Nationalism is not catholic.
Yes, the lower case in this title is intended to make a point: while the same should follow in the “big-C” sense of “Catholic”, I want to make it clear that I am referring to a thing called catholicity – without which calling ourselves “Catholic” wouldn’t mean much. It is a reminder for those of us in the United States who may have heard nods to Independence Day at Mass this weekend, almost as if it were part of the liturgy, that CATHOLIC (capitalized or not) means universal. This is an ecclesiological truth much older than America, and one that leaves no room for exceptionalism of any kind, from anywhere, in the universal Church’s universal feast.
That ought to be clear enough from the liturgy itself, even if strains of the conventional “Pax Americana” hadn’t made for a particularly ironic juxtaposition with the first reading for this 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, from the prophet Zechariah:
Thus says the LORD:
Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion,
shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king shall come to you;
a just savior is he,
meek, and riding on an ass,
on a colt, the foal of an ass.
He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim,
and the horse from Jerusalem;
the warrior’s bow shall be banished,
and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.
His dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Even more than the dovish overtones in this proclamation of the messianic reign, the line that really jumps out to me is, His dominion shall be from sea to sea, which calls to mind a well-known song lyric (from what is actually one of the more palatable patriotic songs in my opinion), except that it’s his dominion, eternally above any dominion any nation may claim.
The whole liturgy of Word and Eucharist can be seen as one big subversive confession of faith, or what I like to call a subversive orthodoxy, in the sense of giving the glory in the right place. Around national holidays I cling to this orthodoxy for dear life, and sometimes when we get to statements like, For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever, I feel like shouting it.
Now, I’m not saying that Christian orthodoxy – or catholicity – doesn’t leave room for a healthy and modest love for one’s homeland. But I do mean to caution that when our homeland is given a place of honor in the context of our worship, it calls into question who or what we are really worshipping. And even when kept in their proper context, in order for expressions of that love to remain healthy and modest, as my colleague Matt has recently modeled, they must leave room for a few lover’s quarrels when necessary. And they must also leave room for other people to say the same about other homelands, without contradiction.
For the above reasons (and because it could be sung in reference to any country, notwithstanding the scenery), the following antidote to the idol of national exceptionalism is the only text I can think of that might be called “patriotic” that could be appropriately sung in church (with two verses by Lloyd Stone and a splendidly Christocentric addition by Georgia Harkness):
This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
this is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.
This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth’s kingdoms:
Thy kingdom come; on earth thy will be done.
Let Christ be lifted up till all shall serve him,
and hearts united learn to live as one.
O hear my prayer, thou God of all the nations;
myself I give thee; let thy will be done.