October 15, 2000
8 AM Christ Church, Calgary Alberta
This is a narrative homily based on a life lived. She grew up in a rural setting in western Québec in the first quarter of the 20th century. Her father was the owner of a swank hotel in the local village. It was a major business enterprise in the village giving employment to many of its residents. It was the destination during the summer for holidaymakers of middle income and up who arrived by train in family groups. They were met in style with a decaled horse drawn carriage. Comfortable rooms awaited the guests’ arrival. Good food, well served on white tablecloth tables was the fare every day. A variety of recreational activity arranged by the hotel was made available — walks along the clear water river. fishing excursions to crystal-clear lakes full of fish. Sandy beaches awaited the children in warm water lakes. Horseback riding along trails in the scenic countryside was also available. Train rides to explore other parts of the unspoiled forest countryside. Horse buggy excursions along the river road all accompanied by ample picnic basket served by attendants in the hotel’s employ. These were gracious country living holidays where the holidayer was waited on hand and foot. She was the favorite child of her father spoiled in the extreme. She had strong features, bright eyes, quick in body movements, intelligent, witty.
There was money available for her to go to a good private school in Ottawa. Then she went on to the major hospital where she trained as a nurse. She never married and had the wanderlust. She took a job in a big hospital in Chicago in the 30s and 40s and got into the highlife of smoking, drinking, partying, cabarets and nightclubs. Soon it was the drugs scene as more and more she sought gratification from the pursuits of the flesh. As a practicing nurse at an active treatment hospital she had access to the drug lockers. She helped herself and falsified the records to cover up their loss. In a drugged stupor one night while smoking in bed she set fire to herself and ended up with irreparable scar tissue to the upper part of her body and her face. She lost her physical comeliness.
Her sister, who was married to the local garage manager and Anglican church warden, brought her back to the village home to help her recover. She was in deep depression and in a very difficult space as a human being.
When I arrived on the scene in the mid-50s a young rector in the first parish after an industrial parish curacy, she had been admitted to the ward of a Montréal hospital that specialized in treating the mentally ill. It was a long-term-care institution established at the end of the 19th century on very spacious grounds overlooking the Lachine Rapids of the St. Lawrence River. As a kid I used to drive my bicycle out to be a mental asylum as it was called then. It was in an unbuilt-up area. On a dare from other kids I would drive right up to the wrought iron fence that incarcerated the loonies, as we as we insensitively called them and watch them go through their uncontrolled antics driven by their mental illness. By the mid-50s is possible to become one of the innovators of new treatment for psychiatric patients now I found myself inside this very institution to visit this troubled parishioner. The garage manager churchwarden and compassionate brother-in-law had soon made known to his rector that his mentally and physically scarred sister-in-law needed a visit in hospital from her pastor. The ward she was in was a long narrow room very sparsely furnished and occupied by another 11 people. It was sparsely furnished purposely so there would be a minimum of objects that could be used for the patients to maim themselves during one of their seizures. The one thing that caught my eye as I sat next to her was the Book of Common Prayer sitting on the table by her bedside. She was in a talkative mood and we conversed together. I asked her about the prayer book. She said that she used it every morning and evening whenever she was well. She asked me to take some prayers from it with her now. I said yes. So we said the prayers for the day.
“This is the day that the Lord has given us we will rejoice and give thanks in it.” We also said prayers for the doctors and nurses grabbed to the physicians and surgeons and nurses for wisdom and skill sympathy and patience. We prayed for the recovery of this sick person, “Oh God that she may be restored according to thy gracious to health of body and mind and give thanks to thee in thy holy Church.
In the year that followed whenever I was in Montréal, the see city at that time, I would visit her. She made steady progress in recovery. Soon she was asking for the sacraments. Her brother-in-law and I were given a room by the hospital staff to celebrate the holy mysteries of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. She made such progress in recovering with the help of new medical discoveries and the love of God that she was able to return to her village home. She had overcome her in dependence on drugs. She never returned to them. She was in the church every Sunday. She became very active in the woman’s auxiliary, the ACW. At first people were afraid of her because of a wide look her facial scars gave her but she largely ignored their frightened looks and in time they forgot her past and accepted her as a full member of the Christian community. She headed up the Altar Guild.
She loved children and she got classes going every Sunday for 20 kids or so and enlisted parents and other members of the church to do their turn at teaching the faith of the church. Before her dedicated service there had been no regular Sunday school. She is buried in the cemetery of that country church of God that loved her and that she loved and served to her dying days. Thanks be to God.
Next Sunday is Covenant Sunday in our church. This homily is an example of someone who made a tough life journey and a Christian person who came to understand and put into practice what covenant with God means! Time, talent, treasure. Where your treasure is there will be your heart also. Covenant is about God’s love and our response to his love. We love God because he first loved us. As a vestry member said so aptly and succinctly said last Sunday, it is all about response. We have been given so much by God that we respond by giving.