A Patriot’s Non-Salute

I have disappointed more than a few of our parishioners by not having the American flag placed in the church, even on Veterans Day.  The custom of displaying the American flag in Catholic churches comes from an era in which the faithful felt obliged to display their patriotism as the prevailing wisdom in many corners of our country was that Catholics were not loyal Americans, but rather were Vatican spies.  To some extent, the suspicion of Catholics being unpatriotic still exists in a few pockets of our country, but for the most part it has now disappeared and, consequently, the motive for initially introducing the flag into a church sanctuary is no longer relevant.  However, even ignoring this historical context, I nonetheless remain convinced that not only is it unnecessary to fly the American flag in a Catholic church, but actually it is simply wrong to do so.

As any child who has learned the Pledge of Allegiance can tell you, the American flag stands for our republic.  However, our republic stands for many great evils that are enshrined in statutes and the decisions of our competent interpretive bodies (i.e. the courts).  Today in particular is a reminder of one of those evils as we commemorate the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision 42 years ago.  The stars and stripes cannot be isolated from this part of our country, which is precisely why I refuse to allow the American flag to be flown in our church and why I absolutely will not pledge an allegiance to it.  Some may accuse this stance of being extreme, which it is, while others will accuse it of being unpatriotic, which it is not.

Too often we confuse patriotism with nationalism, but these are two different phenomena.  Nationalism comes from the Latin word natio, which means “born.”  When one is a nationalist, his devotion is to his place of birth.  The patriot, however, has a different loyalty.  Patriotism comes from the Greek word patrios, meaning “father.”  No country should ever be understood as one’s father, because our identity and dignity are not found in the laws and customs of a land.  Our identity and purpose are found in God, who is our true father.  The real patriot understands this reality, which is precisely why the Declaration of Independence states that each person is granted certain inalienable rights by their Creator as opposed to a document composed by men.

Too bad our country’s flag no longer stands for this reality and now is undeserving of our salute.

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