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February 9 Homily: Mother Hannah Grier Coome

By The Most Rev Linda Nicholls

Mother Hannah Grier Coome, Foundress of SSJD

“If I believed the world were to end tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today.”

That is a quotation allegedly from Martin Luther ….though it is unlikely he said it. Whether he did or not it expresses a grounded hope that speaks to me in these days of uncertainty, anxiety and fears….

We look at our situation in the world today – and wonder …..

  • The world is so full of pain and suffering – wars in Ukraine; Israel/Gaza/West Bank/Iran –
  • I receive daily e-mails from refugees stuck in impossible situations with little food; no hope; desperate to come to Canada believing I have the magic key
  • Closer to home in the church we see decline – precipitous drops in attendance and participation – parishes struggling; bishops anxious; will we die?  Was the 2040 headline more predictive than we had hoped?
  • Even closer to home here – religious communities are very small and getting smaller – they are elderly with only a few testing their vocations ….and I know that there are fears of what is ahead – OHC is selling the Priory; the Sisters of the Church live dispersed – and you have faced deaths and departures that leave this community uneasy ….
  • Will SSJD survive?   Even as we celebrate its birth today through the ministry of Mother Hannah
  • Of course that is the wrong question – the purpose of the community is not ‘survival’ – it is not to find the most participants; or last the longest – like that bumper sticker – ‘The one with the most toys when they die wins!’
  •  Our call is to praise God and to serve –
  • That is why the quotation speaks to me – it is rooted in this moment – here now – no matter what happened yesterday –  or what will happen tomorrow – ‘whether I live or I die’ to quote St. Paul – Today and always – I am the Lord’s.
  • Today – I live – and I will live fully now in hope for the future – I will plant a tree I may never see grow –  I will love a neighbour who may move or leave tomorrow – I will give thanks today for all of God’s gifts – and share them now.
  • It is a way of living that is fully present to the gifts of God that are not mine to own – but to enjoyl    Summed up in the Ignatian Exercises as the practice of being ‘indifferent’ – not that they don’t matter – but they don’t ultimately matter – they are to be enjoyed if present – and released as necessary – never grasped and held as essential – for the only essential is the love of God in this moment to be lived and shared now – .
  • That is the call of the Rule of Life for this community – The Sisters of Saint John the Divine, in the spirit of their patron, are called to live to the glory of God in fulfilment of the two-fold law of love. Each sister will seek to do everything as one who has been baptized into Christ’s death, and has entered into the new life of his resurrection, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • We are committed to lifelong conversion and to growth in union with God through the life of prayer and the undivided service of Jesus Christ. In Christ we are both called and sent to be open and responsive to the needs of the church and of the world, and to pray and work for peace, justice, unity and the integrity of creation.

Mother Hannah answered God’s call to create a community that would love God and neighbour – wherever needed – that led to hospitals; long term care; guesthouses; homes of prayer; schools…..Mother Hannah would have had no idea of the twists and turns in the life of the Community – but in all – there has been this faithfulness to the moment – to living now – even as houses/schools/hospitals opened and closed or changed hands …. As the community grew or shrank –

I know there are disagreements at times about the direction of the community as some are ready to leap in one direction while others want another – as the direction of faithfulness is not as crystal clear as we might like!!  

However, I have walked alongside this community since the 1980’s as a guest – then Associate & spiritual director – and recently as episcopal visitor – My first contact was actually I believe through Sr. Doreen in the 1960’s during a Sunday School visit she made to my church in Vancouver!!!  – and I have watched a resilient community that listens to God’s voice and call in the moment and responds.   Whether the community lives or dies – it has planted trees –Now you are renovating the guest house to meet the needs of current guests – and continuing to live the life of prayer centered on God and neighbour.  

That is all that is asked or needed.   Mother Hannah can be truly proud (in the best Christian sense) of what has been built  – sustained – and is being handed on into an unknown sometimes scary future that is eternally rooted in God. 

Thanks be to God!