The Catholic Virtue of Patriotism


Something to think about on Memorial Day and on Independence Day:

Written by Msgr Stuart Swetland
Tuesday, 07 April 2009 00:12
The following article is an excerpt from a talk entitled “the Catholic virtue of Patriotism” by Msgr Stuart Swetland. A Navy Academy graduate with a degree in physics, he went on to be a Rhodes Scholar in 1981 and converted to Catholicism while studying at politics, economics and philosophy at Oxford. He currently serves at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, MD as Director of  Homiletics and Pre-Theology. Patriotism and the proper relationship with our nation with the people, with the state, is included in the fourth commandment to honor your father and mother. There are natural societies- God-created societies- that every person belongs to or ought to. Those three are the family, the Church, and the state. That collective people that I belong to- that we sing in the Marian hymn- is “the land of our birth”. We ought to live in right relationship- in harmony- in the communities to which we belong: family, Church, and state.

And there are those who are appropriately given the responsibility for the common good of those societies that we belong to and we should honor them in their roles. We should honor our bishop for his role in the Church. We should honor our mother and father because of their parental role in the family. And we should honor those who have been entrusted with authority from God and Romans 13 makes that clear.

The authority does not come from a social contract. It does not come from some relationship we decide on. The authority of those placed in political leadership comes from God and what we are to have vis a vis those who are over us is this respect or honor. In other words, we should afford to those who have a father-like role towards us that devotion that loving children that honor and respect (which also means obedience) that a loving child, a good child, a holy child ought to give to their father.

This is why it is not inappropriate to speak of your nation as your Fatherland. And the term patriotism actually comes from that root- the idea of our Patria, our Father- in Greek patras. It’s the same in the Greek and the Latin, the idea that there is this paternal relationship between our bishop and us and the Church, between our government officials and us, and our parents and our family.

The reality is that patriotism is a virtue and it means that we have an appropriate honor that we give to our country. And because it is a virtue, it stands between two extremes. The person who does not love his country, is the person we usually call unpatriotic. He’s not willing to pay his taxes, he’s not willing to serve on a jury, he’s not willing to go out and vote. He’s not willing to fulfill his duties that are his as a citizen and that makes him unpatriotic. He doesn’t love his country, he just loves himself and therefore he lacks in the proper love of others as lived out in the social community.

The person who has too much patriotism is that person who is beyond patriotic and becomes a nationalist rogue, or a bigot, or someone who is like “my country, may she always be right but right or wrong, my country.” That idea is “America first” and everything – whatever other country and everything- that kind of person usually goes by different names, and I usually refer to it- as it usually dissolves into some kind of bigotry- as some kind of nationalist bigot. That’s the extreme.

Between those is the virtue, somewhere in the middle, where we have an appropriate love of our nation. And an appropriate love of our nation is this: that we want to see it flourish. We want to see our nation flourish. We want to see the common good pursued and obtained and the common good is the sum total of all the conditions necessary for each and every member of the society to flourish as a human persons. And we should be pursuing the common good as a community. Our goal should always be we achieve the common good as best we can for our people- the true common good. Not some kind of false goods that we might pursue because they selfishly are things we want right now. For example, there are some that might want to see porn easily and readily available.

Back in the mid 90s the porn industry outstripped major league baseball. The joke was we have a new American pastime. Last time we did this work- middle of this decade- the revenues outstripped major league baseball, basketball, football, hockey soccer, ABC, NBC, CBS all together. So much so that when the stimulus bill was being pitched, Larry Flint made a pitch for them to bail out the porn industry that had fallen on hard time and he asked 40 billion. It’s a major industry in CA. A major industry.

Do you know what the biggest cash crop is in California? Marijuana. The biggest cash crop in California is marijuana, an illegal substance sold under the table with no taxes, no regulations, no gov’t involvement other than trying to catch the people which are obviously very bad. So I’m not talking about the marijuana industry flourishing or the porn industry flourishing as if that would serve the common good, but the true Common Good of America. And the true common good of America would be a place where there would be no porn because there is no good use of pornography. It has no social redeeming value, so we don’t want to see that flourish. We’re talking about the true common good.

So a patriot is a man or woman who is interested in seeing the true common good of the society and doing everything that he or she can to help bring about that true common good. The Catholic vision of patriotism and the virtue of patriotism is a group of people who understand- with each individual in that group understanding- what the true common good is for their nation and our attempting together to achieve that with whatever means available to them and their vocation. And that’s what some of the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs are trying to get to today.

“The love and service of one’s country follows from the duty of gratitude and belongs to the order of charity.”

 

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