Dear Friends in Christ,
My mother was raised just outside of Washington, D.C., and one of my aunts still lives there. As a child, we took a trip to our nation’s capital every few summers. From those trips, I have strong memories of exploring the National Mall, the Smithsonian Museums, and Arlington National Cemetery. For many of us, we recall times at these and other memorials of the United States as we celebrate with patriotism our country’s independence on July 4th each year.
The virtue of patriotism can be defined as “Paying due honor and respect to one’s country, with a willingness to serve.” The love we are called to have for our homeland is based on gratitude for the gifts and benefits it affords us. It’s also a virtue that seeks to give back in ways that will make our country better. Being a patriot doesn’t mean accepting everything our country has done or is doing as good or worthwhile. But it does mean a generosity to seek to grow in those virtues that will improve its future.
As Catholics, we are called to love and care for our earthly home, including our nation. The first act of the Catholic patriot is always to pray. As the beautiful song of our country’s patroness, Immaculate Mary, sings in the final verse: “We pray for our Mother, the Church upon earth. And bless, Holy Mary, the land of our birth.” This expresses that we are ultimately pilgrims on a journey to our heavenly homeland, and that our full citizenship is there through being members of Christ’s Body, the Church.
In fact, the author G.K. Chesterton, in his excellent book Orthodoxy, uses the natural virtue of patriotism to speak about how Catholics relate to the whole created world. How do we deal with this world we live in, which is not evil in itself, but also is not our final destination? Chesterton says that we should not take the negative view of a pessimist, dismissing all of the world’s good. But we should also not take the rose-colored view of an optimist, seeing little need for critique or growth, and seeing this world as complete with nothing lacking. Rather, he says we must be “cosmic-patriots”, loving the world first as God’s gift, and then seeking to respond to its needs because we love it: “[This world’s] gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more.”
This is another way of talking about stewardship: responding to the gifts that we have been given with the love that is their due, and with care to improve and help those around us. Good stewards of God’s gifts know that there is something greater beyond this temporary home. All has been given so that we can return ourselves as a gift of love and come to the heavenly country where we can live in union with God forever.
Let’s pray for our country that we might be good patriots and stewards with a willingness to serve! Happy 4th!
Sincerely Yours in Christ,
Rev. David Fons