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At was in the days just after the attacks that I got into a discussion with my 16-year-old son James about how people were responding to the horror of the terrorism. Was it right to feel patriotic fervor? How far should one go? Did demonstrating love of country mean giving up all critical faculties, or did it mean exercising our right to question more than ever?

We ended up with a bigger pile of questions than answers as flags and other national symbols proliferated throughout the neighborhood. If I embrace the flag because it symbolizes our best angels -- justice, equality, opportunity -- am I also signaling that I agree with the cries for vengeance, for a military attack, for an indiscriminate war?

At times like these, when emotions run high, it is difficult to make those distinctions. But make them we must, or we give up some of the best elements that make this pluralist society distinctive. So we try, modestly, in this issue to draw out what patriotism means and how much the waters from the deep wells of faith that are being drawn on in these times of crisis should commingle with love of country and the desire to avenge injustice.

These are complicated issues, but it is reassuring that they are being discussed in numerous ways and some unlikely places around the country.

I was alerted, for instance, to an editorial that ran in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal of Tupelo, Miss. It was headlined, “Love our enemies? No command of Jesus seems quite so unrealistic right now.”

It appeared in the Sunday edition just 12 days after the attacks in a region of the country not known particularly for left-leaning religion or liberal politics. Still, the editorial charged on, acknowledging the horror of the attacks, recalling that in his day Jesus’ followers “had a corporate enemy, namely, Rome. The Romans had conquered their land, taken away their freedoms, abused them, at times massacred them, and ruled them harshly, brutally.”

“Did he mean for them to love Romans? Probably.

“No, not probably. Surely. He commanded them to love their enemies, and the Romans fit the bill perfectly.”

The editorial quotes Paul’s definition of love and speculates: “Maybe in time, when the wounds are not quite so raw, we can love our enemies as Jesus wants us to. But, right now?

“There is no way around his commandment. He didn’t give us the leisure to wait a while to start loving. He simply gave a direct command. He gave no exceptions, no limits.

“His words, however unpleasant they sound to us, however repugnant they are to us right now, cannot be ignored. His command to love our enemies must, in some way, be factored into how we individually and as a people react during these coming days.”

That would be tough reading on any Sunday morning from any pulpit, but it’s a real act of courage to make the point in the public pulpit in these days.

Rose Marciano Lucey, whose name became synonymous with Catholic activism, died Sept. 25. She was 83. Rose served on the NCR board of directors from 1975 through 1996. For decades she brought her keen perspectives, shaped by the gospels, family life, many friends and the poor among whom she lived, to every encounter she had. From Cana Conference gatherings in the 1940s to Catholic Family Movement activities in the 1950s and 1960s to being the mother of nine, grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of five, Rose and her husband, Dan, always maintained a Catholic family focus.

She was an author, a Catholic bookstore owner, a civic activist and a friend and adviser to countless souls. Her warmth and concern for everyone she met -- from homeless poor people and abused women to company executives and church bishops -- was nothing short of inspiring. She lived in the San Francisco Bay area for the last 25 years where her living room couch served as a kind of Motel 6 annex for visitors from around the world. Weakening with age, two years ago she moved to Medford, Ore., to be close to family and for the support of a residence specializing in Alzheimer’s care.

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is troberts@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, October 12, 2001