In this issue:
We love and honor our country because it has given us life, sustenance, traditions and fundamental orientation analogous to our earthly parents and families.
Young Catholics can integrate patriotism with their faith in Scouts' projects.
Patriotism calls into play a love for one's homeland and a commitment to caring for it and its people. But it does not require turning one's back to lands that others call home.
By Father Curtiss Dwyer/Catholic News Service
The pope was a patriot.
The year was 1983, and Poland was under martial law. St. John Paul II, making his second pastoral visit to his homeland, upon reaching the airport tarmac bent forward and kissed the ground. He remarked during the arrival ceremony that the kiss had a special meaning for him.
"It is like a kiss placed on the hands of a mother, for the homeland is our earthly mother," he said. He said he considered it his "duty to be with my compatriots in this sublime, yet difficult historical moment of our homeland."
In the 20th century, Poland was infected by Nazism and communism in succession, remaining in the hands of the communists following World War II. Decades of political suppression and propagandistic distortions were foisted on the Polish people. Historians now write of the undeniable influence that the pontiff had on the subsequent overthrow of communism in Poland and beyond.
As Angelo Codevilla put it, "He was a Pole, but beyond the regime's reach. By identifying with him, Poles would have the chance to cleanse themselves of the compromises they had to make to live under the regime. And so they came to him by the millions."
The pope clearly loved his country. With that love, that patriotism, firmly in place, his vision was clear, enabling him to see his native land's true identity, and thus how and to what extent the contemporary godless regime was in fact a hideous distortion: powerful, perhaps, at the moment but utterly foreign to his people's DNA. First came love. Then correction. After all, "The homeland is our earthly mother."
With the rich young man, the Gospel of Mark gives us a similar example of correction within love:
"Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, 'You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to (the) poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me'" (Mk 10:21).
I think of the pope's example whenever people bring up patriotism, or love for country. There are many Catholic homilists, authors and professors who eschew patriotism, at least American patriotism, ostensibly because of their faith. "America" or "American" is rarely a positive attribution and often used pejoratively as shorthand for unworthy, erroneous, "neo-Pelagian," materialistic or Walmart.
With amusement, I have heard homilists say things like "in America, people (here insert any deadly sin or vice)." As if the fall of mankind actually coincided with the founding of our nation and still unaccountably emanates from our borders. Indeed, some seem to think that the opposite of "patriotic" is "prophetic."
St. Thomas Aquinas helps here. In the "Summa Theologiae," he writes that love for country is a virtue, the same kind of virtue as love for one's parents: "Wherefore just as it belongs to religion to give worship to God, so does it belong to piety, in the second place, to give worship to one's parents and one's country." (Worship here being understood as "honor and devotion.")
We love and honor our country because it has given us life, sustenance, traditions and fundamental orientation analogous to our earthly parents and families. Like St. John Paul, we love our fellow countrymen because we share very deep things in common like siblings in a family. "I consider it my duty to be with my compatriots in this sublime and difficult moment."
True piety is not the unappealing hyper-religiousness as it is usually portrayed. It is the virtue by which we give due honor to our sources, after God -- especially parents and country. Not only is patriotism therefore not forbidden: It is required if one would be virtuous.
Can people take patriotism too far? Sure. Any virtue can be taken too far (which would render it no longer a virtue). An excess of patriotism is "nationalism," which is a love for one's country, ungrounded in love for God, leading to a narrow and arrogant distain for other countries.
A close analogy is love for one's parents. Is an excess possible? Sure, and it would thus cease to be virtuous. But that doesn't mean that love for one's parents is itself illegitimate.
St. Thomas writes that because virtues cannot conflict with one another, true piety can never conflict with the virtue of religion. Thus, virtuous patriotism does not detract from, but contributes to and is seamlessly part of love for God. Conversely, the virtue of religion grounds and purifies our patriotism by firmly relating it to God.
Importantly, patriotism should not lead us to turn a blind eye to our country's faults, and faults there undoubtedly are. We remember that our ultimate and truest "homeland" is not of this earth, but is our Father's kingdom, for the coming of which we so often pray. Thus, as Catholics the most loving thing that we can do for our country is precisely what St. John Paul did for his: Bring Christ to it, and bring it to Christ.
For now, godly love for our country will clarify our vision, enabling us, like St. John Paul, to see and celebrate our native land's goodness, potential and true identity -- and thereby to reject that which distorts and defaces it. This Fourth of July, we celebrate our country not apart from or in spite of, but within our Catholic faith.
Happy Birthday, America!
(Father Curtiss Dwyer, a priest of the Archdiocese of Denver, is a U.S. Navy chaplain assigned to the Marines in Quantico, Virginia.)
By Kelly Bothum/Catholic News Service
Alex Gray has grown up with two strong connections in his life: being Catholic and being a Boy Scout. So when it came time for the Wilmington, Delaware, teen to pursue the Eagle Scout rank, it made sense for him to take on a project that combined the two.
Gray created an outdoor prayer circle on the side of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church in Wilmington to give more prominence to a pair of statues of St. Bernadette and Mary, the mother of Jesus, that had previously been hidden by the church convent.
Working with local construction companies, he arranged for the two statues to be moved closer to the church. Taking what was previously an empty grassy plot, Gray cleared the area and added a concrete walkway. He solicited donations for four stone benches etched with inscriptions facing the statues.
