On Friday October 26, citizens go to the polls to decide who will serve and we hope also inspire all the people of this country for the next seven years in the office of President of Ireland. I have often been struck through the years at how often we pray in our liturgy for the President. We do not do so as if that figure was some sort of quasi – monarch, but nevertheless the person and office of the President sum up hopes and aspirations which transcend politics, and help us discover deeper values capable of uniting us even amidst our turbulent political moments.
Successive presidents have done the State very considerable service
I am old enough to have prayed in church for most of the Irish Presidents. I do not recall the first President, Douglas Hyde, a member of the Church of Ireland, inaugurated eighty years ago. Nor do I recall Sean T O Ceallaigh. But looking back as far as the 1960s, it is fair to say that successive Presidents have done the State very considerable service, and we can reasonably believe that they felt sustained in their responsibilities by the constant prayers of people such as ourselves.
So I think of
- Eamon de Valera, in so many ways a father of the nation, and chief architect of a Constitution which, despite its imperfections, has been an enduring source of cherished rights
- Erskine Childers, another Anglican, whose attempts ahead of his time to modernise the office were thwarted by his untimely death
- Cearbhall O Dalaigh, a jurist of international renown who resigned in order to defend the dignity of the office
- Patrick Hillery, an understated great European, upon whose sound and independent judgement we could always rely
- Mary Robinson, the greatest transformer of what she called the ‘resource of the Presidency’ who with deft knowledge of the Constitution expanded the role into one of national value – moulding and of rich symbol, inviting citizens to ‘come dance with her in Ireland’
- Mary McAleese, whose knowledge of both law and theology as well as great personal warmth allowed for the building of bridges in a manner that undoubtedly consolidated the peace
- Michael D Higgins, whose courageous social vision wrapped in the felicitous utterances of a poet have helped us imagine the justice of a ‘real Republic’.
All these people have served us well, represented us with dignity abroad, been given to hospitality, and we trust have been upheld by our prayers. Whatever may happen on October 26, the holder of the highest office in the land is part of a noble lineage.
Why pray so much for the President?
In a way I feel my words above have already answered the question I was about to pose. Why pray so much for the President? Obviously the government of the day and the members of the legislature deserve and need our prayers … they make the decisions, they wield the power, they have the capacity to alter our daily lives. But why so much preoccupation with the president, whose role is so largely ‘symbolic’?
Content of liturgy is similar to language of presidency
But in the final word of the last paragraph I think lies the point. The Presidency is largely about symbol, about the use of metaphor, about subtle gesture, about the poetic use of language in a manner that transcends political controversy and pettiness but somehow points towards higher shared aspirations. And in a remarkable way, the content of liturgy is a bit like the language of presidency. It too is about metaphor and poetry, about avoiding what is narrowly political and partisan in order better to embrace the whole household of faith. The President points beyond current pragmatism and contention towards the goal of ‘the Real Republic’; the Christian vision is to point beyond a world that is fair to a Kingdom that is more than fair.
So it seems to me by no means strange that the office and the responsibility of the Presidency so readily and appropriately inhabits the realm of the liturgy. All of our Presidents have deserved our prayers and expressed their appreciation of them …
Time for the electorate to pray for themselves
Now the time has come once again for the electorate to pray for themselves, that they will wisely select the best available person to fulfil this role over the next seven years. And it may only be when those years are over that we will have a due sense of how the nation has travelled and even matured over that time. Our history, after all, (when written of course with the benefit of hindsight) is often expressed in successive chapters each bearing the title of a particular and distinctive Presidency.
Diocesan Synod on Wednesday October 17th
Meanwhile, between now and the Presidential election, we have our own quasi- parliamentary experience of deliberation and counsel when the Diocesan Synod meets in Enniscorthy on Wednesday October 17.
The Reverend Robert Stotesbury – Killeshin Union of Parishes
Another date for the diary, rather further ahead, is Friday 23 November when at an 8pm service in Killeshin church the Revd Robert Stotesbury will be introduced as the priest-in-charge of the Killeshin Union of parishes.
Michael Cashel Ferns + Ossory