This Independence Day finds many Americans entertaining mixed feelings about the state of their nation.
Yes, the United States is, on whole, the wealthiest and most comfortable society the world has ever seen. But we're also a nation that permits the killing of millions of unborn children. Yes, our health care system is technologically sophisticated - so much so that our mean life expectancy is now pushing 80 years for both sexes. But many of our fellow citizens can't afford, or lack access to, primary-care services.
How do Americans balance heir love for their country and heir distress at her problems? Just like we always have: We follow the example of patriots who love their country and work for her welfare.
Here are three modern-day examples.
Esther Schaeffer, executive director of the Washington-based Character Education Partnership, defines patriotic duty as "more than just saluting the flag or reciting a pledge of allegiance. Good citizenship is assuming responsibility for and caring about others. This is 100% compatible with Christian teaching." Her group's mission is to develop moral character and civic virtue in America's youth "as one means of creating a more compassionate and responsible society," according to its Web site, http://www.character.org/.
For parents who wish to instill the virtues of patriotism and good citizenship in their children, Schaeffer advises that there's no better teacher than a good example. "People say that young people today are cynical, and that's why they're not politically involved," she says. "But I think that if kids don't value good citizenship it's because their parents don't."
Parents can teach their children the values of civic duty and social responsibility if they demonstrate a willingness to participate in community life themselves, adds Schaeffer. She encourages parents to inform themselves about political issues and then discuss them with their children in language they can understand. "Don't shy away from ethical and moral issues at the dinner table," she says. "If you ask people why they are civically engaged, most of them will tell you that they grew up in a home where their parents actively discussed and took part in political issues."
This Fourth of July, as the fireworks fly and the parades roll by, Catholics are called to celebrate all that's good about America - while at the same time considering what they can do to make their nation more pleasing to God. The problems are many, but the possibilities for patriotism are endless.
Colonel Charles Gallina
Retired Marine Corps Col. Charles Gallina of Washington, D.C., is another citizen who balances, with inspiring effectiveness, his love of country and his love of God. "I think the two go hand in hand," he says. "Serving God and country go together. The principles on which this nation was founded are the principles of the Christian faith."
Gallina believes that his 30 years of service in the Marines and his Catholic upbringing both have led him to "maintain a higher ethical standard" in his personal life and his political convictions. As a member of the Knights of Columbus, Gallina is active in pro-life ministry as well as charity work for the mentally disabled.
His Catholic principles have occasionally compelled him to make some difficult choices, however. For example, he once decided to revoke an honorary charity chairmanship from a well-liked community leader after learning of the man's intentions to run for state office on a pro-abortion platform. The decision was neither politically popular nor socially celebrated, but, according to Gallina, "It was the right thing to do."
Though he is proud of his history as a U.S. Marine, Gallina does not consider military service the most generous way for Catholics to serve their country. He believes that Catholic Americans, if they love their country, will take time to inform their consciences and carefully consider how they vote in political elections.
"The more Catholics are informed, the better citizens they become," he says. "A Catholic voter has to apply the principles of the Catholic Church. That's what a good citizen does."
He believes that, because they have access to the teachings of the Church, American Catholics have all the tools necessary to make educated political decisions. As an example of informed decision making, Gallina refers to the recent military operations in Iraq.
When he learned that President Bush was sending troops to Baghdad, Gallina immediately consulted his copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He researched the just-war theory and discerned that he could support the president's actions. He has respect, however, for informed Catholics who opposed the war and does not question their patriotism.
"I know of many Catholics who researched their decisions and who disagree with me," he says. "They want what is best for their country and they are patriotic in their desire for peace."
Father Frank Pavone
Rather than seeing our nation's imperfections as an excuse to abandon our duty to our country, Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, sees them as a call to become more politically involved. "Love of one's country bears some similarities to love of one's family," he says. "Family members may have some grave faults and sins. Love may lead us to admonish them but does not lead us to abandon them."
Just as we owe loyalty and devotion to our parents for the benefits we have received from them, adds Father Pavone, so too do we owe loyalty to our homeland for the benefits it affords us.
"Patriotism," he says, "is that virtue by which, as we journey to our heavenly homeland, we give thanks for the homeland through which we travel now."
Father Pavone explains, however, that loyalty to our country must be given proper priority: behind loyalty to God and the Catholic Church. This is particularly resonant with regard to the issues of abortion and euthanasia, where the government fails to protect innocent human life.
"All earthly authority derives from God," Father Pavone points out. "If there is ever an instance -- and there are many -- where the laws of one's nation contradict the laws of God, we must obey God rather than man. This should make us active citizens who use the political process to the full in order to correct the errors that exist."
Fr. Pavone suggests that an important part of becoming an active, informed citizen is learning our nation's history. Once we understand the foundation of our nation's government, we are prepared to involve ourselves more completely in its political processes.
He says he is convinced that the most important part of our patriotic duty is registering to vote, making informed decisions and actively participating in the political process. "Do so," he urges, "as one who places loyalty to Jesus Christ above loyalty to any political party."