Cardinal Seán's Blog

Cardinal Seán O’Malley shares his reflections and experiences

Day: November 3, 2023

Concluding the first session of the Synod

Hello and welcome!

As many may know, this past weekend, we wrapped up our work for this session of the Synod on Synodality, and there are a couple of final events in Rome that I would like to share with you.

Last Friday, with the wars raging in Israel, Gaza and Ukraine, the Holy Father invited us all to be part of a rosary and benediction at St. Peter’s Basilica, praying for peace.  The Holy Father led us in prayers, and synod members led the decades of the rosary in different languages.  There were also meditations on the different mysteries.


The closing Mass of the synod was Sunday morning at the basilica.  Of course, many clergy, religious, members of the diplomatic corps and pilgrims gathered with us for the Mass and the basilica was packed.


It was a very moving experience, and the Holy Father gave a wonderful homily, which I would like to share with you here:

A doctor of the Law comes to Jesus under a pretext, in order to test him.  The question he asks, however, is an important and enduring one that, at times, arises in our own hearts and in the life of the Church: “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Mt 22:36).  We too, immersed in the living stream of Tradition, can ask: “What is the most important thing?  What is the driving force?” What matters so much as to be the guiding principle of everything?  Jesus’ answer is clear: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:37-39).

Brother Cardinals, Bishops and priests, men and women Religious, dear brothers and sisters, at the conclusion of this stage of our journey, it is important to look at the “principle and foundation” from which everything begins ever anew: by loving.  Loving God with our whole life and loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Not our strategies, our human calculations, the ways of the world, but love of God and neighbor: that is the heart of everything.  And how do we channel this momentum of love?  I would propose two verbs, two movements of the heart, on which I would like to reflect: to adore and to serve.  We love God through adoration and service.

The first verb, adore.  To love is to adore.  Adoration is the first response we can offer to God’s gratuitous and astonishing love.  The amazement of adoration, the wonder of worship, is something essential in the life of the Church, especially in our own day in which we have abandoned the practice of adoration.  To adore God means to acknowledge in faith that he alone is Lord and that our individual lives, the Church’s pilgrim way and the ultimate outcome of history all depend on the tenderness of his love.  He gives meaning to our lives.

In worshiping God, we rediscover that we are free.  That is why the Scriptures frequently associate love of the Lord with the fight against every form of idolatry.  Those who worship God reject idols because whereas God liberates, idols enslave.  Idols deceive us and never bring to pass what they promise, because they are “the work of men’s hands” (Ps 115:4).  Scripture is unbending with regard to idolatry, because idols are made and manipulated by men, while God, the Living God, is present and transcendent; he is the one “who is not what I imagine him to be, who does not depend on what I expect from him and who can thus upset my expectations, precisely because he is alive.  The proof that we do not always have the right idea about God is that at times we are disappointed: We think: ‘I expected one thing, I imagined that God would behave like this, and instead I was wrong’.  But in this way, we turn back to the path of idolatry, wanting the Lord to act according to the image we have of him” (C.M. Martini, I grandi della Bibbia. Esercizi spirituali con l’Antico Testamento, Florence, 2022, 826-827).  We are always at risk of thinking that we can “control God”, that we can confine his love to our own agenda.  Instead, the way he acts is always unpredictable, it transcends our thinking, and God’s way of acting consequently demands amazement and adoration.  Amazement is very important!

We must constantly struggle against all types of idolatry; not only the worldly kinds, which often stem from vainglory, such as lust for success, self-centeredness, greed for money – let us not forget that the devil enters “through the pockets”, the enticements of careerism; but also those forms of idolatry disguised as spirituality – my own spirituality: my own religious ideas, my own pastoral skills… Let us be vigilant, lest we find that we are putting ourselves at the center rather than him.  And let us return to worship.  May worship be central for those of us who are pastors: let us devote time every day to intimacy with Jesus the Good Shepherd, adoring him in the tabernacle.  May the Church adore: in every diocese, in every parish, in every community, let us adore the Lord!  Only in this way will we turn to Jesus and not to ourselves.  For only through silent adoration will the Word of God live in our words; only in his presence will we be purified, transformed and renewed by the fire of his Spirit.  Brothers and sisters, let us adore the Lord Jesus!

The second verb is to serve.  To love is to serve.  In the great commandment, Christ binds God and neighbor together so that they will never be disconnected.  There can be no true religious experience that is deaf to the cry of the world.  There is no love of God without care and concern for our neighbor; otherwise, we risk becoming pharisaic.  We may have plenty of good ideas on how to reform the Church, but let us remember: to adore God and to love our brothers and sisters with his love, that is the great and perennial reform.  To be a worshiping Church and a Church of service, washing the feet of wounded humanity, accompanying those who are frail, weak and cast aside, going out lovingly to encounter the poor.  We heard in the first reading how God commanded this.

