Patriotism means adopting an attitude of selflessness

by David M. Carollo –

Photo by Mark Tegethoff,

As we approach the Independence Day holiday, the thoughts of patriotism come to mind. In this time when the very founding of this nation is regularly attacked, it would serve us well to understand the foundations of patriotism. Without this, it is impossible to understand the motivation of those who give their lives for their country, and even more, those who motivate them to do so. Was our country founded by perfect people? No, not even close, but it was founded by people dedicated to establishing a nation aimed at justice. Imperfect people seeking perfection defines all who want righteousness.

Selflessness is the defining characteristic of those who look beyond the needs of themselves and even those of their loved ones. It is the defining characteristic of a soldier who goes off to war, of a firefighter who heads into a burning building to save lives, or of the many religious and other missionaries who have sacrificed their own comfort and safety to secure the same for others. This, as I was taught at a young age, is how we should approach our duties in life. We live in a world today that seems to avoid such selfless acts, and instead embraces victimhood. We look at the difficulties that we find ourselves in and wonder how we got here.  We see our leaders acting only through the prism of political advantage. We are suffering today from a bankruptcy of integrity in all walks of life. 

As Catholics we believe in the communion of saints and responsibility for our actions.  We believe that personal sin has social consequences and that we share responsibility for the actions of our neighbors, both near and far. The things we do affect people, either positively or negatively.  We are called to admonish the sinner, but to do so with charity. And we must acknowledge our own imperfections and look to God to help keep us on track.  At Fatima, the children were asked to offer their lives for others, to live selflessly and to bring this message to the world. 

Most all of us have immigrant roots. My four grandparents were born in Italy. My wife came to this country from Poland as a child. I cannot help but think of so many incredible people who risked everything to attain a better chance in life for themselves and their families throughout our history. I think of Fr. Augustus Tolton, born a slave in Missouri. After losing his father in the Civil War, he was taken with his siblings across the Mississippi River to Illinois by his mother in a rowboat with one oar. He went on to become the first American-born Black Catholic priest in the country. Ordained in Rome with the opportunity to serve many places, he returned home to minister to the many African American Catholics who immigrated to Illinois after emancipation. Selflessness. Today his cause for canonization proceeds.

These things may sound quaint, but when you see the passion with which these people speak of their experiences, you understand how special this country truly is and how important it is that we preserve our ability to be a beacon to a dark world. 

Several years ago, I was traveling from Chicago. As our plan taxied around O’Hare airport to our runway, we stopped for a moment, awaiting our departure clearance. I looked out of the window after the pilot pointed out that Air Force One was parked several hundred feet to our left. The president was in town and this majestic aircraft, surrounded by security cars and people, sat awaiting his return. No matter what your political loyalties, you cannot help but feel a sense of patriotism when you see this. Looking at this symbol of the republic sitting on the tarmac, I thought of George Washington crossing the Delaware River with the Continental Army only 35 miles from the Blue Army Shrine. He never flew on this airplane, but his spirit and that of every patriot whoever directed or fought for this country rides with it. The spirit of all who embrace the ideals of this nation and its founding under God rides with it. Although some who are the stewards of this legacy do not live up to these ideals, the ideals endure nonetheless. I thought of these ideals and realized that the difficulties regarding political integrity and religious liberty these days can be overcome by devotion to prayer. I felt an immediate surge of patriotism and a need to reach into my pocket and say the rosary for our country. Patriotism, I was taught, is virtuous because it is based in gratitude.

St. John Paul II said this of patriotism:

“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. Patriotism, in other words, leads to a properly ordered social love.”

Perhaps we in this country have become victims of our own success, more accurately, victims of our parent’s success, and have become soft. But we are a resilient nation, made up of – if you will excuse my arrogance – the best of the best. It takes a special type of person to uproot from everything they know and start anew in a land where they often do not even know the language. It is dangerous, however, to believe that many of the things that have happened in other lands cannot happen here. I do believe, though, that you will be hard-pressed to find another people on earth who will fight harder when truly faced with oppression. Not to do so betrays all of those who laid the groundwork of our republic.

In his famous Lyceum address in 1838, Abraham Lincoln referred to the fact that if our nation were to fall it would only be by our own doing.  He stated:

“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reaches us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

The loss of liberty begins with a loss of the desire for it, and a lack of focus on the One who provides this liberty.

Today, I’m afraid, we have many politicians but few statesmen and women. Political expediency and greed have replaced concern for the long-term good of the country. Temporary popularity has replaced focused leadership. Perhaps this is a result of the instant gratification provided us by technology or just a spoiled laziness, which is a result of our past success and resultant prosperity. Our founding is noble and as the former general and Secretary of State Colin Powell once pointed out while defending the US from its critics, “In all of our military victories we never kept a piece of land which we took, except for enough to bury our dead”.

America and the world must return to the uniformity of life under the rule of God, or we may face the “suicide” of which Lincoln spoke. I believe that if there are people, such as you, and people who, like the children of Fatima, understand and live lives of selflessness, we will come out of this present stupor and become once again a nation like no other. Let us embrace the gratitude that leads us to patriotism and change this nation back to a land “under God.”  Let the selflessness that motivated so many to give everything for the cause of liberty be our model in these times. Let us once again merit the blessings of God on our country. Have a blessed and happy Independence Day.

God bless you and Mary keep you in her Immaculate Heart.

David Carollo is the Executive Director of the World Apostolate of Fatima, USA and the National Blue Army Shrine. He wrote this for his Voice of Fatima e-newsletter.

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