July the Fourth is always interesting to watch from afar as a Christian. My social media feeds went crazy with US folks reacting to their national day of Americanism, (All patriotism forgets the Father, and glorifies the edifice of corrupt and fallible men…) In reaction to this, I have written following musings on what it means to be genuinely Christian, based on some reflections on the writings of St Ignatius.
First, there is good and evil categorically in the world. Ignatius in the spiritual exercises uses the language of good spirit and bad spirit. He is not directly talking about an entity that does Good or an entity that does Evil, he is talking about spirit in the form of esse, that is intrinsic essence.
As some would be quick to point out, the Patristics, notably Maximus the Confessor discussed these essences. But it is in Ignatius that we begin to truly see the insidious nature of the bad Spirit. It does not affect us from a force from outside, so much as the force that is outside, replicates it within us and then makes itself such that it perverts all that we touch.
As Ignatius wrote to Bartolomeo Romano, “You are much mistaken in thinking that the cause of your unrest, or lack of progress in the Lord, is the place where you are or your superiors or your brethren. It comes from inside, not from without: from your lack of humility, lack of obedience, lack of prayer—in a word, from your lack of mortification and fervour in advancing along the way of perfection.”
Only by acting with humility, obedience, prayer, by mortifying ourselves can we better correct and perfect who we are within. This is actually what the celebration of nationhood has readily become.
July Fourth for the US is a celebration of pride, it is a celebration of Glory, and it is the glorification in the seduction of the Bad Spirit. Nations are like people, they must work their sanctification, and the USA, refuses to believe it has anything to sanctify. Patriotism itself represents a claim that we as a people are no longer in need of aid or growth. It is a repudiation of the interior growth. The more ostentatious the outward signs of a nation’s glory the more intense is its indulgence in its seduction by the bad spirit.
As Ignatius continues in his letter to Ramano, “you should try to change the interior man and recall him to God’s service. Give up the thought of any external change:”. Patriotism is the surrender of the call to God’s service. It entrenches the seduction of the bad spirit, it lets us take the moment to proclaim that we do not need to do be working for our neighbours, that we do not need to be working within ourselves to be better called to the service of God. Instead it is the loud proclamation that we as a people are noble, just and glorious, and thus it is antithetical to the call to follow the cross.
When we give in to the desire to glorify ourselves as a people, we forget that we are only one people, a people brought together at the foot of the Cross. This is where we as individuals are seduced at a most existential level, as the patriotic fervour opens our heart to forgetting our own interior need to develop.
Surely then, we must, if we are to be a Christian people united in the Cross surrender the pride of our nations, and remake ourselves as one single nation, a nation founded on the Cross, bearing it openly beyond any possible allegiance, to be literally what the slur of Jesuit meant, one who associates oneself totally and completely, and entirely with Christ.