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Robert Kinghorn: Fighting the fight against ‘alone-ness’

  • August 29, 2020

Many years ago, I heard the story of a school principal in South Africa who quit his job rather than submit to the school’s apartheid policy of racial discrimination. His friends told him he was crazy, but he said, “One day I am going to meet God, and God will ask me, ‘Where are your wounds?’ If I reply that I have no wounds, God will ask me, ‘Was there nothing that was worth fighting for?’ I could not face that question.”

What is worth fighting for today? At a meeting three years ago of the deacons of Toronto and their wives, Cardinal Thomas Collins mused on the theological and social problems of the archdiocese and said that uppermost in his mind are the sanctity of life at all stages and the abuse of drugs on our streets. Both in their own way deprive people of a full life.

The ministry of the Church on the Street, as I see it, is a worthy fight against the loneliness often in the heart of the homeless and drug addicts. Maybe it is better described as “alone-ness,” that feeling we all have at times that there must be some small corner of this world where we will be accepted, cherished and find intimacy. That there must be more to life than what we are living now.

And yet, often we cannot help running away from the very thing that will bring us life; connection with others. It’s an “alone-ness” that reminds us of the humiliations we have experienced, of the rejections we have endured and the limitations of a life in which we feel trapped. This is the “alone-ness” into which Jesus came to offer hope and new life.

Last week I met a friend I had not seen for a few months and we reminisced about our walk together over the past 16 years since I met her on the street. This had been a walk from addiction, prostitution and “alone-ness” through cancer, sobriety, relapse and sobriety again. Her latest news was she had not been about the streets recently because she had contracted the coronavirus, but after three weeks in hospital she had been released and is healthy.

Throughout this friendship she has had moments when she knew that God was her only strength, and others when she would express her feelings that God would never accept anyone with her history and reputation. But the journey of faith can be a lonely one unless we have the support of others.

This is what continues to impress me about her, that she continues to ask others to pray for her and to walk with her on her journey. She knows her faith is weak, and yet this is the very thing that gives it strength.

At those moments when she stumbles, as we all do, she has someone to continue the journey with her: no questions, no lectures, just unconditional love. I have been fortunate enough to be allowed to be with her at these moments when in her weakness and doubt she reaches out to God.

Her life epitomizes that of so many on the street in that they have this deep faith that there is a God but need support when they feel abandoned. One young lady that I met for the first time expressed it this way as she wiped tears from her eyes: “I am a Catholic and I believe there is a God up there. I need prayers, and here you are. Please pray with me. Tonight, I know there is a God. Thank you. You made my night.”

Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel wrote, “How good it feels to come back to God whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking God’s mercy.”

It begins with the simple hope, the simple cry from the heart, “Come Lord Jesus. Take away my ‘alone-ness’ and give me intimacy with you. Let it no longer be ‘I am’ but forever ‘we are.’ ”

It is often our presence that gives those we meet an opportunity to express their faith and to renew their hope that God has not abandoned them. This call to stand with the poor, the homeless and the addicted, with all the wounds and disappointments we often have to bear, is indeed worth fighting for.

(Kinghorn is a deacon in the Archdiocese of Toronto.)

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