This past Sunday, as Mass ended, the priest announced our recessional hymn: "America the Beautiful". I remember finishing a prayer when hearing that and immediately looked up in surprise, that uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. "Is a patriotic song appropriate for church? Did anyone else find the song selection just a little odd? Shouldn't we be singing something about, ummmm, God?"
The song began, and I remember enjoying the beauty of the melody and the lovely voices singing America's praise. Soon I fell right into the mood. And then I began to focus on the words. The chorus of each verse was more a plea for God's grace to shine upon our beautiful land, to keep her pure and right and just--and godly. "America the Beautiful" is not just a patriotic song. It is a prayer. Increasingly, prayer for America seems most appropriate these days.
America, you are suffering now. Even (especially) among our leaders, brotherhood is far from your shores. Yet, despite "tar balls" washing up on your silken beaches, oil spills and the trash we carelessly leave about, our increasing hatred and divisive actions all in the name of power and control--even unto the shedding of blood--your spacious skies remain beautiful, your purple mountains majestic, your seas still sparkling, for the most part. I have seen them and they are breathtaking! But for how long? What are we doing to each other and to this land we call home? God shed His grace on thee.
America, much of your wilderness still remains untamed, your cry of freedom yet echoing from the moment of your birth. As with all of life, mistakes have been made--are being made--and sins continue to be perpetrated against your children and etched into your lands. But if thy soul be confirmed by self-control, thy laws be born of liberty and Truth, those sins can be expunged. May God mend thine every flaw.
America, your heroes have been many. Some we know, most are unknown and uncelebrated. Thousands upon thousands have fought for your liberties and the preserving and sharing of your richness, giving their utmost, even unto their very lives, so that you may endure, that the God-given freedoms for which you stand may be ever wider embraced. We must not let you down. We must hold on and hold fast to the lessons of our founders, to the ideals you put forth, to the Constitution of the United States and the Republic for which it stands. Help us understand the real wealth of your land lies not in gems or oil or the almighty dollar, that all our successes be in kindness and unselfishness and nobleness and in Truth, and our gold be found in brotherhood. May God thy gold refine.
America, the magnificence of your cities and monuments and memorials still shines upon the land. But let us make new memorials by the way we live our very lives, that there might be no more human tears, no more hatred, but many more dreams. God shed His grace on thee.
America, we will not diminish all our forefathers knew to be true. We will strive to keep respect and civility and honor always as our banners and hold them high. We will strive to walk in the footsteps of those brave men and women whose selfless actions and sacrifices gave birth to liberty, to the pursuit of happiness and all that is good (rather than to the pursuit of power and control and self-indulgence), to the free and beautiful land that is America! God shed His grace on thee--and on us all, always and forever.
Happy Birthday, America...and many more.
America the Beautiful
Words by Katharine Lee Bates
Melody by Samuel Ward
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
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.
God mend thine ev'ry 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.
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine.
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.
God shed His grace on thee,
and crown thy good with brotherhood
from sea to shining sea.
(Videotape by Monica E. Smith; Music: United States Navy Band and Sea Chanters Chorus)