This is part two of a series of reflections on Pope John XXIII’s speech “Gaudet Mater Ecclesia” with which he opened the Second Vatican Council and what the speech can tell us about the current Synod of Bishops gathering in Rome. We ended part one by discussing the Church as being “predominantly pastoral in character” and, in our age, preferring to utilize the “medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.”
This Church of mercy does not seek to give away earthly riches in the form of gold and silver, but in the spirit of St. Peter she gives to the world that which she does possess, saying to every person in every age of history, “silver and gold I have none; but what I have, that I give thee: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk.” (Acts 3:6) Rise from sin and mediocrity! Walk toward eternal life bearing the torch of religious truth! In other words, be free! The deliberations and results of the Synod do not have as their aim a promise of mere earthly happiness; in fact, just like the Second Vatican Council, this Synod has just the opposite in mind. Through this gathering of the College of Bishops, united and guided by the same Holy Spirit which united and guided the Apostles after Pentecost, the Church “opens her life-giving doctrine” to all men, allowing them, “enlightened by the light of Christ, to understand well what they really are,” namely, “children of light and of the day.” (1 Thess 5:5)
For the Church to properly execute this mission, she must be united in thought and deed, showing “everywhere the fullness of Christian charity, than which nothing is more effective in eradicating seeds of discord.” There may be differences in peoples and cultures, times and places, but, in the timeless words of St. Cyprian (and quoted by John XXIII), “the head is always one, the origin one, for she is the one mother, abundantly fruitful. We are born of her, are nourished by her milk, we live of her spirit.” And thus we have a duty to give proper diligence to maintaining concord and unity, “that unity of mankind which is required as a necessary foundation” in order to ensure that this earthly dwelling might resemble more and more “that heavenly city where truth reigns, charity is the law, and whose extent is eternity.”
The speech through which we have been working, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia, was the official opening of the Second Vatican Council. These reflections find their place near the beginning of the deliberations of the current Synod in Rome, nearly 63 years later. John XXIII, in his characteristic optimism, is quick to note that it is “now only dawn.” For us, too, it is only the beginning. The beginning of the Synod, sure, but also of a very glorious age in the Church. Every age is a glorious age because it is being guided and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. No matter the outcome of the Synod’s deliberations, the Church will survive! But, like all past ages, what we do and say now has profound implications for what is done and said in subsequent centuries and synods.
Therefore, let us pray that the Synod fathers, like the Council fathers before them, the Catholic and secular media, and certainly all of God’s holy and faithful people of good will approach this Synod with “serenity of mind, brotherly concord, moderation…dignity…and wisdom.”
“O Mary, Help of Christians, Help of Bishops, dispose all things for a happy and propitious outcome…To Jesus Christ, our most amiable Redeemer, immortal King of people and of times, be love, power and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
NB: all quoted text is from the official English translation of “Gaudet Mater Ecclesia” unless otherwise noted.