Jesuit Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, poses for a photo with trainees in this undated photo. He said he burned out at times in his ministry, something Deacon Kinghorn knows all too well in his ministry on Toronto’s streets. CNS photo/courtesy Homeboy Industries

The word of the Lord is to keep believing

  • August 18, 2022

I teach it and I preach it, but every so often I am reminded how difficult it is to live it. I am talking about laying our expectations on others.

Fr. Ed Farrell many years ago wrote, “The most subtle form of oppression is the imposition of one’s expectations on another.”

Fr. Greg Boyle, when talking of his ministry with street gangs in Los Angeles, recalled the fledgling months of his ministry when he burned out because his expectation was that he would manage to heal and cure the in-fighting of the street gangs.

I have often written and spoken of the simple process of the ministry of presence, “Show up, Listen, Don’t judge, Don’t Fix,” but 16 years after beginning the ministry on the street, I was to be reminded once again of how difficult this is live out.

I was in the heart of the drug area of the city, and about to cross the street at an intersection which is known for accidents. Traffic lights tended to be suggestions for many of the locals, and the dark of the evening increased the possibility of being hit by a vehicle. As I always do, I looked carefully in all directions before crossing, and as I turned around to check behind me, I saw a familiar face. She once was a well-known face on the street but had been clean for about 10 years during which time she and her son had been treated as one of the family, joining us for family get-togethers and celebrations. I had not seen her for a while, but it was clear that she was now back into the drug scene.

“Oh, is it Thursday already?” she sheepishly mumbled, recalling her greeting on the street in her early drug-filled years when she would look for me on Thursday evenings.

“How is your son?” I asked.

Once again, she mumbled, “He’s OK, he’s at home,” before taking off in the opposite direction.

It’s funny how easily our trust in God can be challenged, and we start to doubt the value of what we are doing. I am used to seeing people relapse, and to have friends die of overdoses, but for some reason this meeting left me disheartened. I could not shake the feeling as I continued around my usual route in the city with the thought beating in my head, “What’s the use? Am I really making any difference?”

Later in the evening, I was walking in an area of the city where outdoor prostitution is common, and often some of the ladies want to talk. As I turned the corner, there was my friend once again.

“It’s just like the old days.” I said, “No matter where you are I seem to bump into you.”

“I’m waiting for a friend to come down from that apartment,” she said. “He owes me some money.”

I thought to myself that my presence challenged her credulity enough, and so I just said goodnight and left with deepening sense of discouragement.

It was dark and much later in the evening when I started to make my way towards my car parked in a side street. In the distance I saw a man on a bicycle riding towards me, and as he passed, I gave him a wave. He nodded and continued on his way. Suddenly from way behind me I heard his voice shouting, “Hey Father, can I ask you something?”

“Oh no,” I thought to myself, “I really just want to get home tonight, I’ve had enough for one night.” I turned, and he was cycling back towards me, and as he got closer, I could see he was a 20-something young man with a scruffy appearance. I strained to hear the question that he wanted to ask me, but instead I heard a monologue of rather incoherent sentences.

Every sentence was somehow about the goodness of God, but none of them connected with any of the others. Suddenly he stopped and asked, “Where is God?” I said, “God is here in the street with us.”

“You are right,” he said, and then continued to ramble on. Suddenly he stopped, looked at me and said, “I have one final message for you. Keep believing you will become something that will astound you.”

And then he was off. The scruffy prophet of the street had delivered his message. A message of encouragement, hope and faithfulness that I needed to hear that night. A message to which my only response could be, “This is the Word of the Lord.”   

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

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