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Posted by on Jul 4, 2010

July 4, 2010 – Parades, Celebrations and Prayers

July 4, 2010 – Parades, Celebrations and Prayers

Fog near Monterey Bay

The Fourth of July dawned foggy and cold this morning in Santa Cruz. Not too surprising. It is, after all, “fog season.” Usually the fog lifts by early afternoon, but it’s after 3 now and except for it being a touch ligher, there’s no blue sky near the ocean.

It’s been an unusual Sunday for us. The celebration of the Mass we usually attend can’t take place when the 4th falls on a Sunday because the Aptos 4th of July Parade starts in the street beside the church (Resurrection Parish). Our pastor offered a “Park, Pray & Parade” special to all who wanted to attend the 8:15 Mass, but that’s a bit early for my family. So we chose to visit another parish community this week.

We arrived just on time for Mass at Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz, after having been diverted by a detour due to closure of the road that passes the church. We came in the back way and parked behind the old school building. Arriving at the front of the church, the reason for the road closure was apparent. A brass band was playing, people were milling around, dressed in their “Sunday best,” (not a common sight in Santa Cruz on a holiday weekend) and lots of young girls were dressed in long white gowns, with capes and trains and wearing glittering crowns. We’ve lived here a long time, but this was the first time we’d arrived for this celebration.

We went into the church and discovered that the Portuguese community was having their annual celebration of the Feast of St. Elizabeth of Portugal. St. Elizabeth (1271 – 1336) was Queen of Portugal and noted for her devotion to the Holy Spirit and her care for the poor. Married at the age of 12, she was none-the-less a strong spirited woman who was not afraid to think for herself and even defy her husband. It is said that when he forbade her to take food to the poor, she continued to do so anyway. One day he caught her and asked what she had hidden under her cloak. She replied, “Roses.” He scoffed at that response because it was January and roses are not blooming in January in Portugal. He tore her cloak open and found, to his amazement, that she was indeed carrying roses.

St. Elizabeth of Portugal

Elizabeth (Isabel) was also known to be a peacemaker. When her husband and son, leading armies against each other, met on the battlefield, she marched out between them and made them come to terms of peace. Later, in her old age, she did the same when her son prepared to fight the king of Castile.

In Santa Cruz and around the world, where Portuguese communities live, the feast of St. Elizabeth is celebrated with special prayers to the Holy Spirit and blessings for the girls. This celebration occurs every year. I’d seen the procession after Mass – everyone walks from the church, up over the freeway and down to the Portuguese Hall in the park nearby for an afternoon of feasting and fun. It was a blessing to share Eucharist with them this year.

After the final hymn, in Portuguese, the choir led those who had not yet processed out of the building in the song, America the Beautiful. It seemed fitting. Here we all were. People literally from all over the world. Old folks and children. Parishioners and visitors to the community. People from all different walks of life. Social liberals and social conservatives. Gathered together to hear the word of God, celebrate Eucharist together and pray with thanksgiving for the gift of a wise and generous queen centuries ago, the gift of a nation with “freedom and justice for all” that we have received from our forebears in this country and to ask for the gift of wisdom for ourselves and our leaders now, in this time, with the challenges we face today.

The  original words of the hymn, and it is indeed a hymn, are worth pondering as we celebrate the freedoms we enjoy in this country today.

America the Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self control,
Thy liberty in law.

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine.

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

Amen! May it be so.

Happy 4th of July!

(Words of America the Beautiful by Katherine L. Bates. Music by Samuel A. Ward.)

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