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Robert Kinghorn: Tonight I met the Lord — and I denied Him

  • April 4, 2021

Despite the promise of spring in the air, the day had turned windy and blustery, cutting sharply through the heavy jacket I reserve for evenings such as these on the street.

My first stop was at one of the pop-up tent villages which has emerged during the life of the COVID pandemic. I have come to know the lives of the dozen or so people who live there, and much of the struggles they have had in getting and keeping suitable housing.

A few of the residents were milling around and as I approached I remarked on the upgrade to the housing conditions. A resident of the city had, out of his own pocket, gone around erecting large wooden boxes which provided shelter and raised the sleeping bags off the cold, wet grass.

“Hey, you guys have gone upscale I see,” I shouted through the wind as I approached. “Looks like you don’t need anything from me.”

“Well, you don’t think you could steal a TV somewhere do you?” laughed my friend who apparently is the resident comedian. It is sad to see people like this, people like you and me, who have fallen on hard times, and now live in tents and boxes in the middle of a so-called world-class city.

I continued on my way and stopped to pray at a memorial which had been erected outside an apartment building. The previous week, the police were investigating a young lady who had gone missing and was later found dead. A man in the building lost his life during the investigation. Memorials such as these are unfortunately common, but in a couple of weeks they will be gone, taking with them the reality of two lives lost to the harshness of the streets and leaving behind only memories in the grieving hearts of families.

I turned eastward along the street taking me to the most volatile intersection in the downtown area. I was stopped by a lady who asked if I had the time. Now, I have been on the street long enough to know two things: When I am asked this question I do not inquire, “Time for what?” and I do not take out my phone in case it is ripped from my hand. I gave her a vague guesstimate of the time and she then asked, “How about some money for coffee?” I explained, as I always do, that I don’t bring money downtown with me.

After about an hour I found myself once again back in the same threatening corner of the city, as a streetcar screeched to a halt beside me and disgorged its final passenger. She was a young girl of about 25, shivering and dressed only in a t-shirt and shorts. She ran towards me and stopped; her piercing eyes had a look of fear.

“Please sir,” she said, “please help me. I need some money, please I am desperate.” I told her that I do not carry money downtown, but she insisted and took a step towards me, her COVID mask swaying beneath her chin. I held up my hands and asked her to back off. “Please,” she continued. “My boyfriend beat me up and I have nowhere to go, please you must have something on you? Look in your pockets.”

Again, I repeated my answer, and I patted my jacket as I said this to show that I had no wallet on me. I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to remove my wallet and leave it in the car before walking the streets.

She came at me again. “Please I need help, you must have something.” I was caught in a dilemma. Do I take the chance in this menacing area of the city of pulling out my wallet and giving her some money, or do I continue to resist? To my eternal shame I chose to say, “I don’t give out money on these streets.”

She turned away and stepped out into the middle of traffic paused at a stoplight and spoke to a driver. It was a brief conversation, she got into the car and it sped off.

In his book, Free to Be Nothing, Fr. Ed Farrell said, “Perhaps the most embarrassing moment of discipleship is when we are compelled to face our own unrecognized sin, and we cry out like Peter, ‘O Lord, go away from me. I am a sinner.’ The first grace of conversion is to know the truth about ourselves, for all truth is holy even though it be truth of our sins.”

Each Easter we hear the Scriptures say, “The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.”

I knew this evening that I had met the Lord in one of His many disguises, and like Peter I had denied Him. The only consolation is that I believe this young lady will be held in my prayers for the rest of my life. 

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

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