Patriotism means having a reasonable love and esteem for one’s own country. This is externalized by showing honor and respect to the rulers of the State, whoever they may be. To be sure, it is possible and even healthy to honor and respect a leader while also disagreeing on key policies and ideas.
Patriotism means to observe which laws of the State are in accord with Catholic social teaching and the doctrines of faith and morals and which are opposed to the truth and to the Catholic Faith. Citizens are not compelled by patriotism to fully unjust laws. Rather, it is the patriotic thing to correct error and bring the laws into accord with the fullness of the truth in Jesus Christ.
Patriotism means a willingness to lay down one’s life for their country. Of course, this literally takes flesh when we understand that the virtue of piety, and therefore justice, refers to our entire family, our friends, and our fellow countrymen and allies. Some pay the greatest price by dying in the service of their country in the military. Others lay down their lives for their country day by day in the normal service of their duty to their family, their work, their community, and the poor and marginalized.
Patriotism has a just consciousness of the past and a balanced pride in national identity. However, we must not conflate the virtue of patriotism with a blind, senseless, and unreasonable form of nationalism. There are those who see their country as having no past sins. This view is unreasonable because the only perfect society is the Church Triumphant in Heaven. However, we must also not go to the other extreme of historical revisionism which seeks to emphasize the injustice of the past while forgetting the good.
How to Grow in the Virtue of Patriotism
I will leave you with three brief suggestions to grow in the virtue of patriotism.
The next time a national holiday comes around, learn about it. Do not take for granted that you know what is being celebrated. Really dive in to the day. When did it begin and why? Is it really what everyone thinks it is? Is it worth remembering? Is it worth celebrating? Know the answers to these questions.
Practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Seek to serve your fellow countrymen, to the greater glory of God. Catholicism and patriotism go hand in hand when it comes to serving our neighbor in love.
Out of an authentic zeal for the ultimate good of the human beings God has providentially placed around you, lead souls to Christ. Learn about the Faith so that you can be ready to give an account for the hope that you have in Jesus Christ. Sharing the Faith is always for the good of the whole nation. This, of course, begins right at home. As St. John Paul II said in a homily in Perth, Australia in 1986, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.”