What I Love About My Country

I just got back from Mass. Nobody followed me home in a mysterious black car.

Yesterday, my wife went swimming with her head uncovered and her legs and arms exposed. Nobody tried to beat her to death as a harlot.

Not one of my children are child-soldiers, impressed into some warlord’s guerrilla army and forced to do hideous things that transform them into hardened killers at an age normal children are learning to bat a ball.

In this space I have criticized the Bush administration. I will not be shot and my family will not be sent to a re-education camp for the crime of being my family.

I have weight to lose, not gain.

My four sons are not dying from some easily treatable disease. My wife did not die in childbirth with our second son.

When I think of my childhood, I am not haunted by the faces of government thugs beating out my parents’ brains and shooting my brothers before my very eyes. Instead, I think of fishing on the Skagit River, long lazy summer afternoons in a treehouse reading comic books, and joyous Christmases.

My friends moved to distant states, yet no Central Committee monitored their movements or told them they could not pursue the course in life they chose. Should they decide to pursue something else, they are free to do so.

I live in a land where much of Whitman’s Democratic Mysticism, though battered and bloodied by the creeping Paris Hiltonization of our culture, still breathes. Indeed, my people have proven astonishingly resistant to many of the worst lies we tell ourselves. As Chesterton said, the ordinary American is alright. It’s the Ideal American that is all wrong. Much of what our Manufacturers of Culture export via the media appalls the world. But foreigners who visit my country typically remark that it’s not like what they saw on TV. (“Crack heads shooting each other on rainy city streets” was the vision of America an English friend had from the telly—till he came here).

flag and biblePope John Paul II read a country’s literature to encounter the soul of a people. I live in a country that can boast The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a founding document almost as important as the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. If those documents are the American Torah then Mark Twain was our Isaiah and Huck Finn remains the best glimpse into the greatness (and the sinfulness) of my people ever written. I am honored to come of a people that could give birth to such a book.

In a hundred ways, America is my mother. I cannot count the ways she has formed me and the gifts she has given me: gifts so much a part of me I doubt I am even conscious of them, any more than I am conscious of the rules of grammar as I speak. The fundamental thing I feel for America is gratitude for her people, her heritage, her abundance, her faith rooted in equality that is capable of breaking down our own historic sins against justice like the slow pounding of the surf. I love the very land, especially my own home of Washington, first among fifty equals and most beautiful state in the Union. I love the sheer dizzying variety of the American people. I am amazed at our genius for bringing together ethnicities and religions and somehow defusing the fratricidal conflicts which, in the Old World, had gone on for centuries.

God gave people gifts and told us to use them for the good of others. America’s genius lies in no small measure in the fact that it somehow created a culture that trusted this basic fact of divine revelation, unleashing the potential of ordinary people to do astounding things. I am in awe at our ability to self-organize. We do it well in crises (New Yorkers on 9/11 were a proud and moving example), but that’s because we do it all the time—making the US a historic engine of industrial and technological innovation.

Patriotism is simply obedience to “Honor your father and your mother.” We honor our parents because they are our parents, not because they are stronger or better than all other parents. I think “USA! #1!” is not patriotism, but jingoist rubbish. I love my mother because she’s my mother, not because I think she should be everybody’s mother. I don’t believe “My country, right or wrong” any more than “My mother, drunk or sober.” I honor her because she is the mother God gave me. For her I gratefully ask the intercession of the greatest Mother:

We pray for our Mother, the Church upon earth,
And bless, dearest Lady, the land of our birth.
Ave, ave, ave, Maria! Ave, ave, Maria!

Mark Shea


Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog and regularly blogs for National Catholic Register. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.

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  • Nice article, Mark, we think many of the same thoughts. Interestingly enough I wrote similar words in my Saturday column at Rosary Army.

    “Just like our biological parents, our country is our country…we can leave her, but we cannot change the fact that we’re her progeny. The trick of patriotism is to see our country for who she is and still love her. No country is perfect, but my country is my country. I may occasionally blush with embarrassment at something a fellow American has done, but it doesn’t stop me from being proud when a fellow American does something heroic or generous. I am certainly proud of the contributions of America to the family of nations, and to global civilization.”

    God bless you, and may God bless America.

  • mkochan

    Chesterton said: “‘My country, right or wrong’ is a thing no patriot would ever think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying ‘My mother, drunk or sober.'”

    I always thought I understood this because ‘my mother, drunk or sober’ is a matter of fact –she is your mother whether drunk or sober and may be much more in need of your filial assistance, protection, and even corrective intervention when drunk. It may be then a “desperate case”.

    “My country, right or wrong” CAN be jingoist slogan, or it can be read, just like “my mother, drunk or sober” — we are proud of our country when right, but the country does not cease to belong to us when wrong. Rather it is then that we do our duty by corrective intervention in the course of things as we are able.

    In other words, I simply don’t get your logic here when you say that you don’t believe in “my mother, drunk or sober”. That seems to turn GKC’s logic on its head.

  • I believe that American is a place where a man or a woman is free to seek his destiny under God. That’s my distillation of our founding principles, and I truly believe that this is what has made this country great.

    I am frightened for my country these days as the cultural forces of death have been making inroads seemingly everywhere. Our beloved John Paul II said that culture is the driving engine of history. If that’s so, all people of good will are going to have to stand firm if we are to prevent the dissolution of our nation. We’ve overcome many things in the past – civil war, foreign war, Depression – and I think we have it in us to overcome the Culture of Death. But we have to decide that that’s what we’re going to do, and then do it.

  • I’ve never really understood what “jingoism” is and why we’re opposed to it…it seems to me that shouting “USA#1!” at an Olympic hockey game is appropriate for that exclamation. Of course if the game is between the Czech Republic and Mongolia, you might get some confused stares…perhaps “polite” vs “ill-mannered” suits better.

    When I was a freshman cadet at Texas A&M, we were not permitted the privilege of showing emotion (that was for upperclassmen, you see), but we were allowed to love only three things: Mother, Texas A&M, and the United States of America.

  • mkochan

    Jingoism is not patriotism, because it doesn’t recognize the genuine patriotism of those in other countries, but looks down on them. True patriotism recognizes and honors the patriotism of others.

    But as for your example in sport, I think one of the best examples of healthy genuine patriotic motivation is the “Miracle on Ice” which made a terrific film also — the men’s hockey victory of the Americans over the Soviets in 1980 Olympic Winter Games.

    “Great moments are born from great opportunity.”

    “If we played ’em ten times they might win nine, but not this game, not tonight.

    “Tonight we are the greatest hockey team in the world.”

  • Do you believe that USA #1? I think if anyone thinks that way has given up on America personally. Just like we try not to fail our lord we will because we are human. We should look into the future and think about helping each other as we came together through tragedy like 9/11, but do that everyday. We as Americans should think about that everyday and think that we are no better just in god’s grace.

    Catholic Chump

  • Cooky642

    Uh….Mark? Just one thought for you: Uhn-uhn: Michigan is the most beautiful of the 50 (or is it 57?) states!!!

  • terrygeorge

    It’s nice to see Mark writing more positively instead of criticizing a pro-life administration…

  • Ken.Jones

    Ahhhh, freedom.