Every Christian’s Homelands
By Richard John Neuhaus
We are servants of a disputed sovereignty. The psalmist declares, “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy.” Christ has ascended his throne, but his rule is challenged by rival thrones. For us who believe, St. Paul says it is the fact that Christ rules “far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion.” But the principalities and powers of the present age still rage against his rule. We are the servants of a disputed sovereignty.
. . . The second century “Letter to Diognetus,” which is explaining the Christians to a pagan reader, says, “For the Christians, every foreign country is a homeland, and every homeland is a foreign country.”
In the right ordering of our loves and loyalties, we are patriots of this foreign country called America, which is also our homeland; but we are patriots bound by a higher patriotism to the country that is our true home—the country, the Kingdom, where the sovereignty of the ascended Lord is no longer disputed. Like St. Thomas More, we are “the king’s good servants, but God’s first.” And we are the king’s better servants because we are God’s first.
. . . The principalities and powers still strut across the stage of history, trailing behind them the bloody carnage of their vain ambitions. So it has been through the centuries, and so it will be until Our Lord returns in glory. We read in the first lesson: “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” Between now and that happy day, we have no utopian delusions about the principalities and powers of the present time. The dream of a permanent peace, of a world without conflict, awaits the day when the sovereignty of love incarnate is no longer disputed.
Until that day, the history of the world is marked by what St. Augustine calls libido dominandi—the lust for glory and power. We describe wars as just and wars as unjust, and it is necessary that we make such distinctions for clarity of mind and security of conscience. But, short of the coming Kingdom, all is provisional and approximate; all is riddled through with ambiguity, contradiction, and tragedy.
That is how things are, and that is how things will be along the way of history’s long journey toward the perfect justice of Christ’s undisputed sovereignty. Meanwhile, we bear witness to what is to be, and, for those who believe, already is. The Church—her ministers and her members—is the people ahead of time.
Again, St. Augustine: “Peace must be your aim; war should be a matter of necessity . . . . One does not pursue peace in order to wage war; one wages war to achieve peace.” And then he adds, “If peace is such a desirable dimension of our temporal happiness, how much sweeter is the divine peace that belongs to the eternal happiness of the angels.” We are not angels. But neither are we beasts, forever consigned to the confusions and conflicts of libido dominandi. We are the people ahead of time.
From Bearing Witness in a Time of War
Men Faithful to Their Principles
By Michael Novak
You can see them at many gravesites where the War of Independence was fought, and the battlefields of 1812, and the Civil War. You can see them at the Alamo. You can see them arrayed now in rows of crosses and stars of David below the purpled hills of Anzio, and on the long sweeps of the green fields of Normandy. You may find them still at Flanders field, and all across the Pacific islands and atolls.
. . . In any case, their deaths put me in mind of a Marine lieutenant colonel these very days in Anbar Province, Iraq, on his second tour of duty there (the first having been in 2004–2005). Very much alive, and very much committed to his mission, this brave man explains that he faces what he faces today on behalf of his eleven-year-old son. The Marine father has seen up close the cruelty, barbarity, and ceaseless ferocity of the enemy of free Western peoples.
He believes his job now is to defeat them there. And to defeat them soundly enough so that another generation of Americans will not have to return to do the job again. He says he does it so that he can look in his mirror in the morning and see a man faithful to his principles no matter what the cost to himself. If not him, then who? If not now, when? If not here, where?
Such a day as this is not a day to argue politics—above all the politics of the present much-disputed war. The sunlit point this Marine officer’s life does bring out, however, is the connection between Memorial Days and first principles.
As Lincoln said at Gettysburg in 1863, not long after some 49,000 Americans lay dead, wounded, or missing in just three days of fighting, the war dragged on:
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war . . . . But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who fought here have consecrated far above our poor power to add or detract. The world . . . can never forget what they did here . . . . We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Death, remembrance, resolve, and a new birth of still living, still beloved, first principles. That is what Memorial Day is about.
