The Word Among Us

October 2012 Issue

The Idea of Service Has Been Central

Pope Paul VI on Vatican II

The Idea of Service Has Been Central: Pope Paul VI on Vatican II

Never before perhaps, so much as on this occasion, has the Church felt the need to know, to draw near to, to understand, to penetrate, serve and evangelize the society in which she lives; and to get to grips with it, almost to run after it, in its rapid and continuous change. . . .

The Church of the council has been concerned with man as he really is today: living man, man all wrapped up in himself, man who makes himself not only the center of his every interest but dares to claim that he is the principle and explanation of all reality. Every perceptible element in man . . . has, in a sense, been displayed in full view of the council Fathers, who, in their turn, are mere men, and yet all of them are pastors and brothers. . . .

[This council has] dwelt upon humanity’s ever twofold facet, namely, man’s wretchedness and his greatness, his profound weakness—which is undeniable and cannot be cured by himself—and the good that survives in him which is ever marked by a hidden beauty and an invincible serenity.

But one must realize that this council, which exposed itself to human judgment, insisted very much more upon this pleasant side of man, rather than on his unpleasant one. Its attitude was very much and deliberately optimistic . . . . Instead of depressing diagnoses, encouraging remedies; instead of direful prognostics, messages of trust issued from the council to the present-day world. The modern world’s values were not only respected but honored, its efforts approved, its aspirations purified and blessed. . . .

All this rich teaching is channeled in one direction, the service of mankind, of every condition, in every weakness and need. The Church has, so to speak, declared herself the servant of humanity, at the very time when her teaching role and her pastoral government have, by reason of the council’s solemnity, assumed greater splendor and vigor: the idea of service has been central.

(Excerpted from the address of Pope Paul VI at the last general meeting of the Second Vatican Council, December 7, 1965.)

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