|Immaculate Conception, by Peter Paul Rubens, 1649-50, |
Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.
This particular 4th of July seems like a good time
to talk about the virtue of patriotism.
Our catechism links patriotism to the fourth commandment:
“Honor your father and mother.”
It goes on to say that this commandment
“requires honor, affection, and gratitude toward elders and ancestors”
and “it extends to the duties of citizens to their country,
and to those who administer or govern it.”
The great Thomas Aquinas talked about patriotism in a different way –
in relation to the virtue of piety, or pietas in Latin.
For the ancient Romans, piety was a debt of honor,
owed to my parents, my family, and my patria, or country.
That’s where we get the term “patriot.”
And so, St. Thomas teaches, “man is debtor
chiefly to his parents and his country, after God.”
So one of the first aspects of patriotism is to recognize: I owe a debt.
From the first moment of my existence,
someone else was feeding and protecting me:
first in my mother’s womb, then in the house of my parents.
They clothed and educated me,
turned me from a barbarian into a halfway decent person,
all at great expense, for the first 20 or so years of my life.
And it was the same for you, too.
Our parents taught us something else: they had help.
Whether you grew up in the city like me, or here in farm country,
All of us were sheltered under the protective wings of our country:
Enjoying astonishing prosperity, the most expansive liberty,
and a blanket of peace and security
that most people past and present, have never known.
The peace we enjoyed came at great cost: vigilance, courage and blood.
Every one of us owes a debt, and it is right to pay that debt:
not only gratitude, but love. We owe love to our country.
Now, here is something else that most people have not enjoyed:
Our country gives us the right to criticize and to demand change.
So, if you and I are properly grateful for this right in particular,
how shall we show that gratitude?
Many of our fellow citizens are responding with violence and hate.
There is no excuse. No, none whatsoever.
You do not remedy injustice by adding injustice.
Do not let others’ ugliness make you respond in kind.
That said, there is such a thing as patriotic protest.
It was bought for us at extravagant cost.
Therefore, it is not only a right, but a duty.
But what makes protest patriotic is that it acts out of love.
Consider the prophet Amos, who gave us the first reading.
Why did go up and down the land, crying out?
He, inspired by God, was acting in love: to save his people.
He could not bear to see his homeland so disfigured by sin and cruelty.
To be a citizen means we have a share in shaping our country.
Again: a privilege won for us by blood,
And which most people past and present, do not enjoy.
So if you are a patriot – and St. Thomas says, we must be –
Then part of that patriotism is to take part in shaping our nation.
If you do not exercise the vote, if you do not become informed,
how can you defend that?
If the people of Israel could have voted for a new king,
what do you think Amos would have done? Just change the channel?
In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us that there are times
when his friends – that’s you and me – are called to fast and pray.
When our country is in trouble – and we are in trouble now! –
Then that is such a time.
So, before this Mass, a group prayed a “patriotic” Rosary.
Remember, the bishops designated our Lady as the patroness –
the patron saint – of our country.
Look at very old artwork of Mary: red, white and blue
were her colors, long before our nation ever existed!
So go to Mary: ask her to pray for America, and you pray with her.
It is not unpatriotic to admit that we still need to change.
Those who say we need less racism and more justice: they’re not wrong!
You and I might add: justice means defending human life,
from its very beginning, to its very end.
And defending human life from being twisted and corrupted,
Which is why we defend the family as it truly is: man-woman-child,
and therefore, we refuse to accept counterfeits.
This is why we cannot be passive about the filth on the Internet,
Which is every bit as toxic in its own way
as all those poisons we worked all these years
to remove from our air and water.
You and I pray for these things, speak out and vote for these things,
because we are patriotic; because we love our country.