Friday, September 25, 2015

Boehner's Tears, The Handshake & The Global Pope

Republican Speaker John Boehner's had enough [Photo - AP]
The live broadcast of Pope Francis' speech to the joint session of Congress filled me with a sense of awe at the depth of the message he brought to a chamber that has been so polarized, toxic and politically dysfunctional.

There's something about his presence and the carefully measured tone in which he speaks that makes him fascinating to watch.

The aura His Holiness projects clearly affects those around him, including Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, who was noticeably teary-eyed as the Pope spoke yesterday before shocking the political world with the news of his resignation this morning.

I guess even he's had enough of the small faction of extremist Republican Congressman who are determined to intentionally shut down the government, risk the stability of the largest economy in the world and affect the lives of millions of people over the personal desire of a few to defund Planned Parenthood - an organization that provides critical health care services for thousands of women across the nation who might not otherwise be able to afford or access such care.

Is the morality of a handful of elected politicians really more important than the best interests of over 300 million people? From the standpoint of their twisted logic, it is. Perhaps they think that will help Republican efforts to recapture the White House in 2016 - that dripping you hear is the sound of Hillary Clinton drooling.

Some media pundits are speculating that the staunchly Catholic Boehner's decision was a carefully calculated strategic political decision designed to prevent a government shutdown by removing the power of the threat of the Tea Party wing-nut faction to remove him from the Speaker's chair; which they wanted to use as a wedge to force him to go along with their government shutdown fantasy.

But I have to believe that the toxic anti-immigrant hatred of Donald Trump, Ben Carson's Islamophobia and Ted Cruz's detached lunacy, plus the weight of Pope Francis' words had to have played a part in his decision to step down from one of the most powerful political positions in DC.

Pope Francis greets Sec of State John Kerry
To me, Rachel Maddow provided one of the most insightful aspects of the Pope's visit; his choice to shake the hand of one person in the Congressional chamber; that of Secretary of State John Kerry.

In one handshake the Pope publicly repudiated the rigidly conservative Catholic Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former Archbishop of St. Louis who, as MSNBC reported, "made headlines by criticizing Ted Kennedy's funeral and John Kerry's worthiness of holy communion."

Cardinal Burke's open scorn for feminism has made him seem more like a musty 15th century church relic than the leader of 21st century Catholicism and demoting Burke to a meaningless symbolic position in the church was one of Pope Francis' first major personnel changes to clean up the Catholic hierarchy when he was elected Pope.

Regardless of religious background, the Pope's visit to America has sparked such an amazing range of interesting conversations and discussions on a vast array of topics; I suspect his mentioning of influential American figures like Dorothy Day (1897 - 1980) and Thomas Merton (1915 - 1968) will expand the perspectives of untold numbers of people who were never exposed to them in school or college or were unaware of their influence on the 20th century.

For example, earlier this morning on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC, during a discussion about the impact of the Pope's visit, speech and role in the world today, Brian invited Catholic immigrants in this country to call in to the show and share their observations.

A woman from the Dominican Republic called in to say that she wanted to see the Pope doing more to raise awareness of the DR government's plan to deport thousands of dark-skinned Haitian people who've lived across the border in the DR for years (some for generations) and repatriating them back to Haiti against their will.

While that example of a government instituting a race-based immigration policy is troubling given how close the two nations are to each other in more than just geography, I think the woman's desire to see the Pope use his influence to intervene demonstrates not just the high expectations that people have of his role as the head of the Catholic Church, but the tremendous respect they have for his authority and willingness to tailor the role of the church to be more relevant to the issues facing humanity in the 21st century.

His authority has nothing to do with warships, bombers, combat troops or drones.

From the global reaction to his tenure as Pope thus far, and his willingness to use the template of the moral convictions of Christian theology to address contemporary issues like wealth inequality, poverty, war and climate change, it's clear Pope Francis wields a powerful authority that transcends the physical.

More and more, he seems to be a Pope for all people around the globe - regardless of how they choose to worship.

Pope Francis is a religious leader who seems to transcend religion, geographic borders and the petty differences which divide so many of us that are symptomatic of a deep spiritual longing.

Frankly, if Rush Limbaugh calls Pope Francis a "Marxist", then he's gotta be doing something right. 

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