I wish I could take credit for a fraction of Mike Morton’s taste or wisdom. Even though I was one of his directors in the Liturgy Arts Group at Boston College, he turned out so well all on his own. His contribution to the How Can I Keep from Singing series shares his unique take on one of my favorite hymns.
As someone whose future career will hinge on interpretations of the law, there is a high probability that this reflection will run opposite to every constitutional law course in the county, along every sixth grade social studies class for that matter. While much of today’s political debate revolves around our country’s tenet of the separation of church and state, I’ve found that my spirituality is a marriage of my God and my Nation.
I first heard Lloyd Stone’s “This is My Song” at a Veterans’ Day memorial service when I was a freshman at Boston College. I was struck by its lyrics, as they pray for something so antithetical to what many of us were taught from a young age: religion and country are not to mix – not ever. However, my education on the matter was a bit different. Growing up in Connecticut, I saw my mom as the most Catholic and the most patriotic person that I knew. Her Catholicism served as the bedrock of our family, and her family’s history served as the spark to my never-ending goal of being as American as possible. I always knew that I could count on seeing my driveway lined with flags on Memorial Day, Flag Day, and the Fourth of July, as my mom put them all out before dawn on those annual occasions. I always remember her flying our large American flag outside the house on Veterans’ Day and then Patriots’ Day, an homage first to her father and then her husband. It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were attending Mass together when all the kids were at home, listening to my dad’s name – along with many others – during the Prayers of the Faithful, as our home parish prayed for its members who were serving in active duty in the aftermath of September 11th. In my very naïve state of mind, I kept thinking, “Well, this is church and state together. Why does everyone think this is so bad?”
Years later, the lyrics of this hymn have taught me that my intermingling of these two foundations is not bad at all. I’ve learned why my mom’s personal, spiritual, and national home – the country where my heart is – was so important to her when she had her father’s World War II medals and flag framed and placed on our fireplace mantle. Now that I am over 1,000 miles away from where I grew up, I have realized why she placed such an emphasis on family – hearts united learn to live as one – because in times of need, family is sometimes all you have.
And now, as I pursue a life of practicing law and public service, I have very true and very high hopes for myself and for our nation. Most importantly, however, I now know that other hearts in other lands are beating with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine. One could turn on any cable news station right now, and listen to talking heads yell over each other about America’s role in other countries and where and how we should intervene. There is clearly a place for that in the world we currently live in, but my faith has taught me to look inward first. What can we do here at home to make peace abound, where strife has raged so long? My family’s Catholicism placed in me the need and want for truth and freedom in every nation. For that, I pray without abandon.
At the risk of the board of law examiners coming after me and ruling that I cannot sit for the bar exam next July, I am proud that church and state are so intertwined in my life. God, Family, and Country will always be the foundation of my spirituality, and always the reasons for which I sing.
This is my prayer, O Lord of all earth’s kingdoms,
Thy kingdom come; on earth thy will be done.
Let Christ be lifted up till all men serve him,
And hearts united learn to live as one.
Oh, hear my prayer, thou God of all the nations,
Myself I give thee; Let Thy will be done.
This post is dedicated to my mom, Roberta, for always teaching me that charity begins at home…and for all the American flag cakes that she made with blueberries and strawberries as the stars and stripes.
Mike Morton is a 2011 graduate of Boston College and past president of the university’s Liturgy Arts Group. Mike recently graduated from Saint Louis University School of Law and will sit for the Missouri bar exam in July. You can follow him on twitter: @mikemorton89