President Joe Biden attended mass at St. Joseph’s on the Brandywine, a church in Wilmington, Delaware, where he often attends and where he says prayer helped him through grief after his first wife and daughter were killed in a car accident. While he was there, he met with Fr. Leo O’Donovan, the former president of Georgetown University who gave last rites to Biden’s son Beau Biden before he died of brain cancer. Biden embraced Fr. O’Donovan and called him his spiritual guide since the death of his son.
Beau Biden passed away on May 30, 2015, as a result of brain cancer. He was just 46 years old at the time. Seeing a plaque honoring Beau in the church’s hallway, Biden stopped to take a closer look and gave it a kiss, then touched it while looking down. That act of touching the plaque while in prayerful meditation is a traditional Catholic practice commonly called “touching the heart or praying with our fingertips.”
During the mass, which was held on Ash Wednesday and only attended by a small number of church officials and aides, Biden received the imposition of ashes to symbolize the beginning of Lent, the Christian season of penance and sacrifice that precedes Easter. The ashes come from the palm fronds that were blessed and distributed on the previous Palm Sunday. Catholics believe that those palms are reminders of the cheers that greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem before his crucifixion five days later.
Faith and religion have played crucial roles throughout Biden’s life, and it’s not unusual for him to invoke Catholic language or liturgy, even though he’s not as outwardly devout as previous US presidents, particularly Republicans. With Lent including a call to help the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized, it’s more than clear that Biden will continue such religious practices as part of his presidency.
In conclusion, during his visit to St. Joseph’s on the Brandywine, Joe Biden met with Fr. Leo O’Donovan, the priest who gave last rites to Biden’s son Beau Biden, who passed away from brain cancer. Biden kissed and touched a plaque honoring his son and received the imposition of ashes to symbolize the beginning of Lent. Faith and religion will continue to play important roles in Biden’s life and presidency, as Lent includes a call to help those in need.