The Virtue of Patriotism
The second reading for today speaks about flesh and spirit. St. Paul tells us that if we live according to the flesh, concentrating on the things of the world and on self gratification, we will die. If we live according to the Spirit, concentrating on following God and living our Christian life, we will live.
We all have a great deal of pride in our country. This weekend we celebrate, Independence Day. This is our proudest national holiday as we remember the determination of our founding fathers to establish a country that respected the inalienable rights of all its citizens. We Americans have a deep love for our country. Our basic attitude is: if you don’t love it, take a hike. This is not the same throughout the world.
A number of years ago I was in Washington, D. C. and was invited by Congressman Michael Bilirakis to join him for lunch in the Capital Building. The Congressman also gave me a mini-tour of some of the areas of the capital closed to tour groups. This was before the deeper security of 9-11. He pointed out to me a large picture of the Constitutional Convention. From your history, you might remember that the original government of the United States, the Articles of Confederation, didn't work very well. The Constitutional Convention was called to refine the Articles of Confederation, but ended up scrapping the Articles and establishing a whole new government as we have it today. It was a paper second revolution.
As the Congressman pointed out the picture, he reminded me that during the Constitutional Convention an impasse was reached regarding the number of representatives from each state in the legislature. Should it be the same from each state, or should the states with the larger populations have more? The squabble went on and on with the small states demanding an equal number of votes and the large state demanding representation based on population. Finally, Benjamin Franklin took the floor and asked everyone to kneel down and pray to the God whose hand had given our country freedom. Our Founding Fathers knelt down and prayed for a solution. When they got up they decided to embrace a bicameral legislature, the two house system of legislature we now have when the Senate has an equal amount of representative for each state and the House has representatives based on population.
The Founding Fathers were convinced that the hand of God was responsible for the success of the Revolutionary War and for the success of the Constitutional Convention. Faith in God and the determination to live his laws was the basis of our country, regardless of the particular denominations of our founders. They put "in God we trust" on our coinage.
At the same time, the Founding Fathers demanded a separation of Church and State. This was never meant to be a separation of God or his laws from the State. It was a separation of denominations and the state. No religion in our country would be allowed to become the State Religion. In Europe, where there were state religions among the Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant countries, people could be persecuted for not following the tenets of the religion of their country. The churches in those countries could demand that government declare other faiths as illegal. The Jewish people particularly in Protestant and Catholic countries, found themselves continually in violation of national laws simply because they were Jewish. The same can be applied to Catholics in England and Northern Germany, Puritans and Huguenots in England and France, etc. This was not to take place in the United States. No one religion would be a State religion.
On the other hand, the separation of Church and State would protect churches from the state. The country could not declare that worshiping God is illegal or that various religious practices were illegal. To use a modern example, if we didn't have the separation of Church and state, then a purely Church issue within the Catholic Church, such as the ordination of women, could be dictated by the State. The State could say that it is illegal to exclude women from certain Church positions, such as the priesthood. The State would end up determining Church laws. The State has no business telling us how to run our Church.
With all this understood, it was never the intention of the Founding Fathers to exclude God, nor prayer to God, nor the principles of morality from the country. From its inception, our country recognized the existence of its spiritual dimension. St. Paul says, flesh begets death and spirit begets life. Therefore, if our country is concerned with materialism and self gratification, it is on a course of death. If our country is concerned with living the law of God, no matter how that law is expressed in various denominations, then the country is on the road of life.
There has been abundant criticism of priests, ministers, and Churches for making statements regarding the laws of our land. It is certainly true, that no priest, minister or Church should enter into partisan politics. However, the priest, minister and Church do have an obligation and responsibility to point out the instances where the State is drifting away from the laws of God. This is not just the abortion issue; although that would be good enough since our country has legalized murder in the name of women’s rights. The Church has spoken against an economic system where the rich become richer and poor become poorer. The Church has spoken against going to war unless it is both just and the absolute last possibility. The Church has spoken against capital punishment, which is usually a punishment reserved for the poor.
The church is called to be an authentic teacher of people and a herald of truth. The Second Vatican Council said that we have a responsibility to interpret the Gospel in the light and signs of our times. Priest or laity, we all have the responsibility to demand that our country remain true to the spiritual dimension of its foundation. We have the right and responsibility to demand that the law of God, basic morality, remain the foundation of the laws of our land.
As good Catholics and good Americans, we pray that the quest to preserve and nurture the spiritual dimensions of our nation might always overcome the temptation to let materialism, the flesh, dominate our land. On this fourth of July weekend we pray for the virtue of patriotism.