Priest analyzes spiritual themes of Presidential Inaugural

President Barack Obama delivering his inaugural address
President Barack Obama delivering his inaugural address


Fr. Robert Imbelli SJ, a professor at Boston College, has written a reflection on the spiritual themes invoked in the Inaugural Address of President Barack Obama. While noting that the president’s words call for a “renewed covenant” and a “spiritual maturation,” Fr. Imbelli prayed that children “conceived but not born” would be included in this covenant between Americans.

Theology professor Fr. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, began his essay for L'Osservatore Romano by noting the “powerful images” of the Inaugural, such as the image of President Obama fulfilling the “prophetic dream” of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Re-reading the president’s Inaugural Address, Fr. Imbelli said his remarks seem to call for “a renewed covenant of citizenship within the rich patchwork quilt that is the United States.”

In Fr. Imbelli’s view, Obama appealed to the example of generosity given by America’s forebearers and called on present-day Americans to embrace their example.

He said the president appealed to U.S. citizens to re-commit themselves to the common good and “muster the courage to move beyond narrow individual interests to embrace what benefits all.”

Though Americans are of many religious beliefs, Imbelli said, “the President does not hesitate to affirm that the pursuit of the common good is based on a divine imperative and inspiration.”

For instance, Obama declared that it is a “God-given promise” that “all are equal, all are free.”

The president’s comment “We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things” was “one of the most intriguing and pregnant sentences of the speech,” Fr. Imbelli remarked.

The sentence invokes Chapter 13 of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. There St. Paul “realizes that to discern and undertake this way of love requires a spiritual maturity that cannot be taken for granted, but which must be sought and surrendered to,” Fr. Imbelli explained.

Pointing out that the president is not a “Christian preacher,” Imbelli also argued the president is suggesting a “spiritual maturation” is necessary for a thriving body politic.

“Nor is such spiritual maturation solely our work, it is first a gift of grace,” he continued, saying that the Inaugural Address acknowledges God’s grace.

Noting the “special bond” between President Obama’s life and the life of Civil War-era President Abraham Lincoln, Fr. Imbelli referred to Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address in which the president appealed to the “bonds of affection” between South and North and prayed that “the better angels of our nature” would prevail.

“In radically different circumstances, that remains America’s hope and prayer,” Fr. Imbelli’s essay concluded. “One also prays that the angels of children, conceived but not yet born, not be neglected, that the nation’s bonds of affection embrace them as well, that they not be cut off from the covenant.”

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