With Labor Day falling as late as possible this September, our shortened holiday work week closes with Patriot Day this Friday the 11th.
This week of national holidays raises a question: Can you still remember where you were on September 11, 2001? A fantastic four-minute clip from SkitGuys.com invites us to reflect on and remember the devastation of that day: "9/11: On That Day"; it reminds us that faith, hope and love are still the most fully human ways to move forward, even in the face of intentional evil.
As with all suffering, the September 11th experience brought with it the paradoxical potential for God's grace to deliver an even greater good. Whether it was a call to conversion, deeply felt by so many, or an opportunity to comfort those mourning and in a state of shock, 9/11/2001 saw the United States pull together in many important ways. The world as a whole seemed to feel our pain, and signs of sincere compassion abounded.
Fourteen years later, the juxtaposition of a week book-ended by both Labor Day and Patriot Day seems to raise another question: What have we been working for as a nation since 2001? Have we been laboring to ensure that our country is more deeply committed to the common good, to just treatment of the most vulnerable--particularly children and the elderly--and to solidarity with all people? These are the traits of a healthy love of country, an authentic patriotism. This is the work which would honor those who died on 9/11.
Alternatively, we should ask whether our efforts to work together out of a sincere love of country have been threatened by a not-so-subtle nationalism. Has this seductive ideology convinced us that our country and its agendas are of paramount importance? It may take the form of "American exceptionalism", or of old-fashioned "isolationism". It may be matter of sacrificing those who are most needy, or of imposing the will of the most powerful. It may be the justification of our "preemptive" acts of violence, or it may be the passive refusal to assistance to those in need--for lack of compelling self-interest.
Nationalism ignores natural law, even as it tries to claim its laws are not merely capricious acts of those who happen to be in power. Nationalism justifies its own unsustainable consumption of goods and resources, even as it ignores the basic needs of those suffering around the globe. Like all ideologies, it rests on the claim that the only truth is what it says is truth. It can tolerate no conscientious objection to its state-sanctioned fiats.
So, this Patriot Day perhaps maybe we should ask whether it is time to take Jesus' advice to heart: "Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life" (Jn 6:27). Perhaps we should work to defend those self-evident truths which are the foundation upon which our Constitutional democracy is built. After all, the pursuit of eternal Happiness is what all people desire. Perhaps we should labor to help our nation be a sign of hope for all, rather than a source of profit for a few.
Patriotism embraces a love of homeland within the broader context of the beautiful tapestry which is the human race. It sees the gift of human labor not merely as a means of serving an anonymous global economic engine, but as an opportunity to help transform persons and communities. It sees rights as rooted in reality, and responsibilities as transcending geographic borders.
Whereas nationalism sees life in terms of a zero-sum game, a cosmic battle of "winner takes all", patriotism sees the nation as a means to a greater end, a essential part within a greater whole. In honor of workers and fallen patriots, let's labor to build a country in which the human person is still encouraged to "Seek first the kingdom of God."
May the cloud of witnesses who surround us continue to intercede on our behalf, as we pray for an end to all forms of terrorism and nationalism--