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.

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.

Building Solidarity and Belonging Through Encounter in Our Fractured Society

Millennial editor Robert Christian writes:

The United States is a deeply divided country –economically, racially, politically, and more. And many of these divisions divide American Catholics, despite the pope’s call to embrace solidarity. While the costs of extreme individualism, hyperpolarization, and growing social injustice tear at the seams of the country, the mood of the country, especially among its young people, has become decidedly more pessimistic.

In The Ethics of Encounter, theologian Marcus Mescher describes these “divided states of America.” He describes an age of growing insecurity. Feelings of anxiety and helplessness are rising, as is rage. We often lack the ability to talk to one another or even agree on the basic sets of facts needed for any sort of real dialogue.

It is not surprising that this collapse of community and sense of social responsibilities has paralleled the rise in isolation and loneliness. We see it in people’s behavior online. More time on social media is correlated with higher rates of loneliness, isolation, and insecurity—yet social media remains extraordinarily popular….

Without the intimacy of durable close friendships and the stability of a robust civil society, many Americans are losing a sense of purpose and place. The opioid crisis, rise in suicides, and other deaths of despair show how powerful these forces are….

How can the United States reverse these distressing and deadly trends? How can it restore hope and community? How can we overcome some of the deep divisions that stand in the way of needed cooperation and collective action? Mescher is skeptical that tolerance alone is the answer, arguing the problems we face are simply too extensive for it to do the trick.

Something is needed to challenge the assumptions of extreme individualism. Something is needed to get us to look beyond our own self-interest and fixation on maximizing our autonomy and choice. Mescher argues that Christianity has the ability to do this—but it cannot be a watered-down, complacent version of the Christian faith that many have already encountered and found wanting. He has in mind a Christianity that is driven by gratitude and generosity, that repents and atones for past exploitation, that embraces inclusive neighbor love, and that truly works for a more just world. This is a countercultural Christianity that does not make peace with the forces that favor the status quo….

In the book, Mescher describes how we can move from encounter to accompaniment to exchange to embrace and finally to belonging. He explains how distractions can be avoided, fear and bias can be overcome, good habits can be built, and trust can be established. None of this is easy, but it is not impossible.

Subscribers to the Messenger of Saint Anthony can read the full article here.

Remembering John Lewis

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In the wake of John Lewis’ death, many have reflected on the life and legacy of the heroic Civil Rights leader and Congressman. Here are a few of the reflections.

Barack Obama wrote:

America is a constant work in progress. What gives each new generation purpose is to take up the unfinished work of the last and carry it further — to speak out for what’s right, to challenge an unjust status quo, and to imagine a better world.

John Lewis — one of the original Freedom Riders, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the youngest speaker at the March on Washington, leader of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Member of Congress representing the people of Georgia for 33 years — not only assumed that responsibility, he made it his life’s work. He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise. And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.

Considering his enormous impact on the history of this country, what always struck those who met John was his gentleness and humility. Born into modest means in the heart of the Jim Crow South, he understood that he was just one of a long line of heroes in the struggle for racial justice. Early on, he embraced the principles of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience as the means to bring about real change in this country, understanding that such tactics had the power not only to change laws, but to change hearts and minds as well.

EJ Dionne offered a tribute to John Lewis—in his own words:

John Lewis was militant and gentle, a fighter and a peacemaker, brave and self-effacing, confident and humble. He was a listener whom others wanted to hear. He was a man of infinite faith and hope who nonetheless saw and experienced the profound shortcomings, even evils, of our world and our country. He was a partisan when he needed to be, but a unifier at all times.

In thinking about Lewis’s achievement, I found that the words coming to mind were not those of a politician or an organizer, but a well-known injunction from a pope. “If you want peace,” Paul VI said in 1972, “work for justice.” This was the commitment that drove Lewis’s life….

“I’m deeply concerned that many people today fail to recognize that the movement was built on deep-seated religious convictions, and the movement grew out of a sense of faith faith in God and faith in one’s fellow human beings. From time to time, I make a point, trying to take people back, and especially young people, and those of us not so young, back to the roots of the movement. During those early days, we didn’t study the Constitution, the Supreme Court decision of 1954. We studied the great religions of the world. We discussed and debated the teachings of the great teacher. And we would ask questions about what would Jesus do. In preparing for the sit-ins, we felt that the message was one of love the message of love in action: don’t hate. If someone hits you, don’t strike back. Just turn the other side. Be prepared to forgive. That’s not anything any Constitution say[s] … about forgiveness. It is straight from the Scripture: reconciliation.”…

“Voting access is the key to equality in our democracy. The size of your wallet, the number on your Zip code shouldn’t matter. The action of government effects every American so every citizen should have an equal voice. … We all count! It doesn’t matter whether you’re black, or white, Latino, Asian-American or Native American. We are one people. We are one family. We all live in the same house – the American house.”

Adam Serwer wrote about John Lewis as an American Founder:

The Alabama that John Lewis was born into in 1940 was a one-party authoritarian state. Forty years before Lewis was born, the white elite of Alabama, panicked by a populist revolt of white and Black workers, shut Black men out of politics in a campaign of terror, fraud, murder, and, finally, disenfranchisement….

Most of America’s Black population, when Lewis was born, lived in a white republic, where they were driven into poverty, disenfranchised, and denied basic civil and political rights through violence, custom, and law. More than one-third of Alabama’s population when Lewis was born was denied the right to vote….

Vivian and Lewis fought and bled for the cause at sit-ins, in the Freedom Rides of 1961, when police and the Ku Klux Klan worked hand in hand to brutalize protesters trying to desegregate public buses, through the March on Washington in 1963 and the Selma-to-Montgomery marches in 1965, where Lewis had his skull cracked open by Alabama state troopers. Without these men and their allies in the civil-rights movement, the maxim in the Declaration of Independence that all are created equal would be but words on paper written by slave masters. Absent their sacrifice, their bravery, and their brilliance, America would remain a herrenvolk republic, not a nation for all its citizens….

The Third American Republic, the only one to sincerely pursue the promises of the Declaration of Independence and the first true attempt at interracial democracy in American history, was founded by people including Vivian, Lewis, Diane Nash, and Coretta Scott King. They are part of a third generation of American leaders who elevated the universal truths in Christian doctrine and the words of the 1776 Founders, and shamed the nation into deciding that these ideals meant something. The Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act remade America into something it had never been, bringing the nation closer to what it fancied itself to be.

Michael Gerson wrote about the centrality of his faith:

Yet Lewis sided with King in embracing a distinctly Christian vision of the “beloved community.” Lewis believed in the promise of interracial democracy. He was an integrationist at a time when many young activists were turning to separatism. And he believed that the movement for civil rights “was based on the simple truth of the Great Teacher: love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Lewis’s faith was a source of personal strength in the face of cruelty. It also provided a framework for his activism. Like King, he did not believe in inevitable progress. Lewis did not think that those who exercise unjust power would give up their privileges easily. But the willing embrace of sacrifice in a good cause could, in his view, break down the resistance to justice. Redemptive suffering, Lewis wrote, “opens us and those around us to a force beyond ourselves, a force that is right and moral, the force of righteous truth that is at the basis of all human conscience.”

Lewis was addressing the primary decision that all of us face in pursuing our ideals. Is the answer to hatred the mobilization of equal and opposite hatred? Or does love have the peculiar power to break and change the hardest hearts? Lewis staked his life, again and again, on the second option.