What Patriotism Means Now
By Father Matthew Habiger, OSB | A moral theologian, former president of HLI and noted expert on Natural Family Planning, Fr. Habiger is a monk at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kansas. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
When we say “patriotism,” we mean love of country. That is very natural, because everyone wants to belong to something, to their own culture or to their own country. Everyone wants to identify with their state or country. Just think of a national convention, or being at a gathering at St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
A patriot appreciates all the gifts that his country has showered upon him. In our case, as U.S. citizens, we have been blessed as no other nationality with freedoms, material prosperity and opportunities for achievement and advancement.
How do we “love our country?” It doesn’t mean accepting “my country, right or wrong.” There are objective standards by which every country is measured. We embrace all that is good in our country. We take seriously the statement in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
We love our country when we uphold and defend all the authentic human rights that flow out of our God-given human dignity: e.g., the right to religious freedom, freedom of speech, of assembly, the right to take economic initiative, the right to choose one’s career in life, the right to try, without any guarantees of success. In other words, we love our country when we acknowledge that God is the source of our dignity and of all our human rights. We love our country when we exercise these rights, when we defend them, and when we perform our duties that correspond to each of our rights.
Patriotism and God go together. We can’t love our country if we do, or allow, things that are offensive to God. If we are offending God, then we are harming our country. God has a basic plan for the human race. He created it! He designed human nature, and the complementarity of the two sexes. He designed marriage, spousal love and family. He has a generic plan that fits into any just society, because He created this planet for the benefit of all who live here. We speak of the “universal destiny of all created goods.” We render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.
We love our country when we pursue the good, which means God’s plan for all the various goods that fulfill us as human persons. We love our country when we expose and resist the evil, which means any major attempt to abuse or destroy, the various human goods. Today there is a lot of confusion over what is good, what is right and true. True patriotism stands up to abuses, to twisted and distorted thinking, and to the attacks against basic human rights.
The “Greatest Generation” is a term used in reference to the veterans of World War II. Truly, they were exemplary in their selfless generosity to a great cause. They freed the world from the curse of National Socialism. Both a free world and this perversion of world order could not coexist. It had to be destroyed. It was a black and white situation.
But every generation is called to be a great generation. Everyone is called to stand up against abuses of human rights, rights that God endowed to all men and women. Everyone is called to search out the true, and then guide their lives by that truth. Each of us has a duty to store up moral capital and leave that as an endowment to the next generation.
If we want to be good patriots, to love our country, then we will first of all be a people of faith, a people who acknowledge God as the source of all good things, and who is the goal of every human life. We will render to God what is His, and to Caesar what is his. That is why the New Evangelization is so important. That is why the Second Fortnight for Religious Freedom is so important. That is why the defense of biblical marriage is so important.
In real life, we seldom find a completely unambiguous contrast of black and white as in the case of National Socialism or atheistic Marxism. Rather, we find ourselves living in various shades of grey. Our task, as Christians and as patriots, is to move into lesser shades of grey, towards the light; and to move away from greater shades of grey, towards they darkness. In doing this, our Faith will serve as a compass, and our country will be the beneficiary.
A good Christian is a true patriot.