14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 7, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Last Thursday we remembered July 4th, 1776,
Independence Day, the birthday of our Country.
And we rightly celebrated with cookouts, parades, speeches and fireworks.
It is a day of great national love and pride,
and mutual goodwill among Americans.
A day celebrating patriotism.
But not for everyone.
As one newspaper headline read: “American patriotism is at a record low,”
as it cited a new Gallup poll that shows dramatic decreases
when people are asked how proud they are to be American.
We see this same sentiment expressed by the actions
of some NFL players and members of the US Women’s Soccer team
during the playing of the national anthem.
And we see it when Nike cancels a line of shoes with the original American flag.
That may anger some of us, but is it wrong?
Does God command us to be patriotic?
The answer is, yes.
Jesus tells us that the 2 greatest commandments are
first, to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,
and second, to love your neighbor as yourself.
As St. Thomas Aquinas explains that our first neighbor is our family,
especially our parents,
but after that our second neighbor, so to speak,
is our country, or our “patria” in Latin, and our fellow countrymen.
So that the 2nd great commandment applies first to parents and family
and second to country and countrymen.
We see this specified, if you will, in the 4th commandment:
“Honor your father and mother.”
God gives you parents and family to love and care for you,
and in return calls you to love and care for them—to “honor” them.
And in the same way, God gives us our country and fellow countrymen
to love and care for us,
and so we in turn must love and care for our country and countrymen
—we must honor it and them.
So, for example, we read in today’s first reading:
“Thus says the LORD: Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her,
all you who love her…”
This is talking about the virtue of love of country:
Jerusalem stood for the whole country of Israel.
This is Patriotism.
And we see the same virtue in Jesus Himself.
Once when Jesus was going to Jerusalem, the gospels tell us:
“when He drew near and saw the city, He wept over it,”
because He saw how Jerusalem would reject Him,
and how this would lead to her destruction at the hands of Rome.
Loving our neighbor demands love of patria, country.
Of course, the people in other countries are also our neighbors,
and God commands us to love them also.
But it’s a matter of priorities:
we should love and help the people next door,
but clearly before that we should take care of our families first:
it’s a simple rule, “charity begins at home.”
And it’s the same thing with patriotism.
We should love people in other countries,
but first we should love, honor and care for our country
and our countrymen,
and then love and help folks in other countries.
Now, some today say that this is wrongheaded.
Many would equate, or conflate, “patriotism”
with what has been historically called “nationalism.”
Even good patriots do this
—use the term “nationalism”
when I think what they really mean is “patriotism”.
I wish they wouldn’t confuse the two.
Because historically “nationalism” is different from patriotism,
in that historical nationalism would say
not, “America first,” but “American, first, last and only.”
Historical nationalism would even allow us to conquer foreign lands
just because we think our nation is better
and has a right to take whatever we wants.
That’s nationalism, and that is wrong—that is sinful.
Patriotism does not do that.
A Patriot would not say, “American, first, last and only,”
but rather, “American first, but then everyone else is second,”
or better yet,
“God, first, family second, and America third…and everyone else fourth.”
Now, some might say, but Father, what about people who aren’t citizens,
maybe they’re law-abiding non-citizen residents,
but not technically “American”?
Well, perhaps the meaning of the term “fellow countryman” might include them,
but even if it doesn’t, then it would simply mean that after citizens,
these good people would come next in priority over all others.
But what about people who come to or remain in our country illegally
—don’t we owe them honor and love too?
Yes, of course!
But in order of nature and nature’s God,
our priorities are family, countrymen, and then others.
Now we have to be careful.
First, as I said, I wish people would stop using the term “nationalism”
when they mean “patriotism.”
But also, just as patriotism isn’t historical nationalism,
patriotism also isn’t historical “nativism”
—“nativism” means placing priority on people who are born here,
or even who’s great-grandparents were born here,
so they’d been here for generations,
and that would exclude immigrants.
Patriotism, on the other hand,
extends priority to all who share the same commitment
to be part of the fabric of our country
—including those whom God has moved here from other countries,
and who are sincerely committed to patriotism.
And Patriotism also isn’t the same as loving the government per se,
but rather honoring the government to the extend it is part of the country
and at the service of the people of the country.
For example, we don’t honor the president because he’s in charge,
or even because we like him as a person,
but because he holds an office that is an important part of our country,
and even a symbol of our country as a whole.
The thing is, patriotism is not just an ideal,
but has a practical everyday application.
First of all, it means learning the history of our country, both the good and bad.
But like a family that embraces the good memories and works to fix the bad,
patriots celebrate the greatness in our history,
even as we learn from and work to overcome our failures.
But a patriot does not allow past failures to cause us to dishonor our country.
Patriotism also involves participation in the life of our nation.
This includes everything from
working productively in school or at a job,
to raising a good and healthy family,
to paying taxes.
But it especially involves participating in the public square,
including voting whenever there is an election,
and even campaigning for candidates who truly want the best for our country.
Patriotism also means defending our country.
So many of you have dedicated your lives, or part of your lives, to this,
taking up arms and uniforms for our country:
thank you for your service, you are true patriots.
But defending America also includes simply standing up and speaking out
for the good of our country,
not being silenced by the politically correct crowd,
but using your God-given and constitutionally protected
freedom of speech and assembly to publicly promote
what you believe is genuinely good for our country.
And patriotism means truly striving for the good of each other.
This means both providing opportunities
for everyone to provide for their own well-being,
primarily through just laws and a sound economic system,
but also providing necessities for those
who truly cannot provide for themselves.
And it means respecting each other in word and action.
Like a family, we can argue, we can even call each other names.
But also like a family, there are lines we know we should never cross,
words we should never use,
because we know that would be too much, that would be a dishonor.
Too often today our public discourse crosses those lines of respect and honor,
and as patriots we cannot condone this.
And Patriotism means honoring the symbols our country.
I have pictures of my family all over the rectory;
they are just images on paper,
but they remind me of my family and help me to honor and love them.
It’s the same thing with the symbols of America.
So, when the American flag passes or the National Anthem is played
it is important to be patriotic and honor America
by standing and maybe placing our hands over our hearts,
whatever the custom is.
When I look at a picture of my mother or father,
I don’t think of the times they might have been unjust or too harsh with me
—no, I focus on what made them so good, and the love between us.
So we don’t burn the American flag, but salute it.
And when we see the original American flag that has 13 stars
—the so called “Betsy Ross Flag”—
we shouldn’t choose to see it as a sign
of the injustices that were tolerated at our founding,
but as a sign of the great and noble ideals enshrined in the founding
–ideas like “all men are created equal”–
that have propelled us to work to overcome those errors.
To some today, it seems patriotism is a dirty word, or a sign of partisanship.
It is not.
Patriotism is an essential part of what it means to be a virtuous person,
and a true Christian.
And to fail to strive to be a patriot is to sin.
As we now enter more deeply into this Holy Mass, let us pray for America.
And let us pray that all who live in our great country may join together as patriots
to cherish and honor her for the good she has done,
and work together to correct her faults.
And as we receive Our Lord Jesus in Holy Communion,
may give us the grace to love our neighbor as we ought,
and increase in us the noble and necessary virtue of patriotism.