The Synod: In Poetry and Prose

Note: we are probably reaching the Post-Synodal Overload Point. But these two regular TCT writers (Anthony Esolen and Fr. Mark Pilon) submitted such interesting – and different – commentaries, that we thought we might run them both today. – RR


A Parable for the Synod

by Anthony Esolen

Much has been made at the recent Synod of the parable of the Prodigal Son. People who try with all their hearts to honor the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage have been cast as the elder son in Jesus’ parable, who resents his brother, the penitent wastrel. That is uncharitable and unjust. Allow me a parable that more accurately portrays our situation:

A man had two sons.  And the younger said to his father, “Give me my half of the estate, quick.” So the father divided the estate, and gave half to his son, who took the proceeds and went to live in a far country, where he spent half upon drink and whores, but invested the rest in a business importing fish, so that when a famine struck the land, he became wealthy.

After he had lain with a score of women, he married and divorced, and took a curly-haired Greek lad into his home, lying with him as with a woman.

One day he recalled the holy feasts he had enjoyed at his father’s house, and he shed a tear, which he wiped soon, and said to his bedfellow, “Pedophilus, let us arise and go now unto my father’s house, for there they enjoy holy feasts, which this land is empty of.” So they set forth.

When they were yet a distance away, his father saw him and came running, and threw his arms about his neck and kissed him.  And the son said, “Father, I have grown rich in a far country. Here is my friend, with whom I lie as with a woman, and to whom I have given rings and shoes and fine robes. Now go slay the fatted calf, for I am famished for celebration, and long to see the holy things again.” But the father hesitated. “Be off with you,” said the son. “I have returned!”

So the father did as he was commanded, with a troubled mind and a heavy heart.

When it came time to pray, the younger son bowed his head and squeezed the hand of his bedfellow. “I shall go in unto the altar of God,” they said, “of God, the joy of my youth.” The younger son shed a tear, because he had returned, and then wiped it soon, and gave his friend a wink.

So it was for many years. Every Sabbath the father presided over the feast, and his mind grew a little soft and his heart grew a little hard. Meanwhile, the customs of the far country spread into that land, and it was said that they lived like the angels, neither marrying nor giving in marriage, but lying with one another all the same. Still the father wished it were not so.

Pope Francis embraces homosexual friends in Washington
Pope Francis embraces homosexual friends in Washington, 2015


Through all these years, the elder son tended his father’s fields, draining the meadows, sowing the barley, clearing the weeds, reaping the stalks, winnowing the fruit from the chaff, milling the grain and hauling it in sacks back to the estate. He had married too, a good and patient woman. They had one child, a son. The boy loved them dearly, and from his earliest years followed his father about his work, lending a hand whenever he could. He grew in wisdom and stature, ruddy in the cheek and broad of shoulder.

“Father,” said the boy, “why does my uncle do what he does?”

“He does not understand,” said his father, the elder son. “You must pray for your uncle.”

One day a girl from the far country came to the boy and said, “Joshua, you are as handsome as a stag. Come lie with me.” And her eyes glanced like sunlight upon the waters. The boy walked past, and she laughed at him and called him an evil name.

“Father,” said the boy, “why does my grandfather allow it?”

“He is old and weary,” said his father, the elder son. “You must pray for your grandfather.” So he returned to his work, more alone now than ever.  But the people mocked him, and called him a broken stone from a ruined house. And the boy burned in shame, and he defended his father. Sometimes he came home in tears, bloody and bruised, with the flesh raw on his knuckles.  Still the girls beckoned to him and said, “Joshua, Joshua the handsome, come lie with us.”

But the grandfather grew accustomed to the new ways. One day he threw a great feast, and invited all of the harlots of the land to enjoy their harlotry, and he set up a golden calf in the midst, and a statue of a god with crisped hair, and another with the body of a man and the head of a dog, and he cried out to all, “Come feast with us, for the Lord has blessed us with abundant riches!” And there was the noise of licentiousness and revelry.

And it came to pass that the elder son and his boy were coming from the fields, filthy to the knees with mud. When they heard the noise of the feast, they asked a servant what it might be. “Your father has slain a dozen calves, because he has come to his senses, and has decided to take into his home one of the women from the far country.”

Then the elder son shed a tear, and he beckoned to the boy. “Come, son,” he said. “Let us go home and pray.”

But Joshua said, “No, I will not go with you.” And he walked with the servant toward the great house.

“Son,” pleaded the father, “do not abandon me! You are with me always, and everything that I have is yours!”

“Father,” said Joshua, “I have loved you all my life.  But you have nothing, and you are a fool.” And he turned and went.


