Washington was stunned on Friday when Congressman Boehner announced his resignation from both his position as Speaker of the House of Representatives and his Congressional seat, effective at the end of October. His abrupt announcement and rather rushed departure led to an intense buzzing around town. It seemed that everyone was speculating about how he came to this decision, and maybe more importantly, when.
The Speaker did not shed too much light on what led up to his decision during the press conference on Friday. What he did share led everyone to believe this was an almost impulsive act on his part when he said; “So before I went to sleep last night, I told my wife, I said, ‘You know, I might just make an announcement tomorrow. This morning I woke up, said my prayers, as I always do, and thought, ‘This is the day I am going to do this.’ It’s hard to believe it was that simple to resign from a hard earned and powerful position that many of his colleagues aspire to. So what could have been behind this life-changing decision?
Perhaps the biggest clue lies in Boehner’s words when he talked about waking up and saying “my prayers, as I always do and thought this is the day…” In this one small statement, he is offering a powerful reason, that his decision was influenced by his faith. Perhaps if Pope Francis hadn’t just left town following his highly anticipated and historic visit, we would have missed this clue altogether. After all, politicians frequently reference their faith beliefs when talking about hard choices they are making. But could it really be coincidence that Boehner invited Francis to address Congress, and that the Pope used his address to send a powerful message to our nation and its legislators about the responsibility we all have to our fellow citizens and to all of mankind?
Speaker Boehner wept when the Pope told the legislators that; “You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics.” These words were uttered in a chamber that Boehner resides over and that has seen so much division, back-stabbing, partisanship, and the pursuit of serving the needs of special interests backed by large money and influential and powerful people. For a devout Catholic, these words must have stung as they hit to the core of Boehner’s deepest beliefs and most dearly held values.
Another battle in Congress has been coming, one that once again threatens the shutting down of the federal government if a stalemate occurs. Boehner has been struggling with warring factions within his own party, and an inability to bring about a consensus that serves the “common good,” as the pope reminded them is their mandate. By resigning, he knew he could avert this shutdown, buy more time—and perhaps give his successor the opportunity to accomplish what he has been unable to. Sacrificing his career for the good of his fellow citizens is something Pope Francis would approve of.