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Patriotism and unity

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Each July Fourth we remember and recommit ourselves to the truths that ground our nation’s identity and unity, as proclaimed by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

 

As citizens of two cities (the Kingdom of God and our earthly kingdom), we can never place political ideologies above the deep convictions of our Catholic faith.

We also give thanks and praise to God for the many blessings he has bestowed on us and on our nation. When our Founding Fathers began the great task of pursuing freedom, they appealed to “the Supreme Judge of the world” and with “a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” We now praise God, who is (to adapt the well-known hymn) our help in ages past, our strength today and our hope for years to come.

 

No human system of law and justice can fully ensure that everyone’s dignity is respected and upheld. The American story is unique because the very principles upon which our nation was built have led to improvements in our Constitution, and so our system has had the opportunity to better reflect our dignity and our rights. Additionally, the American spirit is exemplified by our sense of obligation to support our fellow citizens. As Catholics, supporting and upholding life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we go beyond legal obligations and are called to manifest in our whole lives the Good News of Jesus Christ by freely loving, forgiving and serving one another as God has done for us.

 

Bringing Christ and his Good News into our communities is our vocation as his disciples. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council exhorted all Christians, “as citizens of two cities, to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit” (“Gaudium et spes,” 43). In other words, Christ continues to sow the seeds of the Heavenly Kingdom through us and our work as citizens of this earthly nation.

 

Bringing God into our social and political life is also our duty. Our Founding Fathers’ convictions intimately link our country’s political and social life to a moral and metaphysical reality rooted in the divine. Without God, there are no inherent dignity, rights or goods to uphold. Our respect for one another, or our belief in freedom and liberty, would stem only from our collective agreement to these principles. By cooperating with God’s will and working to bring his Kingdom more fully into our world, we gain a foretaste here on earth of that true freedom he alone can give. And, if we are truly rooted in Christ’s truth in social and political life, we will never stray from what is good and noble.

 

By taking these realities to heart — that the truths that undergird our national identity and unity are divinely inspired and that as Christians and American citizens we are called to promote them actively — we can better understand the deep meaning of patriotism: love of and support for our country, its citizens and its civil servants insofar as they are conformed to God’s holy will.

 

Such a patriotism is expressed by “working for a social and political order whose soul is social charity,” what Pope Francis has called a “political love” that transcends individualism and brings us into social and fraternal unity (“Fratelli Tutti” 180). That is, love for our country arises principally from our love of God and one another. This patriotism also guards against the perils of wrongly trusting in human means alone. As citizens of two cities (the Kingdom of God and our earthly kingdom), we can never place political ideologies above the deep convictions of our Catholic faith. 

 

Therefore, as we celebrate the United States of America this Independence Day, we renew our commitment to bring Christ into the world so that the divine truths affirmed since our nation’s founding — that we are all created equal with the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — may shine ever more brightly. We praise God for his blessings, ask forgiveness for the times we have failed to allow them to bear fruit within us, and implore his help that, in the future, we may be united ever more closely as “one nation, under God.”

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021