Gaudium et Spes,” the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, has wisdom for today. It surpasses the usual divides.

By the end of 1965, the council fathers had spent time on life-changing internal matters like liturgy and church leadership. With that holy foundation set, they turned to how the church relates to the contemporary world.

“The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of those of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ,” began “Gaudium et Spes.”

This was earthshaking. It reminded everyone that the church is not separate from humanity but is a divine expression within human experience. Circling the wagons and setting up an exemplary but distinct universe was not to be the church’s approach, much as some leaders liked that model. No, the church was to be involved in the nitty and gritty of human existence: family life, economics, politics.

This supercharged the social ministry of the church, a proud and noble tradition. But “Gaudium et Spes” did not envision the church as a fantastic social agency. Instead, the interaction between church and world was seen as a mission of transformation and salvation.

The council wrote: “Pursuing the saving purpose which is proper to her, the Church does not only communicate divine life to humanity but in some way casts the reflected light of that life over the entire earth, most of all by its healing and elevating impact on the dignity of the person, by the way in which it strengthens the seams of human society and imbues everyday activity with a deeper meaning and importance.”

The lesson for today? Trying to save souls without works of truth and justice simply won’t work. And good works without faith miss the point.

In 2021, all Catholics can agree on this course, which honors both divine teaching and human experience.