There’s something about Francis. He has a welcoming and kind face. His voice is soft, worn by age and experience. His words are heavy with appeals to mercy and non-judgment. For cultural Catholics like me – Catholics who have left the Church and will never return – Francis nonetheless makes one want to return.
Thanks to the Pope’s visit, the whole country has been introduced to the interminable tedium of the Catholic Mass, an affair so empty of joy or inspiration that their absence has got to be by design. For former Catholic practitioners, it’s a reintroduction, and believe it or not, it breeds nostalgia.
The allure of simpler times is dangerous but undeniable. There was a kind of peace and quiet in following along, chanting the chants of lemmings, feeding from a buffet of set beliefs, and moving about from one preselected locus to another with mechanical and practiced proficiency. In one sense, such a life is a balm for anxiety. Gone are the stresses engendered by thought, decision-making, self-actualization, and the fear of rejection. Comply, conform, and be wrapped in the cozy quilt of traditionalism.
In another sense, though, this going along causes even greater anxieties than the ones it quells. To live someone else’s life is to betray your own, and every cell of the body and every grain of the spirit will rebel against it. Notice how many old Catholics seem so utterly defeated, shuffling haplessly from prayer to unanswered prayer, their eyes vacant and their energies left in the past. How many loves forsaken, how many miserable marriages, how many lonely suicides have been wrought by the caging of the human spirit behind bars called dogma?
Francis embodies a call to the peace and quiet of traditionalism, and with his gentle affect, he makes it seem less dangerous. However dangerous it might actually be, it would be foolish to say it isn’t there. And for John Boehner, I think it was very much there.
As Pope Francis left the Capitol, he found himself alone with Boehner, whom he touched and moved, quite obviously. Boehner was left where so many who are touched by Francis are left: longing for a simpler life, a time when all the chaos is calmed.
And for a man whose soul is clamoring for quietude, there is no place in this United States Congress. As Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said yesterday, “I think [Boehner’s resignation] signals the crazies have taken over the [Republican] party, taken over to the party that you can remove a speaker of the House who’s second in line to be president, a constitutional officer in the middle of his term with no allegations of impropriety, a person who’s honest and doing his job. This has never happened before in our country.”
As long as teabaggers are in charge of the Republican Party, and as long as the Republican Party, in turn, is in charge of the United States Congress, there will be no compromise, no reasoning, no surrender to science and facts and truth, and above all else, no peace. And for a man whose brush with Pope Francis made him long for just that – peace – that means that there can only be joy somewhere else. “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay …”
By Brendan Beery