Being an American Catholic is rough. I presume it would be safer to say that being an American and a Catholic can be rather difficult. The tensions between the City of God and the City of Man take on a different form for modern American Catholics, or so many of them would like to think. This has resulted in unnecessary extremes, both in thought and in practice. On the one hand, many have embraced a rather unhealthy patriotism that paints a very unrealistic picture of America’s Founding Fathers, its founding documents, and the role America and her ideas ought to play in world affairs. On the other hand, there are those who embody an unhealthy pessimism, considering patriotism and fidelity for Mother Church to be mutually exclusive, resulting in a kind of cultural and political escapism. Enthusiasm runs deep, partisanship runs high, and the silent majority of American Catholics run for cover.
There is no doubt that difficulties exist, sometimes cutting to the very heart of the matter. But none of this is new, and it definitely isn’t peculiar to American Catholics. Man lives, moves, and has his being in a world made up of different cultures, languages, and traditions, both religious and political. The Church has always recognized as much. More than that, the Church has always seen this as an acceptable difficulty, a tension between that which is real and that which is ideal, between that which is and that which ought to be. This is nothing more and nothing less than the rough and tough realism of God and man, simply put.
The Church, in taking such a position, tempers the two more common extremes of so-called prudence and false courage, providing a context wherein enthusiasms are tempered and Catholic action is most productive. The Catholic, as pointed out by Pope Leo XIII in Sapientiae Christianae, is to recognize the need, wisdom, and applicability of Christian teaching and faith to their own lives, to the lives of their neighbors, and to the institutions of their nations. Catholic citizens are to apply these principles in a manner best fitted to their society, both domestic and civil. They are to recognize that devotion to one’s native land is not, of necessity, at odds with the duty of Christians, accepting that our supernatural love for the Church and our natural love for country both have God as their Author and originating Cause. Moreover, all is to be done out of respect for various spheres of authority and jurisdiction, honoring those in authority and expressing a Christian affection for the State and governing powers, doing what one may and must, given his or her particular station in life. Living in this manner doesn’t minimize the difficulties that can and do arise, but as the pope would go on to say, it has “the happy result that no one either timidly despairs through lack of courage or presumes overmuch from want of prudence.”
Such is the wisdom of Mother Church. Such is the need of our time. American Catholics may struggle being American and Catholic, especially during times as difficult as our own. But this is hardly of necessity, as relying upon the wisdom and majesty of the Church enables Catholic citizens to recognize the battle and wage a good war, resulting in their being “deficient in nothing” amidst even the worst of situations … even in America.