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Lawrence P. Grayson

E Pluribus Unum or Not?

    The recent events in Charlottesville demonstrate a pathological love of country and a distorted attempt to erase its heritage. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, the KKK and other extreme groups who practice bigotry, hatred and violence can never be condoned. They may believe they are working to protect or purify foundational aspects of the nation, but their ideas are warped and their actions reprehensible. The 20th century provided vivid examples of extreme nationalism and its disastrous results.

     Similarly, destroying or defacing statues and monuments to personages deemed offensive to some in today’s society cannot be tolerated. The effort to eliminate all reminders of the Confederacy is now expanding to commemoratives of other eras. Memorials to Christopher Columbus in Baltimore, Boston and Detroit have been vandalized, with a claim that the discoverer of America was responsible for the genocide of indigenous people. In Los Angeles, a statue of St. Junipero Serra was defaced; while the missions he started protected Native Californians from the abuses of the Spanish imperial army, they also altered the endemic culture through education and evangelization.

     Renaming buildings, streets and schools, revising history books to eliminate undesired facts, and replacing images of persons who made enduring contributions to the nation with politically-correct, but historically less significant individuals is self-delusion. Attempts to rewrite history or eradicate the memory of disturbing events are more representative of a totalitarian state than a free people. The history of every country contains elements of virtue and vice, advancement and regression, freedom and control.

     No nation and no person are without failings, especially when judged not by the mores of his own time, but by the standards of a later date. Of the first 12 U.S. presidents, 10 owned slaves, 8 of them while serving in office. Franklin D. Roosevelt illegally imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans. Harry Truman decided to drop the atomic bomb dropped on the civilians of Hiroshima. John F. Kennedy was drug-addicted and a frequent womanizer. One may acknowledge the flaws of past heroes, but should praise their contributions. Recognition of a nation’s past and honoring those whose achievements shaped and preserved the nation is important for the unity and future of the country

     America is composed of peoples from many lands and accepts a continuing flow of new arrivals who have different customs, languages and religions, and are accustomed to different governing, economic and social systems. If these peoples are to be one nation, one united people, they must develop and retain a pride for what America stands for, for what it is, and for what it can become. That is, they must develop a sense of patriotism for the nation.

     For a country to have a future, people must commit to live together, to have a desire to accept and continue the heritage they have received and to which they will contribute. The nation’s forefathers have made it what it is. Their deeds created the foundation upon which the nation rests. Their stories, the glories of the past – even if hagiographic – provide social capital to hold the nation together, to build upon and make a better future.

     Patriotism, which is rooted in the past in a legacy of memories, inspires loyalty to one’s country, a sense of belonging, gratitude and pride. It is an affection for one’s country – for its history, traditions, values, geography, and for others who share one’s feelings. Patriotism creates a bond between the spiritual and material aspects of a country, between its culture and the land. It is not blind, but neither is it apologetic. It recognizes the imperfections of the nation and strives to improve them. It is akin to love in a family. One can feel pride in the accomplishments, laugh at the foibles, correct the faults, and cry at the disappointments of another family member, but the familial love remains. One may disagree with one’s brother, but defend him from the insults of an outsider. The patriot may disagree with the policies of his country and work to change them, but will defend the nation when attacked by others.

     A danger occurs when nationalism is mistaken for patriotism. While patriotism is a form of pride and affection for one’s country or group, it does not deny or resent the same feelings or commitment in other people. Nationalism, in contrast, is a form of societal egoism, having an undue pride in one’s country or group, while being dismissive of others. It is defined by its reaction to outsiders who are perceived as enemies toward whom it is belligerent and militant. For nationalists, their group or country is always right, and others wrong. They pursue special privileges and demand special standing simply because their group is “right,” the “best,” the ‘greatest.”

     Today, America is splitting into subnational factions, based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and preference, and anti-religious beliefs. In the past, the country dealt with the diversity of its people through a communal toleration which led to a blending of the many customs, traditions and beliefs. Now the emphasis is on separatism, self-identity and polarization, which is splitting the nation apart, pitting one group against another. The destruction of Confederate monuments is only the latest manifestation of the resulting tribal warfare.

     American needs a resurgence of patriotism to develop pride in the country, foster a national identity, and move America again towards being one nation formed out of many people.  

Vivat Jesus!

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Published September 2017


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