Plantings completed the area, resulting in a cozy outdoor space inviting prayerful reflection.
"I always kind of wanted to do something at the church, and I wanted it to be visible. I've spent so much time there and for so many years," said Gray, who attended St. Elizabeth School from kindergarten through eighth grade. "That school and parish gave me so much."
Only about 5 percent of all Boy Scouts actually reach the rank of Eagle Scout. Gray's own challenges in coordinating with construction companies, dealing with weather delays and other unexpected problems make it easy to understand why.
It took nearly seven months for the project to be completed, longer than Gray said he anticipated. There were delays with getting the benches and moving the statues. But in each case Gray was able to reach a solution, and the lessons learned along the way made the experience a valuable one, he said.
Gray hoped to complete the project before his 18th birthday, a goal he achieved despite the logistical hurdles.
"The leadership skills I gained from this were tremendous. Being able to take charge of this process and make sure everything went to plan took a lot out of it me, but it was worth it," Gray said.
Gray credits Boy Scout Troop 285 with giving him confidence, skills and lifelong friendships. In an age where many young people are drifting away from organized sports and skill development programs, Gray -- who became a Cub Scout in first grade -- said he is grateful for the opportunities scouting has afforded him.
"I've always enjoyed Boy Scouts. I've loved camping, the leadership skills, the team-building exercises," Gray said. "There was always something that pushed me to it."
The response from St. Elizabeth's has been overwhelmingly positive, Gray said. Now that the weather is nicer and the flowers are coming in, there are plans for a blessing ceremony to celebrate the new space.
This fall, Gray will leave Wilmington and head to West Virginia University to study sports and adventure media. It's nice to know he's leaving a piece of himself behind.
"I like going to see it and knowing it's going to last. It's going to be there for a while," he added. "I like the fact that people are going to appreciate those statues. It really is a special place."
(Bothum is a freelance writer and a mother of three.)
By David Gibson/Catholic News Service
Patriotism deserves to be celebrated, as it often is. National holidays reaffirm the bonds that tie citizens to a land called home, but also to each other.
Yet, different individuals and groups define the essentials of patriotism differently. In fact, St. John Paul II called attention in a 1995 New York speech at U.N. headquarters to the existence both of healthy and unhealthy forms of patriotism.
His thoughts may seem especially noteworthy because his own patriotism -- his outstanding affection for Poland, his homeland -- was so well-known.
"We need to clarify the essential difference between an unhealthy form of nationalism, which teaches contempt for other nations or cultures, and patriotism, which is a proper love for one's country," he remarked, "True patriotism never seeks to advance the well-being of one's own nation at the expense of others. For in the end this would harm one's own nation as well."
So patriotism calls into play a love for one's homeland and a commitment to caring for it and its people. But does it require turning one's back to lands that others call home?
Patriotism represents a particular challenge for Christians. Christianity, as a universal faith, highlights good reasons for taking seriously the needs and well-being of "others."
Jesus said, speaking in Jerusalem to the apostles at the moment of his Ascension, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Clearly, their faith was not meant to take root in just one region or among only one people judged, somehow, to be superior to others.
St. Paul's missionary journeys in Christianity's earliest days also led him far and wide into others' homelands. His ministry affirmed the dignity of these others and considered them worthy of profound respect.
Bishop Robert J. McElroy of San Diego, speaking in Washington in January 2017, recalled that Pope Benedict XVI expressed regret in 2009 that "as society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbors but does not make us brothers."
Patriotism, Bishop McElroy said, "is not a foundation for pride, but an ever-deepening challenge to ennoble our culture, society and government."
Love of country is a virtue, he observed. But while a "nationalistic impulse" may, on the one hand, signify the type of "virtuous patriotism" that "integrates the love of country into the spectrum of moral obligations," he cautioned that it might on the other hand "be rooted in pride, isolationism and discrimination."
The essentials of patriotism, many leaders hold, do not add up merely to passive good feelings about a homeland, requiring no action by individuals and their communities. Instead, patriotism represents the kind of love that takes these positive feelings and puts them into action in ways that nurture the land itself and strengthen human bonds everywhere.
(Gibson served on Catholic News Service's editorial staff for 37 years.)
Reflecting on the swell of nationalism seen in the months during the 2016 presidential campaign, Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego called for a rearticulation of what patriotism is and an engagement with Catholic social teaching principles in a January 2017 article titled, "What is the Catholic response to the rise of nationalism?" in America Magazine.
True patriotism requires its citizens to make culture, society and government more noble, Bishop McElroy wrote.
"As Pope Francis reminded us in his address to Congress, America's greatness lies in the freedom proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln, the justice lived out by Dorothy Day, the poignant dream of racial equality articulated by Martin Luther King Jr. and the spiritual richness of Thomas Merton," he added.
Bishop McElroy highlighted three areas where Catholic social teaching could guide foreign policy that would contribute to the good of humanity as a whole: the global economy, the environment and refugees.
Catholics must bring the church's vision of social teaching into public dialogue, Bishop McElroy said.
This dialogue, Bishop McElroy concluded, must be enriched by a patriotism that "recognizes that every member of our society constitutes equally 'the people,'" that "sees greatness not in power or wealth but as a moral and spiritual aspiration founded in justice, freedom and solidarity," and that "advances America's aims in the world in a manner that enhances the dignity and integral human development of all peoples."