From the Cardinal: To adore and to serve |  January 19, 2024

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Vol. 5. No. 9 

My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

In his homily for the closing Mass of the Synod last October (see selection below), Pope Francis reflected on our Lord’s response to the question, “Which commandment of the Law is the greatest?” (Mt 22:36). As the Holy Father reminds us, 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).

Our lives as missionary disciples of Jesus Christ can be described as a spiritual journey whose sole object is to be united with God and one another. To obtain this goal, we must learn to recognize the absolute importance of loving God and our neighbor in ways that require us to set aside self-centeredness and to commit to the two principles that Pope Francis identifies as “adoration and service.”

Adoration is the way we show our love for God. We’re familiar with the more formal expression of adoration in the time we spend praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. We believe that Christ is truly present to us in the Holy Eucharist, so our reverence for Him in this act of adoration is a powerful sign of our love for God. At the same time, what Pope Francis calls adoration extends beyond this prayerful expression before the Tabernacle to all aspects of our daily lives. We worship God when we make His will our first priority, when we reject all of the temptations that would lead us to sin, and when we live as God asks us to live—forsaking all idols and worshipping Him alone. We adore God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind when we make our daily lives an act of loving witness to the truth of God’s closeness to us.

The second way that we show our love for God and our neighbor is through service, especially when we serve those who are poor and vulnerable. The service expected from us is humble and selfless, and it is modeled in the life and teaching of our Redeemer who came to serve, not to be served (Mt 20:28). In the end, loving our neighbor is inseparable from loving God wholeheartedly, so for us Christians adoration and service are inseparable expressions of the same love, and both must be integral to everything we say and do.

During the next several months, I will be using this newsletter to offer my reflections on the Synthesis Report that was issued following the Synod last October. Dioceses throughout the Universal Church have been asked to find ways of reflecting on the Synthesis Report in order to provide a direct link to the General Secretariat of the Synod. “By taking their starting point from the convergences already reached, they are called to focus on the questions and proposals that are considered most urgent,” the Report’s Introduction states. In addition, “they are asked to encourage a deepening of the issues both pastorally and theologically, and to indicate their canonical implications.” 

Our Archdiocese will participate formally in this process, but I hope my personal reflections as one who was privileged to attend the Synod’s meetings last October will be helpful for those who wish to better understand what synodality means and why it is so important for us today.

May all of us grow in our spiritual journey toward love of God and neighbor. And may Blessed Mary and all the Saints accompany us as we make adoration and service our life’s work.

Sincerely yours in Christ the Redeemer, 
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R. 
Archbishop of Newark  

A Synodal Church in Mission: Synthesis Report

A Selection from the Synthesis Report’s Introduction

  • “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:13). This is the experience, full of joy and gratitude, that we have had in this First Session of the Synodal Assembly held from 4 to 29 October 2023 on the theme “For a Synodal Church. Communion, Participation, Mission”. Despite our diversity of backgrounds, languages and cultures, through the common grace of Baptism we have been able to live these days together with one heart and spirit. We have sought to sing like a choir, many voices as though expressing one soul.  The Holy Spirit has gifted us with an experience of the harmony that He alone can generate; it is a gift and a witness in a world that is torn and divided.  
  • The Synthesis Report is structured in three parts. The first outlines “the face of the synodal Church”, presenting the practice and understanding of synodality and its theological underpinning. Here it is presented first and foremost as a spiritual experience that stems from contemplation of the Trinity and unfolds by articulating unity and variety in the Church. The second part, entitled “All disciples, all missionaries”, deals with all those involved in the life and mission of the Church and their relationships with one another. In this part, synodality is mainly presented as a joint journey of the People of God and as a fruitful dialogue between the charisms and ministries at the service of the coming of the Kingdom. The third part bears the title “Weaving bonds, building community”. Here, synodality is presented mainly as a set of processes and as a network of bodies enabling exchange between the Churches and dialogue with the world. 
  • In each of the three parts, individual chapters bring together convergences, matters for consideration and proposals that emerged from the dialogue. The convergences identify specific points that orientate reflection, akin to a map that helps us find our way. The matters for consideration summarize points about which it is necessary to continue deepening our understanding pastorally, theologically, and canonically. This is like being at a crossroads where we need to pause so we can understand better the direction we need to take. The proposals indicate possible paths that can be taken. Some are suggested, others recommended, others still requested with some strength and determination.   
  • We carry in our hearts the desire, sustained by hope, that the climate of mutual listening and sincere dialogue that we experienced during the days of common work in Rome will radiate in our communities and throughout the world, at the service of the growth of the good seed of the Kingdom of God. 

A Message from Pope Francis: Words of Challenge and Hope  

(Selected from the Holy Father’s Homily for the Closing Session of the Synod on Synodality, October 29, 2023)

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).

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 centre 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.

In the section "My Prayer for You", Cardinal Tobin is standing with his hands together in prayer.

My Prayer for You  

Please join me in praying with the words of our Holy Father Pope Francis at the conclusion on his homily on October 29, 2023:

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!