How Joe Biden’s Catholicism Shapes His Life and Approach to Politics

Christopher White offers an in-depth look at how Joe Biden’s Catholic background and faith have shaped his life and approach to politics—and how it might affect the 2020 campaign:

Biden credits those Catholic roots — which first took seed in parishes and parochial schools in Pennsylvania and Delaware — with teaching him the importance of the human dignity of all people, a core principle of Catholic social teaching. They also shaped his understanding of solidarity, especially with the poor and the working class, which he regularly cites when talking about job security and economic policy.

Most importantly, his is also a faith that has been tested by personal loss of an enormous magnitude and one that has come into conflict with Democratic policy positions, forcing him to change and evolve along the way to keep up with shifting uniform stances within the party.

Now, at 77, the former senator and former vice president could be on the cusp of becoming only the second Catholic president in U.S. history. He is hands down the most comfortable Democratic politician of his generation talking about the role religion has played in shaping his approach to public life. As such, John McCarthy, the deputy national political director for the Biden campaign, told NCR that “faith outreach is probably the most integrated it’s ever been on a presidential campaign” for a Democratic candidate….

Over the years, Biden’s abortion stance has increasingly liberalized. In a 1974 interview, he said, “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far.”

But as the pro-choice platform became Democratic Party orthodoxy, Biden shifted, too. In a 2012 vice presidential debate with Catholic Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, Biden said, “I accept my church’s position on abortion. … I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews.”

This position has evoked the ire of some Catholic bishops and Catholics like Carr who have criticized Biden for falling in line with the “extremism” of the Democratic Party’s position on abortion. Schneck told NCR that it’s a profound disappointment to see Biden further shift to support federal funding of abortion during the 2020 primaries.

“I disagree with the vice president on this issue, but I don’t see this as suggesting he’s not a good Catholic,” said Schneck, who still believes that voters will have with Biden a president who takes faith and people of faith seriously….

For thousands of people across the United States, Biden’s public experience of grief has proved to be a point of connection, often mirroring tragedies in their own life, and a chance to empathize over this most basic of human experiences.

When Biden appeared on Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” a few months after Beau’s death, the two Catholic men bonded over their shared experiences of suffering and reconciling loss with faith.

“My religion is just an enormous sense of solace,” Biden told the late night host, who had lost his own father and two brothers at a young age. “What my faith has done is it sort of takes everything about my life with my parents and my siblings and all the comforting things and all the good things that have happened, have happened around the culture of my religion and the theology of my religion, and I don’t know how to explain it more than that.”…

Melissa Rogers, who was then executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, told NCR that ahead of the visit, Biden also met with religious and civil society leaders to solicit their support on practical ways they could punctuate the pope’s visit with policy initiatives reflecting common ground between the White House and the Holy See.

Those meetings resulted in a series of executive actions to increase refugee admissions to the U.S. and efforts to combat climate change, which Rogers said is “an example of how Vice President Biden understands the positive roles that people of faith can play in public life.”…

Instead of only showing up at houses of worship for a photo op, Biden rearranges his schedule to ensure he doesn’t miss a holy day of obligation. Rather than achieving national fame for taking pride in telling individuals, “You’re fired,” one of Biden’s most frequent refrains has been about the dignity of work. Instead of pointing to bestselling books or buildings on Fifth Avenue as chief accomplishments, Biden calls the 2016 decision by the University of Notre Dame to award him with the Laetare Medal, the highest prize in American Catholic life, as the most meaningful honor of his lifetime.

“The best thing we have on our side is the vice president being who he is,” campaign staffer McCarthy told NCR, adding, “When you’re trying to reach faith voters, it’s all about authenticity.”…

You can read the full article here.

Pope Francis: Chasing Illusory, Fleeting Things Leads to Dull, Mediocre Lives

via the Vatican:

The gestures of that man and the merchant who go searching, depriving themselves of their goods in order to buy more precious treasures, are decisive gestures; they are radical gestures; I would say that they are only ‘one way’ gestures, not a ‘round trip’: they are ‘one way’ gestures. Moreover, they are made with joy because both of them have found a treasure. We are called upon to assume the attitude of these two Gospel figures, so that we too may become healthily restless seekers of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a matter of abandoning the heavy burden of our worldly certainties that prevent us from seeking and building up the Kingdom: the desire for possession, the thirst for profit and power, and thinking only about ourselves.

In our times, as we are all aware, the lives of some people can end up mediocre and dull because they probably do not go in search of a true treasure: they are content with attractive but fleeting things, glittering flashes that prove illusory as they give way to darkness. Instead the light of the Kingdom is not like fireworks, it is light: fireworks last only an instant, whereas the light of the Kingdom accompanies us all our life.

