In Gaudium et Spes, the council fathers discuss how Christians should engage the modern world and how such interaction can be fruitful for both modern culture and the Church. The document portrays Christians not as sectarians afraid of the world but as a community of truth capable of engaging all cultures. The fathers acknowledge that their reflections do not address concrete issues in particular cultures but rather provide a general framework to guide Christians of all cultures. In this regard, much is left open for further reflection.
The fathers argue that Christ has redeemed all people, a point that has two significant implications in the document. First, as followers of Christ, Christians are called to love all people. Second, every person will lack fulfillment and meaning without knowledge of the Gospel of Christ. Christian evangelization, therefore, is founded not on a false righteousness or pride but on love and concern for the genuine good of others. In this framework, the council fathers diagnose certain modern practices that are harmful. They condemn the economic disparity between the wealthy few and the wretched poverty of the majority. Further, they write against those political proposals that deny humanity’s spiritual good. The fathers argue that exclusive attention to economic or social goods loses sight of humanity’s highest calling, namely, to enter into communion with God. This calling is revealed in the revelation of Christ, who shows humanity that people are fully themselves only when they offer a sincere gift of themselves to others.
Because Gaudium et Spes speaks in general terms, much work is yet to be done to apply these guiding reflections to concrete situations. Local Church leaders must discern the signs of the time and equip their communities for fruitful engagement with their surrounding culture. Christians must identify those cultural characteristics that are harmful to the Christian community. Once identified, Christians must determine when they should seek to overcome the structures of culture, when they should seek conversion within the structures of society, and when they should withdraw from their surrounding culture. Perhaps, more important, the council fathers propose that Christians must affirm those aspects of culture that promote or are compatible with the Christian faith. By acknowledging such similarities, the Church provides a foundation for social unity and fruitful dialogue.