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Robert Kinghorn: Blessings are often a two-way street

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  • May 24, 2019

Contrary to what most of my professors believed, I sometimes paid attention when I was in the diaconate formation program at St. Augustine’s Seminary. Liturgically I may not have known my ambo from my elbow, but when it came to pastoral care I was totally present.

One of the lecturers, Fr. John Roberts, who was a prison chaplain at the Ontario Correctional Institute, instilled in us a fundamental principle: “Show up and be consistent. It may be just another visit for you, but for the person you are with it may be the moment they have been waiting for all week.” 

This month marks 15 years since I started my downtown ministry and, if nothing else, over these years I have tried to be consistent. I have gone there the same night every week, to the same area and at the same time. As one lady said, “It must be Thursday, I expected to see you.” 

In the Church on the Street, it seemed that spring had finally dared to awaken from her long winter slumber and the street was again filled with the semblance of warmth. Blessings seemed to be the order of the day and I was surprised as one lady who had often seen me but who had basically ignored me, came up to me. “Will you pray for me please?” she asked quietly, and then stood with head bowed awaiting benediction. Then she was off. No more conversation, just a “thank you” and off she went. 

Not long after, as darkness settled in, I was walking up the street when I heard footsteps behind. Although I am seldom afraid downtown, footsteps behind me always make me a little tense and so I turned to see who was following. At that moment a young man passed and upon noticing my clerical collar stopped to ask, “Would you give me a blessing tonight?” After asking his name and if there was something specific he would like me to pray for, he also bowed his head awaiting benediction. 

Upon completion of the blessing he walked up the road with me and as he fumbled in his pocket he said, “Thank you so much, let me give you something for that.” 

“No, really,” I said, “I don’t accept money for blessings.” 

“No, I insist,” he said as he pulled from his pocket a plastic bag filled with crack cocaine. “This stuff is gold, pastor, pure gold.” 

“Honestly, it’s very kind of you, but I really don’t want any,” I said distancing myself from him. “It was a blessing I gave you, not a grace before meals.” 

Taking the hint, he took off in the other direction shouting back at me, “but it’s pure gold, pastor, pure gold.”

It was much later that evening when I remembered the wisdom of consistency. Coming towards me were two ladies, one hobbling as she approached bent over her walker and looking towards the ground. She paused for a moment as she passed and painfully turned her head upwards. 

“Betty,” I exclaimed. “It’s been years. How are you?” 

“Hi Deacon Robert,” she said. “I am just coming from my support group. I am off the drugs now. This is my sponsor. How long has it been? It must be about nine years since we last met. Did you ever think you would see me clean?” 

I started to laugh and reminded her of the last time we met. I had been in a laneway with one of the women that I was going to drive home, to make sure she got off the street safely that night. The woman had gone into the side door of a crack house to “pick up her backpack” as she said. 

Just at that point, out of the same building came Betty and as she saw me, she said, “What are you doing here? It’s not safe. I’ll stay with you until she comes back to make sure you are OK.” 

I told her how relieved I was, since the last thing I wanted was for a police car to come up and ask what I was doing there, and my only reply could have been, “I am waiting for a girl.” 

After a few more reminiscences Betty and I embraced, and off she went with her friend to catch the bus home. 

On this evening of benedictions, I felt the Lord had blessed both of us as He guided my friend to the path of sobriety, and our footsteps to meet on this cool, dark Thursday evening. 

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

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