The Kingdom of Heaven is the opposite of the superfluous things that the world offers; it is the opposite of a dull life: it is a treasure that renews life every day and leads it to expand towards wider horizons. Indeed, those who have found this treasure have a creative and inquisitive heart, which does not repeat but rather invents, tracing and setting out on new paths which lead us to love God, to love others, and to truly love ourselves. The sign of those who walk this path of the Kingdom is creativity, always seeking more. And creativity is what takes life and gives life, and gives, and gives, and gives… It always looks for many different ways to give life.

Jesus, who is the hidden treasure and the pearl of great value, cannot but inspire joy, all the joy of the world: the joy of discovering a meaning for one’s life, the joy of feeling committed to the adventure of holiness.

Learning Humility from St. Ignatius

Mike Jordan Laskey writes:

According to the biography by Jesuit Fr. George Traub and Debra Mooney, Ignatius had only been in the Holy Land for a few weeks when church authorities told him to go back to Europe. Chastened, Ignatius decided he needed a more formal education before he could “help souls.” In order to enroll at a university, though, he first needed to learn some basics. Without something like a GED option for later-in-life learners in those days, that meant grammar school….

If Ignatius was like me, he would’ve quit right then and probably faded into obscurity. His decision to go through with it — and not just for a semester or two — is a vivid illustration of Ignatius’ humility.

Humility is a virtue that’s not always well understood. It’s often used to mean self-effacing (“saying you’re not much of a bridge player when you know perfectly well you are,” in the words of theologian Frederick Buechner) or “talented but also quiet or shy.” A humble person can be those things, but they’re not synonymous with humility….

His path is a great model for all of us today, especially those entrusted with leadership of some kind. Try something bold and new, mess up an attempt, admit your mistake, stay committed to your dream even though it could be tempting to quit at this point, take a step backward to learn more, and try something bold again — this time, informed by your experience.

Around the Web: Articles on Racial Justice and Reform

Check out these recent articles from around the web on racism, racial justice, and reform:

The Fullest Look Yet at the Racial Inequity of Coronavirus by NY Times: “Latino and African-American residents of the United States have been three times as likely to become infected as their white neighbors, according to the new data, which provides detailed characteristics of 640,000 infections detected in nearly 1,000 U.S. counties. And Black and Latino people have been nearly twice as likely to die from the virus as white people, the data shows.”

Toward a Catholic Understanding of the Phrase “Black Lives Matter by Fr. Matthew Hawkins: “If a person understands the history and circumstances that have given rise to this cry, then they will not misinterpret it, they will not feel threatened by it, and they will not feel excluded from it. Properly understood, “Black Lives Matter” is an expression of fundamental Catholic values of family, community, universality, life, and faith.”

Racist Litter by Randall Kennedy: “Acting strictly along party lines in states it controls, the Republican Party – which has increasingly become the white man’s party – enacts legislation that makes it more difficult for certain sectors of the population to register to vote. Asserting that such laws are required to stem fraud (a claim that has been repeatedly discredited), the Republicans impose new requirements that invariably and invidiously disqualify racial minorities in disproportionate numbers.”

Racism and resilience: An overview of Catholic African American history by Katie Scott: “Such painful experiences are echoed by generations of Black Catholics in Oregon and across the country. Some individuals have a handful of stories, others an extensive list. Each story is part of a long history of racism in the wider culture and the church.”

The real stakes in the David Shor saga by Matthew Yglesias: “People with unsound views are able to get operatives fired and render them unhirable. They’re able to shut down discussions on listservs meant for tactical discussions. And most of all, they create an environment where lots of people feel they need to watch their words very carefully. There is a genuine ongoing dialogue about whether claims made on behalf of racial justice should be subject to critical scrutiny.”

How partisanship is ‘weakening the Gospel witness’ in America by Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble: “Sadly, I can honestly say that I learned more about racism in my time as a punk rock atheist than I ever did as a Catholic. And while my personal story is unique to me, unfortunately, my experience’s broad brush strokes are far from rare among Christians in this country. In many congregations, parishes and homes around the United States, a partisan presentation of the faith is ever-present.”

