In his historic address to the Joint Session of Congress on Thursday, Pope Francis talked to the members of Congress about climate change, immigration, family and poverty. Those are things Tea Party Republicans didn’t want to hear. But they may have hit John Boehner hard.
The Pope opened his speech by thanking the members of Congress and the Senate for inviting him to speak to them. Then the Pope shifted gears and talked about the “personal and social responsibility” that individuals have, that this country has, and that the members of Congress have, “to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good.”
Next, the Pope spoke about how he would like to enter into dialogue with the, “many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time — to build a better life for their families,” and “with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience.”
The Pope then went on to talk about “several great Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton”. Tea Party Republicans must have cringed when he mentioned Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King in the same breath, especially since conservative Republicans have moved so far away from the principles of equality that Lincoln stood for. But there is a good possibility that many of the Republicans in Congress do not know who Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton were, although it is quite certain that House Speaker John Boehner, who is a Catholic, know exactly who they were.
Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was an American Catholic writer, poet, social activist, and a Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, in Kentucky. Merton is most famous for his book, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948), in which he reflected on his early life and on the quest for faith in God that led to his conversion to Roman Catholicism when he was 23.
Dorothy Day (1897 – 1980) was an American journalist, pacifist, social activist, and like Merton, a Catholic convert. Day advocated the Catholic economic theory of distributism, which states that property ownership is a fundamental human right, and the means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the people and not centralized under the control of a few individuals or corporations.
Next the Pope talked about the disturbing social and political situation of the world today, and how our response should be one of hope and healing, peace and justice, instead of violence. He then said that, “The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States.” That call must have been painful to the Republicans in both the House and Senate who have been almost totally unwilling to cooperate with anything President Obama has proposed to do. Instead the Republicans in Congress and the Senate seem to do everything possible to be uncooperative.
The Pope then quoted the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The Pope then tied that quote from the Declaration of Independence to the political climate in American today. “If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance.” Republican conservatives must have cringed again, since what the Pope criticized is the basis for their approach to politics.
The Pope then turned his attention to the immigration crisis and he told the Joint Session of Congress that we must not fear foreigners, because most of our ancestors were immigrants who came to this country for the same reason that people are emigrating across the Mexican/American border today – “to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom.” The Pope emphasized his point by reminding the members of Congress and the Senate to remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).
The Pope than quoted his encyclical Laudato Si in which he wrote that the “environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” Pope Francis ended his speech by talking to the members of Congress about families and how he will end his visit to the US by taking part in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. He said that he wanted families to be a recurrent theme throughout his visit to the United States.
The Pope said that the family has been essential to the building of this country, and that the family should continue to have our support and encouragement. Then he said, “Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.”
“Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without.”
Vice President Joe Bidden and House Speaker John Boehner, who are both practicing Catholics, sat behind Pope Francis during the Pope’s speech, and the Pope’s message may have hit home for both men, particularly for Republican House Speaker John Boehner who announced yesterday that he will resign as Speaker and leave his seat at the end of October.
The Pope’s speech to Congress left Boehner caught between a rock and a hard place. As a Catholic, Boehner’s religious leader was telling him that climate change, immigration, poverty are vitally important things that politicians should do something about now. But at the same time, Boehner has been under heavy pressure from conservative Republicans, who have accused him of failing to fight the Obama administration on issues important to the GOP; the same issues that the Pope took an opposite view of than the conservative Republicans. Maybe, the Pope’s speech to Congress was the last straw and Boehner said, “I’ve had enough of this Tea Party BS. I’m out of here.”