It is one I was reminded of by our Pastor (excellent bulletin article).
Patriotism: The Catholic Understanding
People often use the terms “patriotism” and “nationalism” interchangeably. The Catholic Church, however, does not. Whereas the Church identifies patriotism as an obligation required by the Fourth Commandment (Honor thy father and mother), nationalism is deeply suspect.
What’s the difference? The word “patriotism” comes from the Latin word patria, which is related to pater, which means “father.” In the broad sense, patriotism is our intense love, gratitude, and esteem for our own “organic” ancestors, beginning with our parents. Patriotism originates and terminates in and with God, the only true Father. As such, patriotism precedes the existence of all specific nation-states and extends far beyond them. Whereas the patria endures, the nation-state is always temporary.
Pope St. John Paul II, who never concealed his love for Poland, his own patria, offered an excellent definition of patriotism in Memory and Identity, a quasi-memoir published in 2005. He wrote: “Patriotism is a love for everything to do with our native land: its history, its traditions, its language, its natural features. It is a love which extends also to the works of our compatriots and the fruits of their genius. Every danger that threatens the overall good of our native land becomes an occasion to demonstrate this love…I believe that the same could be said of every country and every nation in Europe and throughout the world.”
The Holy Father then offered a crucial distinction between patriotism and nationalism: “Whereas nationalism involves recognizing and pursuing the good of one’s own nation alone, without regard for the rights of others, patriotism, on the other hand, is a love for one’s native land that accords rights to all other nations equal to those claimed for one’s own. Patriotism, in other words, leads to a properly ordered social love.”
True Patriotism never seeks domination, division, exclusion, or self-isolation. Rather, patriotic love necessarily embraces all humankind. How could it be otherwise? After all, surely we all have ancestors who never shared our American citizenship and who existed long before the United States was founded. Moreover, our liturgical prayers almost always use patria for Heaven, our true “homeland.”
Nationalism is not “true patriotism” nor is it a Christian virtue. St. Josemaria Escriva, the Spanish priest who founded Opus Dei and was canonized by Pope St. John Paul II in 2002, made this blunt statement:
"Love your own country: it is a Christian virtue to be patriotic. But if patriotism becomes nationalism, which leads you to look at other people, at other countries, with indifference, with scorn, without Christian charity and justice, then it is a sin.”
Great saints always correct the common misunderstandings of every era. They deserve our attention.
Fr. Michael Kerper