From The Voice: Joy And Hope In Gaudium Et Spes

Originally published on February 2nd 2018, this article was taken from the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus’s column in The Georgetown Voice, entitled Gaudium et Spes. The column, written by members of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, appears online every other Friday.

By Jack Segelstein and Max Wolfgang Rosner

October 1962 was a busy month.

On the 6th, the Sino-Indian War broke out, which would claim over 10,000 casualties in the span of a month. On the 9th, Uganda gained independence from the United Kingdom, and, two weeks later, admission to the United Nations. And from the 16th to the 28th, the Cuban Missile Crisis terrified the world with the prospect of nuclear armageddon.

And on October 11, 1962, Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council, what some observers call the largest meeting in recorded human history. This assembly, often dubbed Vatican II, is the most recent of the Church’s 21 ecumenical councils, during which leaders of the Catholic Church assemble to develop and promulgate its teachings.

Even when considered in the context of the Church’s 2,000-year history, Vatican II was exceptionally important for a number of reasons. Unlike its predecessors, it was the first ecumenical council to address all of humanity, not just the Catholic faithful. Moreover, Vatican II was uniquely conscious of its historical moment, and sought to address the social, political, and spiritual needs of contemporary society.

This is seen clearly in the document entitled Gaudium et spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

Gaudium et spes articulates a relationship of reciprocity between the Church and the modern world, in which each offers the other some definite service. Thus, the two are “bound up” and exist in a relationship of “solidarity.” First, in terms of what the world offers the Church, Gaudium et spes claims that even those not directly involved in the work of the Church bolster its ministry. “[W]hoever promotes the human community at the family level, culturally, in its economic, social and political dimensions… is contributing greatly to the Church…”

In the preface to Gaudium et spes, we begin to see how the Church conceives of its service to the world: “Human society deserves to be renewed,” the Church claims. This may strike us as odd—what needs to be renewed? After all, in the past 50 years, extreme global poverty has declined considerably, countless diseases have been cured, more communities have formed across greater distances than ever before, and most of the world’s population no longer feels compelled to rehearse nuclear drills.

Of course, the world has witnessed a number of calamities since the ’60s, too. Of those, the Church is particularly concerned with what we’ll call a crisis of meaning. “Man painstakingly searches for a better world, without a corresponding spiritual advancement,” reads Gaudium et spes. The Church believes that this existential crisis transcends the material, the political, the shortsighted. Our material freedom has not necessarily yielded a spiritual freedom.

Gaudium et spes translates to “joy and hope.” Ultimately, this has been the promise of the Church since Christ and remains its promise today. Even though the promise remains the same, the Church speaks uniquely to and for all of us, here and now, as Vatican II makes clear.

Let’s take a look at three ideas that find particular emphasis in the modern world and at Georgetown: dignity, rights, and social justice. What does the Church have to say to us about each of these today, and what do they have to do with joy and hope?

The Church holds that every human person is endowed by God with an inherent dignity, not unlike the dignity of God Himself. Because we are made in His image, we are accorded inestimable value and certain inalienable rights.

With our dignity and our rights come the responsibility to promote the dignity and rights of our neighbors. Thus, the Catholic vision couples our individual rights with our responsibility to others. In this way, rights—and, more broadly, justice—cannot be understood outside the context of community.

This may sound alien compared to the way we typically talk about rights. For us, rights are competing. “You have no right to be on my property!”—I have the right to free speech!” As a result, rights have become politicized, even weaponized. We are led to believe that our dignity is bestowed on us by political victories instead of by God. This situation obscures and cheapens our dignity.

In Gaudium et spes, Church leaders reject this individualized conception of rights. Throughout Vatican II (and even before the Council), the Church promoted myriad rights: life, religious freedom, unionization, a living wage, and so on. Gaudium et spes adds freedom to the list—freedom to pursue “the service of the human community.”

At Georgetown, this is what is meant when we are called to be men and women for others, a phrase coined by Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the Jesuit Superior General elected in the midst of Vatican II. Social justice, the fruit of this Georgetown value, illuminates our dignity and brings our rights to fulfillment. Service works both ways. In serving others, we not only enhance their freedom; we enhance our own as well.

The Church is often thought of as an institution whose eyes are set above this world, promoting a theology of heavenly anticipation and ascetic forbearance. Even at Georgetown, many assume the Catholic faith discounts the joy, hope and suffering of this world, because it pales in comparison to what is to come in the next life. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the Church focuses relentlessly on renewing this world, and professing the birth of a new humanism. This renewal must be “founded on truth, built on justice and animated by love.”

