Each time the young Joe Biden left his grandparents’ home in Scranton, Pa., his grandfather Finnegan would yell, “Joey, keep the faith!” His grandmother had a more evangelical responsibility in mind for him. “No Joey,” she’d say. “Spread it.”

President Biden shared that and other personal anecdotes in his nearly 15-minute address at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning at the Capitol Visitors Center. An overflow crowd of 1,300—which Biden jokingly invited in full to visit the House floor that day—tuned in from a nearby hotel.

The president shared a quote often attributed to St. Augustine, that “singing is praying twice.” He said he can only pray once, though.

His father, who played saxophone, would tell Biden, “Joey, I don’t know where you come from,” the president said to laughter. “He said, ‘You have no lip. You can’t play a reed instrument, number one. Number two, you have two left feet. Number three, you can’t carry a tune in a wheelbarrow. But I still love you.’”

Biden said he was honored to continue the tradition of a president addressing the annual prayer breakfast, which dates back to former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

He emphasized the message that human beings “are here on this Earth primarily to care for one another, look out for one another and love one another.”

Loving one another is not always easy, Biden allowed, but it is essential in trying times, such as amid the enormous loss of life during the pandemic and as “record bouts of extreme weather” are claiming lives and destroying homes, he said. “There’s just enormous damage,” he said, and much violence in communities.

Biden preached seeing one another as fellow Americans, rather than as Democrats and Republicans. “Fellow human beings worthy of being treated with dignity and respect,” he said. “We can join hands and get things done. We can redeem the soul of America.”

That soul, he said, is “embodied in the sacred proposition that we’re all created equally in the image of God.”

Citing scripture, Biden said that applying the commandments brings joy. “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, all thy mind, and all thy soul,” he said, apparently quoting from Matthew 22:37, or several other verses, although scripture states “all thy heart, all thy soul and all thy mind.” (The New Testament references riff on the verse recited in the Shema.) Biden also quoted “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” which he called the hardest one.

“At least it’s hardest here,” he said. “Didn’t used to be as hard. I’ve been here a long time, but it seems to be getting harder. It’s easy to say; it’s hard to do.”

His prayer, he told those assembled, is that everyone could “argue like hell with each other again but then still go to lunch together.”


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