“Centuries before July 4th came to commemorate Western civilization's great experiment in democracy and America's birthday, the date was principally associated with the name of one of the most extraordinary women in history—St. Elizabeth of Portugal. She died on July 4th, and thus her name marks this date on the Church calendar, silently attesting to the existence of a woman who, in her passage through this earth, had it all and turned it all to good.” This is the opening to a biographical entry about St. Elizabeth of Portugal (also know as Isabel) who is honored on the 4th of July and an appropriate start to today’s reflection.
The 4th of July resounds with most of the world as commemoration of the United States’ Independence – an example of freedom and greatest. When first assigned this date I pondered the meaning of our freedom and how we use that freedom. I then discovered that this date also honors St Elizabeth of Portugal. Since my grandparents all hailed from Portugal, I again thought it no coincidence that I was to reflect today and eagerly sought more information about St. Elizabeth.
The opening paragraph sums up much about her. She was born into royalty in Spain and, while she enjoyed a very privileged life, Elizabeth spent much of her youth in devotion to God. Her father pledged her at a very young age to the king of Portugal and became his wife at the tender age of 14. Her innate goodness and abiding faith was evident in all she did and eventually helped her husband to reform in his later years. One telling quote attributed to her is "God made me queen so that I may serve others." This quote exemplifies her life of service and peacemaker. She lived her faith even when not the popular thing to do and won many over to seeing the power of God in all things. Considering the role of women during her time, she was quite remarkable in supervising the building of chapels and her dedication to peace. Elizabeth’s ability to influence was at times subtle but always steadfast and unwavering. Her strength clearly came from her deep faith and devotion. A role model for men and women alike.
It is congruent with celebration of this day as a day of freedom
and with the readings, that we consider the blessings given to us
as a means to serve others. We all have various talents and gifts
and part of our duty is to discern how to best use them to serve
God and others. It is through our lived faith that we truly serve
God. Faith without action is not faith lived. Elizabeth provides
a great example of how we should act and our readings today give
us the direction of what we should do and be.
The Sermon on the Mount has so many lessons for us. It challenges us to re-think what it means to be the “winner.” This has to have been my mom’s favorite gospel; she would refer to it often. The meek who so many would scoff as “losers” will inherit the land not the aggressors. Each of the phrases share the promises of what is to come and the means by which we can assure those promises are ours. We are, indeed, blessed people. However, to be blessed we have certain obligations. Not unlike, citizens of a free nation, we have rights that imply certain responsibilities. Our obligations include being just and merciful, mourning, hungering and thirsting for righteousness and being persecuted for the sake of righteousness. There is no doubt that the best is yet to come and that we knew how to be prepared for it.
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