America, I Gave My Best to You – A Reflection on the Virtue of Patriotism

Love of one’s country, patriotism, is related to the fourth commandment. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,

It is the duty of citizens to contribute to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom. The love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity (CCC #2239).

Much of this is reflected in a beautiful song written for the Ken Burns series “The War.” It is called “American Anthem.” The lyrics are touching and moving. The central themes are just what the Catechism teaches: gratitude and the serving of the common good. Let’s explore some of the themes of this song on this Memorial Day of 2019.

The song begins in this way:

All we’ve been given
By those who came before
The dream of a nation
Where freedom would endure
The work and prayers
Of centuries
Have brought us to this day

We begin with gratitude. The works and prayers of centuries have brought us to this day. Each day we wake up in a land of beauty and plenty. We live in freedom because others died to win it and protect it. We drive on roads that others paved, make use of an electrical grid that others created and built. We depend on technologies that others developed. The Constitution, our legal system, civil society, the Church and her time-tested teachings—all these things and many more we have received from the hard work and ingenuity of others. Every day I am blessed to be able to walk into a beautiful church built by others.

Those who came before us were not sinless, but they exhibited bravery, virtue, perseverance, and patience in carefully setting forth a nation and a commonwealth that we often carelessly take for granted. When I ponder these things, I am overcome with gratitude.

The song also speaks of the dream of a nation in which freedom would endure. Today, many interpret freedom as the license to do whatever one pleases, but true freedom is the ability to obey God, live virtuously, and benefit from the fruits of that behavior: freedom from excess and the slavery to sin. It is only in this freedom, a freedom from self-absorption, that one can leave the sort of legacy of which the song next speaks:

What shall be our legacy?
What will our children say?
Let them say of me
I was one who believed
In sharing the blessings
I received
Let me know in my heart
When my days are through
I gave my best to you

Remember that America is not merely a nation-state or a legal entity—it is our patria, our homeland, from which we get the word “patriotism.” There is both a fatherly and motherly image we can derive from our country, America. We are sprung from its loins and nurtured in its womb. We have shared in its freely bestowed resources, taken our meals from its rich soils, and learned from the best of its teachings and traditions.

Thus, patriotism is a beautiful virtue linked to the fourth commandment “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Sadly, some people today dismiss the virtue of patriotism, calling it “nationalism” and portraying it as evidence of xenophobia. That some have exhibited extremes of patriotism does not remove the truth that patriotism is a virtue and is both commended to us and commanded of us. From it we derive a requirement to do our part to protect, preserve, and contribute to the common good. We are to leave a legacy that others will recognize, that we carried our share of the burden, that we did our very best for the land and people we are called to love.

Each generation from the plains
To distant shore
with the gifts they were given
Were determined
To leave more
Battles fought together
Acts of conscience fought alone
These are the seeds
From which America has grown

It is perhaps enough to simply do no harm or merely hand on what we received, but love is expansive. It leads us leave to our descendants more than we received. It is the American and human spirit to build on what is received, to bring things to greater perfection and beauty.

As the song mentions, we often do this by working together, but sometimes we must take up the lonely and often-despised role of the prophet summoning the nation to greater justice and holiness. Both traditions are needed. Many of us have had to raise our voices in protest at the straying of our land from its biblical roots, but this has been and is done out of love for our people and land, so that we attain to a greater and more perfect union.

For those who think
They have nothing to share
Who fear in their hearts
There is no hero there
Know each quiet act
Of dignity is
That which fortifies
The soul of a nation
That never die

Heroism is a highly visible virtue, but it is also the quiet, hidden acts of love and prayer that fortify the nation. Only if these daily acts are never dying can the soul of a nation hope to survive. It is the bigger and smaller things together that win the day: getting married and staying married, living virtuous lives, teaching our children well, working hard each day, contributing to the common good, forgiving yet also insisting, being patient yet also persistent. St. Augustine said, “A little thing is just a little thing, but to be faithful in a little thing is a great thing” (De Doctrina Christiana, IV,35).

On this Memorial Day, for us and all who love our Church and our land, may this be so:

Let them say of me
I was one who believed
In sharing the blessings
I received
Let me know in my heart
When my days are through
I gave my best to you

I gave my best to you.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: America, I Gave My Best to You – A Reflection on the Virtue of Patriotism

2 Replies to “America, I Gave My Best to You – A Reflection on the Virtue of Patriotism”

  1. The fourth commandment was highjacked by socialism in our public schools, collleges and universities starting back in the 1960’s. We are at the mark of the beast in the present age. The greatest generation could stop the imperialism of Germany and Japan but socialism has continued to infest the minds and hearts of following generations to the point of being pandemic. Prayers without actions is sloth. We live for the most part influenced by reality TV, mainstream media, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon while being Pied Pipered like lemmings into an age of artificial intelligence contolled by a limited elitist deep state of humanist. My fathers youngest brother and another BAR soldier gave their lives opening up a flank for a group of U.S soldiers surrounded by Germans making a counter attack on a heavily forested hill called Tete de Reclos outside of Baccarat, France on a freezing cold November 16th day in 1944. He obviously considered his sacrifice worth our continued freedom for the generations that followed but the entitled mentality of current generations could well be the downfall of our faith and freedom at the hands of the false prophets and tyrrants. The next Pope better be a populist and a patriot or Catholics are doomed as a peolple. Just ask the Jewish people. My uncle save them from a Holocost.

  2. I was taught by the nuns in Catholic school that America was founded on principles to be the light held high to inspire the world. Back then before the advent of the glorious rainbow, America was the melting pot that people from all over the world left their old, tired and corrupt countries behind to be E pluribis unum.

    We were taught that America was better than other countries and to be proud of that. There was no concept of apology for being exceptional which we knew we were.

    America’s greatness is not a right but a gift we are squandering as we fracture into ever smaller yet louder special interest groups.

    Children are no longer taught the wonderful patriotic songs we loved. Patriotism is no longer part of the school curriculum because it is considered to be an aggression that perpetuates the oppression of different opinions, all under the banners of diversity and inclusion.

    Without the Catholic Church to hold to an unwavering adherence to a clear and absolute moral code, all values become relative and mutable. As the floating values of secular humanism replaces our Judeo-Christian values, the cohesion that holds society together will unravel.

    As the portents grow ever darker, I remember that all is God’s will.

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