structured as a society in this world"(4) by Christ, and is equipped "by appropriate means for visible and social union."(5) Thus the Church, at once "a visible association and a spiritual community,"(6) goes forward together with humanity and experiences the same earthly lot which the world does. She serves as a leaven and as a kind of soul for human society(7) as it is to be renewed in Christ and transformed into God's family.

Sounds a bit sneaky. But it does provide the context for our efforts at evangelization. Our ultimate goal is not the repudiation of the world, but rather its transformation.

That the earthly and the heavenly city penetrate each other is a fact accessible to faith alone; it remains a mystery of human history, which sin will keep in great disarray until the splendor of God's (children), is fully revealed. Pursuing the saving purpose which is proper to her, the Church does not only communicate divine life to (people) but in some way casts the reflected light of that life over the entire earth, most of all by its healing and elevating impact on the dignity of the person, by the way in which it strengthens the seams of human society and imbues the everyday activity of (people) with a deeper meaning and importance. Thus through her individual matters and her whole community, the Church believes she can contribute greatly toward making the family of (people) and its history more human.

The Church's comminucation of the divine, that's worth repeating:

By a two-fold emphasis on the dignity of the person: healing and elevating (medicinal and political, if you will). Non-Catholics participate in this as well:

In addition, the Catholic Church gladly holds in high esteem the things which other Christian Churches and ecclesial communities have done or are doing cooperatively by way of achieving the same goal. At the same time, she is convinced that she can be abundantly and variously helped by the world in the matter of preparing the ground for the Gospel. This help she gains from the talents and industry of individuals and from human society as a whole. The council now sets forth certain general principles for the proper fostering of this mutual exchange and assistance in concerns which are in some way common to the world and the Church.


1. Cf. Paul VI, encyclical letter Ecclesiam suam, III: AAS 56 (1964), pp. 637-659.
2. Cf. Titus 3:4: "love of mankind."
3. Cf. Eph. 1:3; 5:6; 13-14, 23.
4. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Chapter I, n. 8: AAS 57 (1965), p. 12.
5. Ibid., Chapter II, no. 9: AAS 57 (1965), p. 14; Cf. n. 8: AAS loc. cit., p. 11.
6. Ibid., Chapter I, n. 8: AAS 57 (1965), p. 11.
7. Cf. ibid., Chapter IV, n. 38: AAS 57 (1965), p. 43, with note 120.

Any comments?