Justice is attainable, but not without hope, joy, and love.

In this column, we will explore why these ideas matter to our world and to our university. We invite you to join us.



From The Hoya: Building a Better City

Originally published on 7th April 2017, this article was taken from the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus’s rotating column in The Hoya, entitled The Round Table. The column, written by members of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, is published every other Friday.

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Image Credits: Paul Luke Keh

By: Hunter Estes

Washington, D.C., has been my home for more than just my time at Georgetown. I moved here when I was 12, after my dad was transferred to the Pentagon, and I have loved this city ever since. Having lived here for a few more years than most, I feel that I have a more complete view of D.C., one that includes much beauty, but also much struggle.

When I first moved to the nation’s capital, I was awestruck by the monuments and the statues and reveled in the symbols of liberty, freedom and tradition that stood throughout the city. Unfortunately, I think the magic of this city can often cover up some of its deeper faults.

I have come to see the deeply entrenched poverty that consumes one in five D.C. residents. I saw one of the fastest-growing homeless populations in the United States, with a 34.1 percent growth in the past six years. I saw monuments rising into the sky, but at the same time saw high school graduation rates remain as low as 42 percent. I witnessed the enduring legacies of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence, but also noticed rising crime rates becoming legacies of their own.

At Georgetown, we often talk about the wonderful ways we can interact and engage with the city. We hike through the District with friends in an attempt to “break the bubble,” on a constant search for new, hip places and events to try, rooms to escape and art galleries to appreciate. The fact is that D.C. has plenty to offer, and could easily keep somebody excited for four years, especially with school to occupy most of the time.

Yet, our city, in many ways, is splitting apart. In some places, new businesses flourish and real estate prices are booming. In others, infrastructure is crumbling, and schools are failing. We, at Georgetown, have the opportunity to either isolate ourselves or become an integral part of the rebuilding of D.C. As members of this community, we have a duty to invest more than what we get out of the District. We are called on to be a part of the solution.

The first step to helping the city is active reflection. Only then can we truly start to both appreciate the greatness and recognize the failings of our city. If Georgetown is to play a role in the revitalization of Washington D.C., then we should do so in a uniquely Georgetown way: a uniquely Jesuit, uniquely Catholic way. Jesuits take part in the daily Examen, in which they think back through their day and look on how they succeeded and how they failed. Reflection is rooted in our history, and I believe we should begin this process by reflecting on where we have succeeded and failed as a school.
Many of our failures stem from lack of awareness, and the only way we can help is by being informed. We can change this in small ways, through town halls and forums, bringing in speakers to talk about local issues. So often, we focus our attention on national and international affairs, but if we want to change the world, the easiest place to start is in our own backyard. People are left without homes just outside the front gates, and too often even Georgetown food banks are short on both food and volunteers.

But we have also succeeded in many ways. I believe we need to build upon the success of groups that engage with the city more tangibly. By tutoring children and volunteering in food shelters, we can help make immediate change.

How much has been accomplished if, at the end of four years, all that we have gained is a series of letter grades from classes? There is so much more to our education on the Hilltop. We are called to a higher sense of service, to not only take from this city, but to give. By increasing our school’s integration with the community we can have an immense effect on D.C.’s future. We can help this city change, and we are called to as Hoyas.


The Truth about the Ashes

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

 By: Board of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus

This Wednesday, March 1, a curious sight will return to Georgetown’s campus as many, young and old, walk their daily routes with crosses of ashes marked across their foreheads.

To the outside observer, this occurrence might seem a bit odd, but to a Roman Catholic, the practice presents a different meaning, denoting that Ash Wednesday has arrived, and with it, the season of Lent leading to the Easter holiday.

Look below to find answers to important questions about Ash Wednesday presented by the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus.

Do you have to go to mass?

The first question that might arise for a Catholic on Ash Wednesday might be: “Is this a holy day of obligation?”

The answer to that question is no, however, it is recommended that one make an effort to attend a mass on this day, and receive their ashes.

On campus, traditional masses with a distribution of ashes will be held in Dahlgren Chapel at 12:10 p.m., 5:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. with an ecumenical service also featuring a distribution of ashes offered at 7:30 p.m.

Just off campus, the Holy Trinity Catholic Church will host Ash Wednesday masses at 7:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

What do the ashes mean?

In the simplest terms, the ashes distributed at the start of Lent are marks of repentance. They are an acknowledgement of the frailty, or the imperfection of all Catholics as human beings.

