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Sunday, November 8, 2020

God, Lincoln, and President-Elect Biden

Many posts have discussed the role of religion in American  life.

 In his victory speech, President-elect Biden -- like so many of his predecessors -- mentioned and alluded to classic American documents and religious belief.

To make progress, we must stop treating our opponents as our enemy. We are not enemies. We are Americans.

The Bible tells us that to everything there is a season — a time to build, a time to reap, a time to sow. And a time to heal.

This is the time to heal in America.


I’ve long talked about the battle for the soul of America.

We must restore the soul of America.

Our nation is shaped by the constant battle between our better angels and our darkest impulses.

It is time for our better angels to prevail.


 In the last days of the campaign, I’ve been thinking about a hymn that means a lot to me and to my family, particularly my deceased son, Beau. It captures the faith that sustains me and which I believe sustains America.

And I hope it can provide some comfort and solace to the more than 230,000 families who have lost a loved one to this terrible virus this year. My heart goes out to each and every one of you. Hopefully this hymn gives you solace as well.

“And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings,

Bear you on the breath of dawn,

Make you to shine like the sun,

And hold you in the palm of His Hand.”

And now, together — on eagle’s wings — we embark on the work that God and history have called upon us to do.

With full hearts and steady hands, with faith in America and in each other, with a love of country — and a thirst for justice — let us be the nation that we know we can be.

A nation united.

A nation strengthened.

A nation healed.

The United States of America.

God bless you.

And may God protect our troops.

The phrases "we are not enemies" and "better angels" are from the ending of Lincoln's First Inaugural, when he was dealing with the secession of Southern states:

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Here is the Bible verse ("a time to heal') that he mentioned (Ecclesiastes 3:1-3):

All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. 

A time to kill, and a time to heal. A time to destroy, and a time to build.

At The List, Hope Ngo explains the Catholic hymn that he mentioned.  (Yes, Catholics and Protestants have different hymns.)

The song was composed by Jan Michael Joncas, a Catholic priest who now teaches contemporary Catholic music at the University of St. Thomas. He tells America Magazine he wrote the song after he found out that his friend's father had died of a heart attack. "I knew this was a hard, hard experience in anybody's life, [and I] just wanted to create something that would be both prayerful and then comforting," he said in 2017. The song was written after he had attended the wake of his friend's father, and it rose to prominence after the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma's Federal Building, when the governor's wife asked if the song could be played during a memorial for those whose lives had been taken. 

Catholics often sing it at funeral Masses.  After the speech, I was in touch with Catholics who said that they openly wept when they heard Biden cite it.  

 The phrase "on eagle's wings" comes from the biblical Book of Isaiah (40:31): 

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;

    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;

they shall run and not be weary;

    they shall walk and not faint.

Bible verses are from the Douay translation preferred by older Catholics. Biden grew up with this version.