The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The chaplain of the U.S. House ‘cast out all spirits of darkness’ in his chamber prayer amid racism fight

House Chaplain Pat Conroy opened the House of Representatives legislative session on July 18 by praying to “cast out” the “darker spirits” in the chamber. (Video: C-SPAN)

The chaplain of the House of Representatives said in his opening prayer Thursday that he would “cast out all spirits of darkness from this chamber,” reflecting the dramatic moral terms in which many Americans see our political climate.

The Rev. Patrick Conroy, a Jesuit priest, later told CNN that the idea for the prayer came when as he saw members fighting this week over a vote about whether to condemn as racist President Trump’s tweets about four congresswomen of color.

Video: House chaplain prays to ‘cast out all spirits of darkness’

“This has been a difficult and contentious week in which darker spirits seem to be at play in the people’s House,” Conroy prayed, his eyes closed and his open hands outstretched before him.

In your most holy name, I now cast out all spirits of darkness from this chamber; spirits not from you.
I cast out the spirit of discouragement which deadens the hope of those who are of good will.
I cast out the spirit of petty divisiveness, which clouds the sense and the desire to be of fruitful productivity in addressing the issues more appropriately before this House.
I cast out any sadness brought on by the frustration of dealing with matters detrimental to the honorable work each member has been called to engage in.

Conroy said his prayer was intended to be nonpartisan.

“I was on the House floor on Tuesday,” Conroy told CNN, “and to me, it felt different than other days. It felt like there was something going on beyond just political disagreement. The energy of the House was very off. No one was relishing what was happening.”

While orthodox versions of many faiths characterize the world as a battlefield of good and evil, such language of spiritual warfare is becoming more common and appearing in unexpected places — such as at the recent debate of Democratic presidential candidates — as more Americans perceive that the country is in a moral as well as political crisis, conjuring ideas of good and evil.

“Right now, if people listen to Conroy, they don’t dismiss him as a crank. They’re like: ‘Maybe he’s getting something right,’ ” said Massimo Faggioli, a theology professor and church historian at Villanova University. “That’s the difference. Twenty or 10 or five years ago, people would say: ‘Oh, he just had a bad day.’ ”

During the Democratic debate, candidate and self-help writer Marianne Williamson painted a picture of angelic and demonic wizards dueling in a spiritual realm.

“So, Mr. President, if you’re listening, I want you to hear me please — you have harnessed fear for political purposes, and only love can cast that out. So, I, sir, I have a feeling you know what you’re doing. I’m going to harness love for political purposes. I will meet you on that field, and, sir, love will win,” she said.