In recognizing the faults symbolized in the ashes, Catholics are meant to re-affirm their connection to God. Catholics then strengthen this bond throughout Lent when they fast, or alternately, make an effort to do good works for others.

Where do the ashes come from?

According to some sources, the Ash Wednesday holiday harkens back to an ancient practice of repentance seen as early as the story of Jonah and the people of the sinful city of Nineveh.

Upon hearing that God would destroy Nineveh in 40 days if they did not change their ways, the Ninevites “great and small” began fasting, wore sackcloth, and even their king “covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes.”

Early Christian communities adopted the practice of outwardly marking repentance with ashes, with the ritual appearing in the Roman Missal—the book which guides priests through the rites of the mass—as early as the eighth century, or the 700s A.D.

The ancient practice has been observed into the modern day, with one parish in Galway, Ireland, this year instituting a drive-thru service for its busy and mobile population.

“It’s about meeting people where they are,” Fr. Paddy Mooney, the priest of the parish told The Irish Catholic, a local Catholic media outlet. “We’re just putting [the initiative] in front of people to help them think of Lent, as a reminder of it.”

But what is the truth about the ashes?

The truth about the ashes is that they arise from a tradition over 2,000 years old—they serve to connect Catholics to past generations of believers, even as the Catholics wearing them today seek to bring themselves closer to God.


A Monday Blog Post: Being Active in Faith

I write to you all on this federal holiday observed in remembrance of the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in order to introduce a new series of posts that will continue for the rest of the semester. The new Monday blog series will be a chance for members of Georgetown’s Council 6375 of the Knights of Columbus to engage their faith and to create posts that encourage reflection, learning and thoughtful dialogue within the Georgetown community. It is my hope that the many varied interests of the members of our council will enliven this page from week to week and will encourage the type of introspection and insight that occurs for many within the walls of a church on Sunday to enter into the rest of the week.

I think that it is appropriate at the present time to reflect upon some of the words of Dr. King, who wrote in his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in 1963 that: “If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”

In this passage, Dr. King expressed his disappointment with many, but not all of the clergy in his place and time, whom he saw to be silent in regard to, or even supportive of the dominant system of segregation that still pervaded his society. However, his statement is still thought provoking today in the twenty-first century. It spurs people of faith to confront their own consciences and beliefs in the light of the example of the early church, and the strong faith of the martyrs, such as Saint Lucy, patron saint of eyes, who was blinded and killed during the Roman persecutions of the early fourth century.

Perhaps the best way to engage with the words of Dr. King in our own lives today would be to hear the call of Mary to the servants of the wedding at Cana from yesterday’s Gospel reading. In commanding the servants to follow her son, Mary said: “Do whatever he tells you”.

Let us all remember that in order to bear relevance upon our lives, a faith must be an active one. Let us show by our actions that we do not belong to an “irrelevant social club,” but to a dynamic community in which we hear the call to go out and “[d]o whatever he tells [us].”


Maintaining Focus

Cherry Blossoms

With the spring season underway and elation all around, it’s easy for us to lose focus of many things that are central to our lives. Beautiful weather, endless festivals, and ecstatic reunions—the perfect recipe for a grand time. All of these great things ought to be enjoyed to the fullest, but it is worth noting that there are other, more easily-forgotten things we must hold onto in the face of it all.

I like to think that a good, chivalrous man lives a well-balanced life: professionally, socially, physically, and spiritually. In order to maintain that balance, we must dedicate an equal amount of time to shaping each aspect of our lives. How frequently would you say you exercise each day? For many of us it may be anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. Now could you say that you spend an equal amount of your day meditating or in prayer? For most of us, probably not. That doesn’t seem like a well-balanced life if you ask me.

My point is, we must always aim to allocate our time wisely and remain focused on what is most important to us. Doing so is hard enough every other time of year, but the springtime can be particularly difficult with finals just around the corner. So step back, take a look at your priorities and realize what it is you desire and what kind of man you want to be. If you aren’t on the right track, then readjust and pinpoint your focus to mold your life the way you truly want it.

