Today is Patriot’s Day, the day we pause to remember the tragic events that took place on September 11, 2001. We ought to take time today to pray for the souls of those who lost their lives that day, those they left behind, for the survivors of the attacks, and for peace in our world.
The beautiful thing that comes about in horrific times like 9/11 or, more recently, Hurricane Harvey, is that we come together. Americans help one another, pray for each other, and support those in need in what ever way we can. Pictures forever etched in my mind of 9/11, besides all the horrific scenes, are the ones of firefighters, first responders, and ordinary people helping others. More recently, I have been touched by the stories coming out of Texas of the furniture store owner opening his store to displaced neighbors and the bakers stuck at work who baked bread all night for rescue crews. Indeed, Americans are known for their charity in times of crisis.
It seems to me, though, that in everyday life we tear each other apart. I see it in words on Facebook and Twitter. Politicians, pundits, and even celebrities attack those with differing opinions. Neither side tries to listen or understand the other. Worse yet, every day I hear of murders going on in the streets of our major cities. I dare say, however, that no one would say that this portrays the true American spirit.
So why do we seem to need tragedy to put aside differences to work together and help one another? Why do we feel pride in being American only in times of disaster?
I am sure the answer can be multiple and complex. I propose, though, that it can attributed to the lack of the virtue of patriotism.
What the Virtue of Patriotism Is
Patriotism is defined by Merriam-Webster as love for and devotion to one’s country. The virtue, however, entails so much more.
The word patriotism comes from the root “patria” meaning fatherland. Imagine the condition of a family that lacked love and respect for its father. That family would be weakened at least, destroyed at its worst. In order for our country to be whole and healthy, we must love and honor our fatherland.
The virtue of patriotism falls under the cardinal virtue of justice. In the spirit of giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, as our Lord taught us, justice demands that we respect the laws of our land. Justice, likewise, requires that we work within the confines of our system to change those laws which are unjust and do not protect our inalienable rights.
The Church also teaches that patriotism is an overflow from the virtue of piety. This makes sense since the virtue of piety is giving God the love that is due Him. Love of God is best shown by loving our neighbor. Those who are nigh are, first and foremost, our family. Mother Teresa was fond of saying, “If you want world peace, go home and love your family.” I suppose it would also follow that peace in our nation begins at home. The love and respect shown at home flows into our neighborhoods, towns, states, and country.
Like the other virtues, patriotism is first and best learned from home.
What Patriotism is Not
“‘My country, right or wrong’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying,” G.K. Chesterton declared. It is not unpatriotic to note the flaws and failings in our country. Our nation was, after all, founded by flawed men and continues to be governed by flawed people. Slavery was immoral; abortion is immoral. The fact that these institutions were/are allowed to stand is unjust, contrary not only to the First Amendment, but more importantly, to the God-given dignity of the human being. Yet, in their wisdom and, no doubt, guided by divine inspiration, our founding fathers set up a system that can correct its wrongs.
Contrary to popular thought these days, patriotism does not cause wars. Not true patriotism. Having a love for one’s own country does not exclude respect for other nations. On the contrary, the virtue of patriotism allows for us to see and admire the goodness in other nations, wishing to incorporated into our own nationality that which is righteous.
Patriotism is not a feeling of superiority, but a humble recognition of our nation’s blessings. The greatest of these blessings, I believe, is that Thomas Jefferson at the foundation of our country penned the words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Our Founding Fathers recognized that our rights came not from the State, the government or the majority. If so, our liberties could be taken away by the same. Our rights are rooted in God who cannot change nor be changed.
Our Patriotic Duty
So what does patriotism require of us? First and foremost, prayer. Pray for our country, our leaders and its citizens. We also most show respect for one another, beginning in our families and neighborhoods (and on Facebook, too). That respect must extend to the laws of our land and those who are charged with upholding them. We ought to work for social justice in the ways available to us. Teach our children how to be good citizens. Sing patriotic songs with them. And thank God that we are Americans.
I end with these words from Blessed Fulton Sheen:
“It is our solemn duty as Catholics, therefore, to be conscious of our duty to America, and to preserve its freedom by preserving its faith in God … But as we talk about patriotism, it might be well to remind ourselves that in a crisis like this even devotion to the stars and stripes is not enough to save us. We must look beyond them to other stars and stripes, namely the stars and stripes of Christ, by Whose stars we are illuminated and by whose stripes we are healed!” (then-Fr. Fulton J. Sheen on the Catholic Hour radio program on 2/20/1938).
Copyright 2017 Kelly Guest