July 4th, 2016 has passed, but our discussion about patriotism must not be fleeting because our world remains a violent place. This is a good lesson about the perils of patriotism from our recent past. Bishop (later archbishop) Fulton J. Sheen is the only Catholic priest to win two major Emmy Awards and the only television presenter whose blackboard was magically erased by an angel off camera. He spoke with wit and wisdom, and while his popularity was no doubt due in some part to his humor, he was deadly serious in a 1960s airing on Patriotism that is apocalyptically similar to today’s world. Here’s a recap.
The word patriotism is associated with the Latin pietas—love of God, love of neighbor, love of country. When even just one of these attributes goes out, they all go out.
Bishop Sheen contrasts the writer of our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, against Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, a military and political leader during the French Revolution dubbed the “Angel of Death” for his severe disciplines and ruthless and bloody use of intimidation.
Sheen says “the revolutionists of our day argue that we started as revolutionists, and that we should continue that way.” If this is true, what kind of a revolution should we have?
He tells the story of a soldier at Concord in April 1775 who, when asked why he risked his life to go there, said he “went so that we might govern ourselves.” Jefferson would agree.
A radical activist uses violence or the threat of violence to fuel their revolution. Saint-Just would concur. Violence for the sake of violence would destroy what was in the past. This type of revolution has no resemblance to America’s revolution in 1776.
Jefferson’s revolution made the majority the custodian of minority rights such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Its hallmarks were:
- the dignity of man;
- that all rights and liberties come to us from God.
Saint-Just’s revolution depends on Elitism where a dominant minority makes a lot of noise and uses violence to force its will upon others:
- influence behavior through terror, confiscation of property, denial of rights;
- people are taught to save themselves through violence.
Elitist don’t know what they are for, only what they are against. We see them in our government, on our streets, in our schools and colleges, even in our churches and families. They have forgotten that God acknowledged great violence on earth just before allowing the Great Flood of Noah to destroy the earth. Elitists are the decay of our civilization.
Bishop Sheen reminds us why the eagle is our National Bird. It builds its nest high in the mountain crevice. The young eaglets are pushed from the nest and free-fall to what seems to be sudden death, except that the mother eagle swoops down and catches the fledgling, bearing it up again on her wings. She then repeats this over and over until the young bird learns to fly.
“As the eagle stirs among its young, so does God stir among the nations”. Keep the faith, patriots!
To view Bishop Sheen’s entire stirring 24-minute episode, click here.