Written By: Michael John Poorten

Finding God in the Sophomore Slump

“An authentic life is the most personal form of worship. Everyday life has become my prayer.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach

We often hear that we should try to find God in all things, especially at a school deeply influenced by its Jesuit heritage and Ignatian spirituality. As someone who has attended a Jesuit school for high school and college, this is definitely something that I have taken to heart in my own spiritual life. Yet this year, often referred to as the “sophomore slump,” has provided many challenges to my own schedule, stress, and thus inevitably my faith.  It is too easy, after only a year at Georgetown, to get bogged down in the daily struggle, a juggling act even, as I attempt to balance my studies with my friends, my clubs with my internships, and my dreams with my jobs. When I get up in the morning and go to sleep at night, I often find myself preoccupied with my own vanity or the long list of ever-looming deadlines. Rather than seeking out God in these times of stress and chaos, I have often sought to only focus on myself and the worries of the moment. These two identities, my ego and God, are not mutually exclusive, and yet I act like I have to check off all the boxes and repeat my daily schedule while not giving myself enough time to actually reflect on what I am doing and how I am feeling. It’s one of the many bittersweet things about this school, I often find time to talk about God and the Jesuits, but I often forget to talk to God myself.

I have attempted to solve this problem by seeking out novelty in my life. It was so easy, during freshman year, to just “experience” college and engage in discussions about “higher things,” but how quickly that has changed. Everything was new and exciting, and each class and experience became a lifelong memory. Freshman year has become a source of unparalleled nostalgia, while sophomore year seems to have simply “been.” Don’t get me wrong, I have had a great year. I have held leadership in clubs, seen my grades improve, and found many new friends. I find myself wondering how I have changed in the past 8 months, and I think that I have changed more on my Resume than I have as a person. While I do not think that I have gone wrong in the last year in any of my trajectories, I just feel like I have spent more time updating my calendar and less time finding God. In other words this year has been defined by many wonderful verses, but without a common refrain to unite them into one cohesive whole.

Rather than just completing each task as if part of unending cycle, I have continued to study and work while keeping my eyes open to the world around me. I consider Healy Hall to be a very tangible manifestation of this process. The first time that I visited campus and looked up at Healy, a feeling of warmth and joy came over me. It encompassed all the incredible things about Georgetown and all the hard work that I had put into my application in order to be accepted here. In less than a year, it had become simply a long stretch of broken bricks separating the library from by bedroom in Copley. How can you not look up at the clock tower and not suddenly become aware of the importance of this school and your four years here? For me this reflects a greater yearning in my spiritual life to be steadfastly grateful for all the people and things that have made me who I am. How can I look around and not see God in those people that I love most? The answer is that I simply cannot, the two are just too intertwined in my mind. I still get that same chill when I look at Healy, and I hope that I can find something similar in my daily interactions with my friends and family. These little things, a smile from a friend or a kind comment from a teacher, are the daily affirmations that make my days worth living. God is made manifest to me in these little moments of love and kindness, but it is up to me to look around and be truly present to those around me.

Written By: Jared Ison

The School of Georgetown – Come One, Come All

The School of Athens - Raphael

A warm welcome to all of our returning and newly initiated brothers within the Knights of Columbus. I would just like to take the time to congratulate all of our newest initiates in their taking up the banner of the Knights of Columbus. By virtue of your induction, all of you, like all of your brothers before you, have sworn to uphold our order’s virtues of Charity, Unity, Fraternity, and Patriotism. To be a member of this brotherhood is both and honor and a duty, as you will soon come to realize. Here you will be expected to not only hold yourselves to the highest standard but to act in accordance with that standard. You must not only be virtuous, but also emanate it; you must be a beacon of hope for our faith in what seems to be a dark age of prejudice and apathy. Spread the love and benevolence of our divine father to the far reaches of the world, and in the words of our patron St. Ignatius of Loyola, “go forth and set the world on fire.”

Now to more mundane matters.

This semester, I hope to reinvigorate this forum into a place of expression, discussion, and community; our own theological school of Athens so to speak. Generally, we will host traditional submissions from our members as we have always done, posting them on a weekly basis at the least (this of course depends on submission volume). However, this semester our worthy Outside Guard Luke Schafer is instituting member spotlights, which are small interviews in which members can gain a sense of each other’s experiences and role within the council. I myself am ruminating on the creation of a monthly debate series in which one theological principle or topic will be brought to the table and open for discussion and argumentation (for instance there may be one topic of the nature of infused knowledge). Whether this will be entirely done through the blog or in an outside event remains to be seen. These postings will follow a weekly format, with this being our first tentative step into a reemergence of theological and introspective thought within the council. I will follow this post this coming Sunday with a piece regarding the nature of what it means to be a knight within the Knights of Columbus.


P.S.: I will also be modifying the physical nature of the blog, so do not be surprised if you see multiple theme changes occur in rapid succession.

Michael L. Scialpi is the Recorder of the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus College Council.