July 5, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: Patriotism and democracy

John F. FinkOn the 237th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which we celebrate this week, it’s well for us to remember that the Catholic Church considers patriotism to be a virtue. Indeed, the philosophy enunciated by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration is the philosophy of the Church.

Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” Catholic schools teach our children that “all men are created equal,” which from its very language is a religious principle as well as a principle of democracy. This principle is accepted by Catholic children just as readily as “two plus two equals four.”

It seems to me that democracy is no longer taught in public schools to the extent that it once was. Perhaps that’s because it’s difficult, even impossible, to teach the principles of democracy without teaching the fundamentals of religion, and, as we all know, religion cannot be taught in public schools.

If you don’t believe in a Creator who made all men equal and endowed with “certain unalienable rights,” as Jefferson wrote, you immediately deny the whole basis on which democracy rests.

Catholics, therefore, should be the greatest patriots in the United States. Many principles on which our country was founded are seen in Catholic doctrine. And throughout our country’s history, Catholics have demonstrated their patriotism.

Like most virtues, true patriotism lies between two extremes. There are those who feel no love for their country, and are unwilling to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens. And there are those who defend their country even if it’s wrong: “My country, right or wrong, good or bad.”

St. Paul dealt with the former in his Letter to the Romans, Chapter 13. Among other things, he told them to “pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due” (Rom 13:7).

As for the other extreme, we must not be satisfied when something in society is wrong. Real patriotism requires us to continually seek the common good of all citizens. For Catholics, that means following the social teachings of the Church. When authorities do wrong, we must do our best to change things.

We are being patriotic when we protest murderous assaults on the unborn, the aged and infirm. We are being patriotic when we urge our lawmakers to pass laws in favor of the poor, the migrants and the oppressed. We are being patriotic when we object to regulations that infringe on freedom of religion.

In 2009, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Raymond Burke spoke about patriotism at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Among other things, he said, “The most treasured gift which we as citizens of the United States can offer to our country is a faithful Catholic life. … From my earliest formation in the life of the faith, it was clear to me that duty to one’s nation, to one’s fellow citizens, is integral to our life in Christ in the Church.” †

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