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The Church on the Street: The Spirit intercedes with prayer for peace

By 
  • December 3, 2018

I have become used to the cacophony which inhabits the downtown of the city and usually treat it as background noise as I walk around. 

However, recently the noise was accompanied by a man dancing wildly and shouting the name of “Jesus.”

This, I thought, was too good to miss so I crossed the street and as I got closer I realized that I had spoken to him many months previously. It was he who once informed me that Adam was 14 feet tall and he ate a cow for dinner. 

I confessed that I must have missed that day in Bible history class, but it certainly was impressive. I did recall, however, that he asked me to pray for his disabled leg, and so it was surprising to see him dancing around. 

When he saw me, his face lit up as he exclaimed, “It’s me — Cowboy. I remember meeting you. Bless me, would you? I’m just dancing for Jesus because I’m healed, I’m walking again.” 

As I gave him my blessing I could not help but think of the people in the Bible who danced for joy on being healed, and we thought them mad. 

I continued towards the area where I had first met “Cowboy” and saw about 15 men and women sitting on a low wall outside a homeless shelter, like penitents lined up for reconciliation, filled with anguish and searching for a word of hope. 

I crossed towards them and walked along the row, being ignored by the assembly, no recognition, not even a look until I came to the final young man sitting slightly away from the others and who looked up expectantly. 

“Are you a pastor, or a priest? Sit here, would you?”

I sat beside him wondering why this one, of all of them, was the one to speak. 

“Do you pray for people?” he asked, without a sideways glance to notice my nod of the head, which in the evening darkness was a futile gesture. 

“Yes, I do,” I reassured him. “Is there something that’s on your mind? What would you like me to pray for?”

“Safety,” he responded, still not taking his eyes off his hands, cupped in front of him. “Safety on the street … and that I can give this up.” 

And as he said that I could see that the focus of his attention was a crack pipe cradled in his hands. 

What prayer can be said for a homeless soul outside a shelter as he stares vacantly at his crack pipe which invites him in, offering a momentary haven from the storms of the world? 

What benediction can embrace the depth and width of despair as he looks at me silently with eyes that plead for forgiveness and mercy? 

What sacrament of presence can wipe away the lifetime of memories that have led him to sit on a low wall in the heart of downtown Toronto?

It is easy to blame the young man for his past, but I have found that all too often we share the responsibility. 

All too often it is the sins of the world which we ask to have taken away during every Mass which have stained the innocence of youth and left an indelible mark. 

At that moment in the darkness I was reminded of the words of the poet Edwin Muir:

The world’s great day is growing late,

Yet strange these fields that we have planted

So long with crops of love and hate.

Time’s handiworks by time are haunted,

And nothing now can separate

The corn and tares compactly grown.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he wrote, “The Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” 

The Spirit is often looked upon as a feminine deity, and it seems to me at this moment only the prayers of a mother who once held this helpless young man in her womb could adequately express the deep compassion and helplessness I felt at that moment as we sat together in the Church on the Street. 

My prayer was simple, that he could find the peace and safety that he so sorely sought in the mean streets of the city, a peace and safety which I could only provide fleetingly, but which the Lord could provide eternally. 

My prayer was that this young man could find a friend to walk with him and help release him from the grip of addiction. 

My prayer was that his corn and tares could be untangled, so that the tares could finally be blown away in the winds of eternity. 

(Kinghorn is a deacon of the Archdiocese of Toronto: robert.kinghorn@ekinghorn.com)


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Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.