What a Strange Conclusion

by Fr. Mark Pilon

The Synod has ended, and what a strange thing it is to hear the sighs of relief coming from some respected quarters of the Church. “It didn’t contradict the teachings of the Church.” “There is no doctrinal error in anything that has been published.” “The Synod itself is much, much better than the worst we have feared.” How did we arrive at the point where we are rejoicing that a Synod didn’t overthrow the teachings of the Church, and the Synod turned out to be much better than we had feared? That’s quite a commentary on the state of the Church today.

A woman asked me what I foresee as the Synod’s outcome. I think she was a bit shocked when I said “absolutely nothing.” The Synod has now come and gone, the final report has been issued, and the pope may write his own exhortation. And little or nothing will change in the actual life of the Church when it comes to marriage and the family. Such verbose documents are read by very few Catholics. Such documents bore because they contain the new Vaticanese in which wordiness and vagueness often cloud clarity and intelligibility. Synods are like all bureaucracies when they try to compose such documents.

What will impact the Church most, probably, is Pope Francis’s altering of the code of Canon Law to make it easier for people to get annulments, but even that will not greatly change the present situation of the Church. What the motu proprio endorses and what the so-called Synod “progressives” desired to become universal law, allowing the divorced and remarried to receive Communion, are already widespread practices. That’s why nothing will really change much. This radical suggestion at the Synod was merely trying to give justification to what’s already going on.

That’s what was so unreal about these hot button topics at the Synod. Is there any doubt that, at least in the European churches, but in many other churches as well, the divorced and remarried are already getting the so-called internal forum solution, if they bother seeking it? Indeed, the situation has “progressed” to the point today where such alienated Catholics really don’t bother, because they only show up for Communion once or twice a year, or perhaps when they attend weddings and funerals in the Church. So they don’t bother asking priests for permission. Receiving Communion no longer has any meaning for them; the polls confirm that only a minority of Catholics in the Western world believe in the Real Presence. It’s just a matter of politeness to take part in the ceremony, but it has little or nothing to do with faith.

John Paul II blesses a married couple in Scotland, 1982
John Paul II blesses a married couple in Scotland, 1982

This parallels the pope’s rather unrealistic, lopsided, and incessant attacks on people who are “tied to the rules,” which almost sounds antinomian. More importantly, one might honestly ask him just where in the contemporary Church are all these people obsessed with “rules”? Unless you’re talking about the rules for financial support of the Church in Germany! Where are all these hard-nosed bishops who are sitting in the chair of Moses judging people? Have you run into any lately? Since Vatican II, Church discipline has taken a nosedive, and nobody seems to be punished today for anything, including the most heretical opinions.

Yet the Pontiff regularly scolds “closed hearted,” “judgmental” people who “hide behind the Church’s teachings” and with an air of superiority condemn people who have family problems. Even The Washington Post noticed his tone as one of “scolding” those who disagreed with him, inevitably directed at people whom he considers too “traditionalist” in one way or another. Yet surely the number of people who might fall into this category has to constitute a minority in the Church where 80 percent of the people blithely ignore Church teaching on contraception and 60 percent on abortion, divorce, and remarriage. Moreover, the pope never adopts this tone when towards those who are too “progressive,” a rather rare occurrence in comparison with his attacks on traditionalists. And the former are surely a much larger number in the Western world than the rigid traditionalists that he seems to be almost allergic to. I wonder if the Church in Argentina or Buenos Aires was filled with traditionalists who opposed his episcopacy; is that the root of this animosity?

It’s also striking how little the teaching of St. John Paul II seems to have been absorbed by many bishops, assuming that the Synod was truly representative. That’s another reason I think the Synod will have little impact. Cardinal Pell mentioned that the bishops had very little Thomistic underpinning, but what is far more serious was the obvious fact that they had so little familiarity with the most substantial teaching on marriage in the history of the Church ,found in the writings of St. John Paul II. You have to wonder if in fact it was largely rejected by European church leaders over the past few decades, as it clearly seems to have been by men like Cardinal Danneels.

One of the more promising revelations at the Synod, however, was the performance of the American bishops who seem to have more deeply assimilated JPII’s teaching – with one notable exception, and he was the first major U.S. appointment by our present pope. That may not bode well for the future. Documents do not reform the Church; bishops do. What I fear most is that the Pope Francis may now try to remake the American episcopacy in the image of the enlightened European contingent, which has all but destroyed the Catholic Church in Europe; especially if he comes to view the U.S. bishops as among the recalcitrant or traditionalist element at the 2015 Synod.

Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. Among his books are Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World, and most recently The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord. He is Distinguished Professor at Thales College. Be sure to visit his new website, Word and Song.

Fr. Mark A. Pilon (1943-2018) was a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, VA. He received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Santa Croce University in Rome. He was a former Chair of Systematic Theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary, and a retired and visiting professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. He writes regularly at