From America and Its Dead
The Natural Virtue of Patriotism
By R. R. Reno
Most loyalties to culture and place encourage a nobility of the soul. A man from Mississippi who honors the Stars and Bars no more wants to reinstate Jim Crow than a farmer from Dorset who salutes the Union Jack wants to re-establish the British Empire. He wishes to remember something worth cherishing. He wants to give himself in loyalty to what was good and noble, even as it existed (and perhaps still exists) amidst what was (and perhaps remains) evil and base.
This patriotic impulse is based on a deep truth about culture. When human beings invest in a tradition or community or nation over long periods of time, something of our intrinsic dignity as creatures made in the image of God cannot help but find its way into the fabric of the culture. There’s almost always something in every human society worth honoring, which is one reason why patriotism is a natural virtue.
I understand the widespread sentiment in contemporary Christian theology that judges patriotism, especially American patriotism, a temptation toward idolatry. Stanley Hauerwas has rightly pointed out the theological absurdity of the old Protestant habit of placing the American flag alongside the pulpit, as if the Pledge of Allegiance were on the same existential plane as the Nicene Creed.
But we can go too far in our critiques of political idolatry and end up with a deracinating iconoclasm. Worldly loves such as patriotism and regional pride prepare us for the incorruptible love of God. In genuine patriotism, we give ourselves away to our roots—not unequivocally, not uncritically, not without reserve, but really and without hedging our bets. All our flags are corrupted by sin, but when we salute them, we prepare the heart for a deeper, life-abandoning salute to the cross and abandonment to God.
From We Need Roots
By Elizabeth Powers
We were walking through Central Park in Manhattan, just south of the Naumburg Bandshell, when we came across what we thought were the remains of an ancient churchyard. Like an ancient churchyard, it was seemingly untended and abandoned. On closer examination, it turned out to be a grove across which were scattered fourteen memorial stones dedicated to the men of the 307th Infantry, 77th Division, who had died in action in World War I.
. . . The plaques bear the names of the company and of the soldiers who served together and died together. The names of the men are poignant evidence of melting-pot New York circa 1918: Owens, Prato, Whitby, Sullivan, Booth, Behrend, Carlsson, Chambers, Curtis, Depuis, Navitski, Specht, Pappalardo, Olsen, Lizewski. Probably few people alive today knew any of them or have any knowledge of them.
Since we were in the park right after Yom Kippur, my husband was reminded of the recent homily at his synagogue. The rabbi had spoken of consulting the “Gold Book” of the synagogue, a memorial list of names of family and friends of members of the congregation. Since many names were of people who had died before the end of the nineteenth century, the rabbi was struck by the fact that neither he nor anyone else in the synagogue would have any memory of them.
He went on to make the point, however, on that day on which Jews remember the dead, that God forgets none of us who has ever lived.
From Powers: Boomers, War, and Sacrifice
Things a Veteran Knows
By Joe Carter
There are things a veteran knows.
We know that few of us ever saw battle and that we’re mostly ordinary people who performed common duties.
We know that our service—whether three years or thirty—was mainly composed of discrete units of banal and boring routine and that the drudgery of time spent cleaning—rifles, equipment, barracks—in preparation for inspections and reviews and formations in which we’d spend hours standing ramrod straight while trying to hide buckling knees and sweat-drenched necks and the maddening urge to scratch skin that itched more and more the longer we stood still.
We know that service is about our willingness to endure shin splints and blistered feet from too many miles of marching and running. We know it was about doing sit-ups on wet beaches on mornings that were too cold and came much too early. We know it was about our ability to endure our own incessant whining as we made an avocation of complaining about being tired, wet, cold, and sore. And we know about enduring the failings and weaknesses that were exposed when we discovered the limits of our endurance.
We know that service requires loving our home so much that we willingly give up all that we cherished—our freedom, our youth, our life—so that others may be safe.
We know that in serving our homeland we gave up our ability to watch over our own homes. We know that it meant leaving our families for far-off lands and seas and that no matter how many cards and letters and pictures and videos our families would send that it could never replace the time we missed being with our children, watching over them, and letting them know we were there to protect them.
From What a Veteran Knows