Bryan Stevenson on how America can heal: “In the 250 years of enslavement in which Black people endured being kidnapped, put in chains, brutalized, mistreated, abused, raped — there was daily humiliation and degradation, the violence of slavery. That kind of abuse and mistreatment finally ends in 1865 after the Civil War, after the ratification of the 13th Amendment. And instead of seeking revenge or retribution or violence against those who had enslaved them, emancipated Black people said, We’re going to make peace here. We’re going to make community here. We’re going to commit to education. We’re going to commit to voting. We’re going to become ideal American citizens.When you think about all of the brutality and violence and abuse that Black people suffered and they still were willing to live in harmony with those who had abused them, it says something remarkable about the power of “we.” They believed in an America and they got no credit for that.”

The Dehumanizing Condescension of White Fragility by John McWhorter: “Despite the sincere intentions of its author, the book diminishes Black people in the name of dignifying us. This is unintentional, of course, like the racism DiAngelo sees in all whites. Still, the book is pernicious because of the authority that its author has been granted over the way innocent readers think.”

John Lewis’s Last Journey by Randall Kennedy: “Third, Lewis displayed a wonderful, empathetic, plainspoken cosmopolitanism. Attuned to the aspirations of African Americans, Lewis was also sensitive to the yearnings of others. A lifelong apostle of Rev. King, Lewis faithfully followed the teaching of his hero in embracing universal brotherhood and sisterhood. He eschewed tribal narcissism and embraced coalition politics. He was the most praiseworthy American activist-politician of his generation, a veritable fountain of instruction and inspiration.”

Black lives matter in the worshipping church by Kim Harris: “Black Catholic women know the view of the world from under and on the cross. It is in response to these experiences that our African traditions, our African American practices, our deep relationship with Jesus, our Black ways of being and doing manifest in cries, hums, moans, rocking, patting our feet and lifting our hands. We bring our wholly functioning, fully active and participating selves to the church as example and as gift.”

America’s Enduring Caste System by Isabel Wilkerson: “Caste is rigid and deep; race is fluid and superficial, subject to periodic redefinition to meet the needs of the dominant caste in what is now the United States. While the requirements to qualify as white have changed over the centuries, the fact of a dominant caste has remained constant from its inception — whoever fit the definition of white, at whatever point in history, was granted the legal rights and privileges of the dominant caste. Perhaps more critical and tragic, at the other end of the ladder, the subordinated caste, too, has been fixed from the beginning as the psychological floor beneath which all other castes cannot fall.”

Pro-Family Leaders: Strengthen and Extend Emergency Paid Leave

Dozens of Christian leaders and proponents of the common good have signed a new letter to Congressional leaders on emergency paid leave. The signatories include Millennial writers Marcus Mescher, Daniel Petri, and Nichole Flores; past contributors John Dougherty and Jessica Keating; and editor Robert Christian, along with former Millennial of the Year Michael Wear.

The letter states:

As COVID-19 disrupts our common life, families will, ultimately, bear crucial responsibilities – caring for those who are sick, attending to children and loved ones when schools and other places of care close. All families, therefore, need a solid base of support.

In March, Congress enacted an emergency paid sick and family leave program as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), enabling paid time off for COVID-related illness or care. Many households, however, fall through gaps in the law’s coverage and application. We urge Congress to close these gaps, enable all families to care, and protect public health during COVID-19.

Guarantee emergency paid leave for COVID-19 related quarantine, illness, and caregiving, and for those who are pregnant and welcoming new children during COVID. This includes:

    • Care for a family member after exposure or infection by COVID-19.

    • Care for oneself after exposure or infection by COVID-19.

    • Care for a child whose school or place of care is closed or who is participating in distance learning due to COVID-19.

    • Care for a disabled or elder family member at risk of COVID-19 in their place of care or whose place of care is unavailable.

    • Bereavement for a family member who has died.

    • Care for oneself and one’s child during the prenatal period, postnatal period, foster care, or adoption.

Family leave should support a range of family caregivers, similar to emergency paid sick days, including: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, and other close relatives….

Extend emergency paid leave to all workers, regardless of employer size. The FFCRA excluded individuals who work for employers with more than 500 workers from its emergency leave mandate and created gaps for essential health care workers and employees of small employers. These exclusions should be remedied….

Extend emergency paid leave past December 2020. The FFCRA is currently set to expire at the end of 2020, too early to accommodate COVID-19’s ongoing effects on health and family….

Universal paid sick leave is a public health necessity. We encourage you to strengthen and extend emergency paid leave during this crucial time.

You can read the full letter and see all of the signatories here. You can learn more about Families Valued, an initiative of the Center for Public Justice, a civic education and public policy organization that works to equip citizens, develop leaders and shape policy to serve God, advance justice and transform public life here.


John Lewis: Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation

In his final essay before his death (and released today, the day of his funeral), John Lewis wrote:

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on….

Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, though decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

You can read the full article here.