Patriotism is a virtue that most Americans can define and that most Americans practice. Flying the flag, removing our hats during the National anthem, placing our hands over our hearts during the Pledge of Allegiance are some of the outward signs that the ordinary American will practice to indicate the inner attitude that we carry around with us and the love that we have for our country. It has been said that Americans are the most generous people in the world, and that is especially true when our neighbors suffer misfortune. Witness the outpouring of money and support for the victims of natural disasters. In times of war, especially when we have been attacked by a foreign enemy as we were at Pearl Harbor and at the WTC on September 11, 2001, Americans step forward to join the armed services with incredible swiftness and willingness to serve. We are "proud to be an American."
We should not, therefore, have any difficulty understanding the sentiments behind the reading from the Prophet Nehemiah or its response in Psalm 137, the first two Scriptures used in today's liturgy. From Nehemiah, we hear of how he convinced the King to allow him and his fellow Israelites to return to Judah to rebuild Jerusalem. In Psalm 137, the court musicians sing of their love for Jerusalem and speak of their willingness to give up their musical abilities rather than to forget Zion. Singers who would give up their voices ("let my tongue cleave to my palate") and musicians who would sacrifice their limbs ("may my right hand be forgotten") are speaking of their devotion to their homeland in the most graphic terms possible. I am sure that any American patriot would do the same for his/her country.
This is more, however, than love for country. These sentiments also speak of the love these individuals have for God. It is important to remember that God is "located" in a specific geographical context in the minds of these believers. Whereas we speak of God's "omnipresence" in our belief system, this was not the case of the Israelite, or for the Assyrian for that matter. When Assyria destroyed Jerusalem and the temple within it, they had destroyed the connection that existed between Israel and God. Without a home, God did not exist for Israel. One of the first things that Moses did after entering into the Sinai Covenant was to create, at God's direction, a place for God to reside, first a meeting tent and later a glorious temple.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of all American patriots. While many of us still hold to the belief that our religious faith and our love of country are connected in some way, that connection simply does not exist for many in our secular world. While we don't need to locate God in a specific place anymore, it is a great pity that God seems to be slipping more and more out of our civic consciousness.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator