by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
July 3, 2022 — Birthdays give rise to serious reflections on basic questions about one’s life. This experience can and should be brought to the birthday of the United States. On this particular July 4, a serious reflection of this sort is crucial. After what has come to light just in the past two weeks with Congressional testimonies about the January 6, 2021 insurrection, we face what Abraham Lincoln wondered 159 years ago. To paraphrase him: Now we are testing whether this nation or any nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all are created equal can long endure.
Some thoughts then on the need today for genuine patriotism over against the corrosive nationalism which is tearing apart the fabric of our nation.
- Catholics are duty bound to love and serve their country, to practice what is commonly called patriotism. “The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity.” (Catechism 2239) The principle of solidarity requires that men and women of our day cultivate a greater awareness that they are debtors of the society of which they have become a part.
- Nationalism is the policy of asserting the interests of one’s own nation – or group – as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations or groups.
- A true patriot is always vigilant to ensure that their country upholds its finest principles.
- A nationalist, on other other hand, is always vigilant to ensure that his country is never criticized, no matter what action it takes.
- There is a naturalness to patriotism, which reflects love for what is one’s own, and gratitude for what has been given.
- Fascist regimes have merged the fervor of nationalism with the notions of superiority, especially when it comes to ethnicity and religion.
- “Our patriotism is not a foundation for pride but an ever-deepening challenge to ennoble our culture, society and government.” (Cardinal-designate Robert W. McElroy, bishop of San Diego)
- Our nationalism conceives itself as rooted in the interests of the United States alone.
In a January 2017 essay in America magazine, Cardinal-designate Robert McElroy asked: “What is the Catholic response to the rise of nationalism?” He wrote that there are “three questions the United States must deal with … in order to ensure that the nationalist impulse so prominent in our society today might be converted to produce a substantive patriotism that is morally sound and unitive …”:
1. In the face of a “populist nationalism which… carries the claim that “the people are really only some of those who live in the Unites States,” McElroy asks: Who are we the people?
2. In the face of power wealth and success he asks: Wherein lies the greatness of the United States? Is it “power, wealth and success? Or is the greatness we seek founded in the order of justice, freedom, truth and solidarity? In short, is it a material greatness or a greatness of the soul?”
3. In the face of the international common good he asks: Does nationalism conceive itself as rooted in the interests of the United States alone?
Two further considerations flow from these reflections: The conviction of the United States of its exceptionalism and our sense of entitlement. In a real sense both have value. The United States is exceptional in the same way that every country is exceptional. Those of us who have lived for any length of time outside of the United States can attest to the glories of other nations. U.S. Americans’ sense of entitlement flows directly from Catholic Social Teaching, the value it puts on every human being. However, it is easy to understand how these can be turned into a national xenophobia illustrated by so much of today’s public discourse.
Pope Francis has the final, inspiring word. Addressing Congress in September 2015 he said that the United States’ “greatness lies in the freedom proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln, the justice lived out by Dorothy Day, the poignant dream of racial equality articulated by Martin Luther King Jr. and the spiritual richness of Thomas Merton.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.