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Cardinal celebrates Gaudium et Spes

posted on 07 June 2005
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor on Sunday led a service broadcast on BBC Radio 4 to mark the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

The Sunday Worship 'Gaudium et Spes - Joy and Hope' was a mixture of meditations by the Cardinal and Mgr Mark Langham, with music by Westminster Cathedral's choir.

The idea for the service came from the BBC after it learned of the anniversary and a conference at Worth Abbey in July.

The text of the Cardinal's two four-minute meditations, as well as the commentary by Mgr Mark Langham, the Cathedral Administrator, follows:

Sunday Worship
Radio 4 - Sunday 6 June, 2005

'Gaudium et Spes - Joy and Hope'

With Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor

CHOIR: Alleluia (Macmillan) 1'20'

Fr M

'The joys and hopes, the griefs and sorrows of the people of this age, especially of those who are poor or downtrodden in any way, are the joys and hopes, the griefs and sorrows of the followers of Christ as well.'

These are the opening words of one of the most outstanding documents in the recent history of the Church, a document published forty years ago, and usually known by its first words in Latin: Gaudium et Spes.

We are at Westminster Cathedral this morning, to celebrate the vision that produced Gaudium et Spes. It was a vision that revolutionised the way the Church saw its relationship with the world. It advanced a fresh understanding of the dignity of the human person, and understood personal freedom as most fully expressed in community. The Church no longer saw itself as a fortress, with its members beseiged behind the ramparts of doctrine and authority, as it surveyed the hostile territory beyond the battlements. Now the Church was called upon to engage with the world, to recognize the good that exists there, and to help create and develop society. It was a tumultuous change in the way the Church thought about itself and its mission; but the Church embraces this challenge in joy and hope, knowing it is sharing in the mission of Christ himself. Such optimism and longing must begin with Jesus Christ, as expressed in Bach's much loved chorale 'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring'.


Fr M

Let us pray.

Father, your love and your presence fill creation and hold it in being. Inspire us to embrace the world, to engage with its challenges, and to recognize the dignity of every human being; that we may share their joys and hopes, their griefs and sorrows, and so help build the Kingdom of your Son, Jesus Christ, who is Lord for ever and ever.

I'm now in the Baptistry of Westminster Cathedral. Before us stands the great font, a huge marble basin that contains the sacred waters of Baptism. Located close to the entrance of the Cathedral, it represents both physically and spiritually the beginning of the human journey in Baptism. That baptism, as Gaudium et Spes puts it, 'conforms us to Christ' so that we may attain our true potential as children of God. But that destiny is basic to all men and women; we are all created in the image of Christ, and therefore share a common dignity, and destiny. St Paul, writing to the Christians at Ephesus, prays that this closeness to Christ may transform their lives and energies:

Reading: Ephesians 3: 14 - 21


For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Choir: Exultate Deo (ps 80) (Palestrina)

Cardinal part 1

When a Catholic priest is made a bishop, he is asked to choose a motto. Twenty-eight years ago, when I became Bishop of Arundel & Brighton, I chose as my motto those ringing words which open that most important document of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et spes, 'hope and joy'.

This was the document which caused a revolution. It firmly inserted the Church in the modern world. Gaudium et Spes cast an eye over the great questions of humanity, and declared that these, too, were the great questions for the Church. The followers of Christ could no longer retreat or withdraw.

The year the document came out I was a young priest in my first parish. I had started a small group of people who met regularly for prayer and discussion. One of them was a man, a night worker, who came with his wife. One night, she called to say he had been badly injured in an accident; could I come to the hospital? I did, and spent the night there at his side, until he died, at about five in the morning. She had no one else there: no relatives to comfort her. Her world fell apart. But I was able, at that moment, to share some of her grief, to give her the reassurances of faith. I could accompany her. And in accompanying her, I could help Jesus to be present to her. And so what might have been a moment of total devastation became, instead, a moment of meaning.

When I read Gaudium et Spes, it seemed to describe so well how the Church can walk with the world, in the way that I walked with that couple that night.

Some people call it 'empathy' or 'compassion'. It's knowing how another feels, why they act the way they do. It's the capacity which Jesus Christ had to a limitless degree - he emptied himself for others. Yet that did not make him passive, or self-effacing. His message was challenging; he demanded everything. Yet he could identify so much with those he met that the message was never received as an imposition, but rather an invitation to freedom. That is the quality, too, of Gaudium et Spes which we are celebrating today.

It was 1965. Thousands of bishops were gathered in Rome for the Second Vatican Council. They were from all over the world, and many were there for the first time. Many were from places which had known persecution and poverty. There had never been, in the history of the Church, such an opportunity for so many pastors to consider together the human condition - to 'read the signs of the times'.

What emerged was a document about the world, and its pains and joy - the same joys and pains of 40 years ago: the challenges of inequality, social justice, relationships, war and peace, famine and disease, anxiety and hope. But it was also a document about the Church's ability to help humanity to meet those challenges; and how it must avail itself of the modern tools of science in order to do so. The Church was asked to look at history in a new way. It was not just of question of applying principles, as if the Church had all the answers and society none. It was recognising that the Holy Spirit is present in the world. The Church's engagement with humanity became a two-way street.

Christians have a duty to scrutinise the signs of the times. They need to walk with, co-operate with, journey alongside. This was the new language of Gaudium et Spes, surprising to Christians not used to the Church using the humble language of the fellow-seeker.

The Church is still a beacon on a hill, lighting the way for pilgrims. But it is also, now, the leaven in the dough. Christians, says the document, 'are joined with the rest of men and women in the search for truth, and for the genuine solutio
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Austen Ivereigh
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posted on 07 June 2005

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