Brothers and sisters, I think of the victims of the atrocities of war; the sufferings of migrants, the hidden pain of those who are living alone and in poverty; those who are crushed by the burdens of life; those who have no more tears to shed, those who have no voice.  And I think too of how often, behind fine words and attractive promises, people are exploited or nothing is done to prevent that from happening.  It is a grave sin to exploit the vulnerable, a grave sin that corrodes fraternity and devastates society.  As disciples of Jesus, we desire to bring to the world a different type of leaven, that of the Gospel.  To put God in first place and, together with him, those whom he especially loves: the poor and the weak.

This, brothers and sisters, is the Church we are called to “dream”: a Church that is the servant of all, the servant of the least of our brothers and sisters.  A Church that never demands an attestation of “good behavior” but welcomes, serves, loves and forgives.  A Church with open doors that is a haven of mercy.  “The merciful man”, said John Chrysostom, “is as a harbor to those who are in need; and the harbor receives all who are escaping shipwreck, and frees them from danger, whether they be evil or good; whatsoever kind of men they be that are in peril, it receives them into its shelter.  You also, when you see a man suffering shipwreck on land through poverty, do not sit in judgment on him, nor require explanations, but relieve his distress.” (In pauperem Lazarum, II, 5).

Brothers and sisters, the General Assembly of the Synod has now concluded.  In this “conversation of the Spirit,” we have experienced the loving presence of the Lord and discovered the beauty of fraternity.  We have listened to one another and above all, in the rich variety of our backgrounds and concerns, we have listened to the Holy Spirit.  Today we do not see the full fruit of this process, but with farsightedness we look to the horizon opening up before us.  The Lord will guide us and help us to be a more synodal and missionary Church, a Church that adores God and serves the women and men of our time, going forth to bring to everyone the consoling joy of the Gospel.

Brothers and sisters, I thank you for all that you have done during the Synod and for all you continue to do.  Thank you for the journey we have made together, for your listening and your dialogue.  In expressing my gratitude, I would also like to offer a prayer for all of us: may we grow in our worship of God and in our service to our neighbor.  To adore and to serve.  May the Lord accompany us.  Let us go forward with joy!

The synod ended with votes on a number of proposals that were given to the Holy Father as recommendations.  And, of course, the synod did not really end because it has two sessions.  Next October will be the second session, and out of that, a more definitive document will be developed.

I think people found it a very engaging and uplifting experience of communion and fraternity within the Church.  There was such an array of representatives from all over the world.  It certainly was very different from other synods that were perforce, very stylized and without the same kind of participation.  During the course of the synod, people were changed to three different tables, so you were involved in conversations with different groups of people.  It was a very interesting way to have intense communication and participation in the whole process.

With this synod, the Holy Father is trying to teach us a new way to relate to each other in the Church and to have greater participation and dialogue that can result in a deeper communion and greater motivation to evangelize and to carry out the mission of the Church.

I returned to Boston on Monday, and on Tuesday, I gave the invocation at a breakfast gathering entitled “At the Intersection of Values and Finance,” sponsored by a consortium of organizations, including the Haitian Project, Thursday Men’s Breakfast, Young Catholic Professionals Boston, Catholic Charities Boston, the Notre Dame Business Council, The Brown Club of Boston.  It was a very well-attended event, and there were about 800 people gathered there.

Jack Connors offered introductory remarks, and the main feature of the event was a conversation with Brian Moynihan, the president of Bank of America.  Bank of America is one of the largest corporations in the U.S.  This has, of course, placed Brian Moynihan in a position of world leadership on many issues of economics and banking.  He is present every year for the Davos conference, and he is also one of the advisors to the Holy See on financial matters.

He gave a very interesting witness of his faith and values, and how this influences his profession.  He also talked about his long association with the Church and his philanthropic endeavors, both in the States and in Haiti.  I think people were very edified by the witness of this Catholic business leader who is so involved in many different issues, both in society and the Church.

Tuesday, I was happy to meet with George Martell and his wife Susan at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross to present George with the Cheverus Award Medal.  Most of this year’s recipients will receive their award at the end of the month, but they are moving, and I wanted to give it to him before he left.

George has practically been an institution in the archdiocese because of the work he did with communications and his photography.  George is a true artist and a man of deep faith, and he and Susan are so committed to the mission of the Church.   Now, after so many years of association with the archdiocese, they are moving to Florida.  We will certainly miss them.

Thursday, we had a meeting of our Presbyteral Council.  Perhaps the most interesting item on our agenda was a report by Father Bob Murray, the pastor of Mary, Queen of the Apostles Parish in Salem, who was in Israel on pilgrimage with a group of his parishioners when the war broke out.  He spoke of their experience trying to get out of the country and was very grateful for all the support he received from Joe McGinnis in our Office of Risk Management.  As Father Murray said, “This is your Catholic Appeal dollars at work!”

He said that they chose to travel during October because that’s the worst time to be in Salem.  But, he said that he discovered there was something worse than that – being stuck in a war!

It was quite interesting to hear exactly what he and his group of pilgrims went through, but thank God, the whole group was able to return safely, and they were very grateful for the help of the Office of Risk Management to make that happen.

Until next week,

Cardinal Seán

November 2023