According to his longtime consigliere, Edwin Meese, President Ronald Reagan must have told the “pony joke” at least a thousand times. The story involves the super-optimistic child whose parents take him to a psychiatrist, along with his super-pessimistic twin, so the doctor can evaluate their extreme personalities. The pessimistic little boy is brought into a room full of toys and immediately bursts into tears. “Don’t you want to play with the toys?” the psychiatrist asks. “Yes,” the youngster bawls, “but if I did, I’d only break them.” The optimistic child is taken to a room filled with horse muck. Does the child turn up his nose? No, the little boy starts digging. “What are you doing?” the startled psychiatrist asks. “Well, with all this muck,” the child answers, “there must be a pony in here somewhere!”
Amid the detritus of Synod-2019, which included everything from blatant heterodoxy to guerrilla theater to a senior churchman denouncing responsible critics of the synod as hired guns of oil companies, there is, in fact, a pony to be found. For whatever else it may or may not have accomplished, Synod-2019 was an unmistakable moment of clarification and a stern summons to responsibility. That’s the pony amid the muck.
To understand what all that might mean, I offer some synthetic conclusions on Synod-2019, attempting to draw together many of the threads of conversation and controversy that unfolded in Rome these past three weeks.
The Cards Are Now Face-Up on the Table. Most importantly, Synod-2019 served the very useful purpose of casting in sharp relief the grave doctrinal and theological issues facing the Church, today and in the immediate future. During the synod, positions were taken; the theological orientations and pastoral stances of various personalities were identified; and as of October 28, 2019, it is impossible for anyone in a position of ecclesiastical responsibility to deny what is at stake, save for reasons of inattention, indifference, or fear.
And what, precisely, is at stake, after this synod and its predecessors during the current pontificate? Conversations with both elders of the Church and knowledgeable observers suggest that we have reached several bottom lines.
At stake is the reality and binding authority of divine revelation as conveyed to us by Scripture and Tradition. Does revelation judge history—including this historical moment and its legitimate concerns about the environment—or does history judge revelation (and thus demand, for example, that 21st-century Catholicism jettison the biblical view of humanity’s unique, and uniquely responsible, position in the natural world)?
At stake is the magisterium of Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI as the authentic interpretation of the Second Vatican Council—an interpretation that underwrites the vitality of the New Evangelization in the living parts of the world Church.
Read more at First Things.