Those who know me well, know how much I love Great Britain, especially England. Now, I am not English by birth, but American. My ancestry is both from the Czech Republic and from Luxembourg.
When I first went to England in 1980, I felt immediately I was in my earthly "spiritual home". Of course, having, among other degrees, a specialist Master's Degree in English Literature, with all the credits for a doctorate in English and Irish poetry, I had been studying for years the culture and mindset of the people.
But, that does not explain the love affair with this small island. To feel "at home" is more than understanding literature or a culture. It is fitting into an entire set of unseen, unspoken rules and manners. I knew from the age of fourteen that I had a special connection to England's green and pleasant land in my heart.
How odd that I ended up in the Theology Department at Bristol, teaching there and then moving to London, another place I know and love.
What I sensed last year in England created a sadness in me. From 1980 to 2013, I sensed a falling off of the great love the English had for their own country. Patriotism seemed to be dying, and not with nobility.
Many Catholics may not know that patriotism is one of the minor virtues. To love one's country or a country is to be grateful for freedoms and to have a sense of place.
Knowing that one's life is short and one's real goal is heaven should not minimize the love of country, or the role of duty to one's country.
The youngest among us are growing up without such a love of country, such a connection to place.
Why, I am not sure. Perhaps narcissism destroys patriotism. Perhaps globalism has won the hearts of some young people.
Patriotism is not nationalism. It is not connected to a political party. In the Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas writes this:
"The principles (or origins) of our being and governing are our parents and our country, which have given us birth and nourishment. Consequently man is debtor chiefly to his parents and his country, after God. Wherefore, just as it belongs to religion to give worship to God, so does it belong to "pietas," in the second place, to give worship to one's parents and one's country."
People ask me why I do not love America. But, I do. However, I am passionate about England in a way I am not about America. England is my adopted country, with all its beauty and even its ugliness. No place this side of heaven is perfect.
But, I hope God allows me to return to the place I call "home". It may be, as some tell me, that I am just more European in general. as I do feel at home in some European countries. I never feel like a tourist in France, or Italy, or Malta, or Ireland, or even Germany.
I fit in.
It may have to do with the fact that the maternal side of my family held on to European traditions for a long time after coming to America. These traditions were and are Catholic.
Perhaps identifying with Catholicism rather than Protestantism is also identifying with Europe.
Belloc's famous phrase, "Europe is the Faith, and the Faith is Europe", a phrase repeated by both Blessed John Paul II and the Pope Emeritus, resonates in my soul.
I long for the old Catholic Europe, as one cannot long for old Catholic America, as it never was and never will be "Catholic".
The soil I love was Catholic. And, it is Mary's Dowry, England.
America is not Mary's Dowry. How strange that Mary claims England, but she does.
And, I do as well, just a little patch, please.
Heaven is our true home, and those of us in the Church Militant fight daily for the Kingdom of God on earth as well as for our own salvation. But, we fight within a context.
That context is our country.