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Journal of a Soul Wk 7 of 12

October 23, 2012 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

Journal of a Soul


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Patriotism vs. Nationalism

“Patriotism, which is right and may be holy, but may also degenerate into nationalism, which in my case would be most detrimental to the dignity of my episcopal ministry, must be kept above all nationalistic disputes. The world is poisoned with morbid nationalism, built up on the basis of race and blood,in contradiction to the Gospel. In this matter especially, which is of burning topical interest, ‘deliver me from men of blood, O God”. Here fits in most aptly the invocation: ‘God of my salvation’: Jesus our Savior died for all nations, without distinction of race or blood, and became the first brother of the new human family, built on him and his Gospel.” – Journal of a Soul, pg. 251

In honor of Monday night’s final presidential debate on the subject of foreign policy, I thought I this was the perfect passage to discuss. As this is a spiritual website, I promise not to talk politics. But I thought it would be interesting to discuss something that I imagine many of us don’t think about very often, i.e. the difference between patriotism and nationalism.

Incidentally, I heard a well-known political pundit use these two terms interchangeably when commenting on Monday night’s debate. I think it would be safe to say that, in the United States, there has been a blurring of the terms patriotism and nationalism. I won’t go into why I think that might be; but regardless, given that Pope John XXIII points out that patriotism is virtuous – even holy – while nationalism is a dangerous vice , I thought it might be valuable to distinguish between the two, for our spiritual good if not for the good of our nations(s).

According to George Orwell in his essay, Notes on Nationalism,

“Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”

Orwell’s well-known contempt for Catholics aside, his distinctions here resonate with Pope John XXIII’s comments above. Pope John XXIII witnessed firsthand the evils of Nationalism, as Nazi aggression was in full swing by 1940, when the above passage was written. German Nationalism from that period gives a rather tragic illustration of the “morbidness” of nationalism.

So are we are country full of patriots? Or to we tend to be nationalistic? For those of you from other countries, where do you fall on the spectrum?

And where is the connection between these terms and our spiritual lives?

Personally, I have always considered myself to be a Patriot. I take after my mother in that respect. I get goosebumps every time I hear the national anthem at a public event, and I cry when I hear songs like Lee Greenwood’s I’m Proud to be an American. As a patriot, I don’t think our country is perfect. But I liken the love I feel for my country to the devotion I feel for my children (figuratively) in that, while they are not perfect, they are mine, I love them with all my heart, and I would do anything in my power to protect them from harm.

But a nationalist? At first glance, I would say no. I certainly don’t subscribe to the notion of indoctrinating other countries with American values. Leading with moral character, yes, but manipulation and control, No. On the other hand, If pressed, I must admit that secretly I would love it if the whole world were like our country. Conflicts within our country notwithstanding, I’d love it if foreigners didn’t hate us because we’re, well, American. Now, please don’t send me hate mail. I’ve had lots of friends who were from foreign countries. But I don’t like confrontation, and therefore, I think I might feel safer it if we all shared similar cultures and experiences. It would make foreign policy so much easier. In this light, I may not think I’m nationalistic, but perhaps on some emotional level I am.

Spiritually, what’s the point? Well, I see this notion of nationalism is a macrocosm of personal relationships. Am I devoted to my own values while I love others for what they are? Or do I secretly hope to convince them to share my perspective?

This seems inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. But please, bear with me. I have a tendency to want everyone to share my beliefs. After all, I wouldn’t have them if I didn’t think they were right, would I? For instance, I love our Holy Mother Church, and I’d be overwhelmed with joy if the whole world were Catholic. That said, would I force my beliefs on others? Never. But I have been known to “debate” religious issues with friends and family members. The bottom line is that at some level, won’t those “nationalistic tendencies” in my beliefs affect the sincerity of the charity I demonstrate toward my brothers and sisters in Christ? Mahatma Gandhi thinks so. He is famously quoted as saying:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about the judgment of the nations, telling us that we will be judged according to how we treat others. When that time comes, He will say, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did to me” (Matthew 25:40). Whether I’m referring to every country I encounter, or every person I meet, am I not to see them all as souls created by God? Souls that I, through my love and sacrifice should treat, in my thoughts, words and actions, as I would treat Christ himself?

“A Christian should try to be a good Christian, a Muslim should try to be a good Muslim, a Hindu should try to be a good Hindu.” This is one of my favorite quotes by Mother Teresa. Why? Because it taught me something significant. Mother Teresa did not set out to change those around her. She set out to love them.

I learned a similar lesson from Pope John Paul II. Of all the great things I’ve learned about him, I was most moved by the fact that his best friend was a Jew, and yet JPII never tried to convert him. From his example, I discerned that I should stop trying to convert my family members and friends. With God’s grace, my love will move more hearts than my words ever will.


Discussion Questions:

1. Deep down, do you love others as God created them? Or are you hoping to get them to share your point of view?

2. Open forum – comment on any of the reading for this past week.


Reading Assignment:

Week 8: 1945 – End of 1958 (pg. 264-297)

Happy Reading!


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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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