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One look can kindle contrite hearts

  • November 24, 2022

There are times in our lives when we feel sorry for ourselves and we cry out, “Why me?” Unfortunately for many it is followed by imagining that they hear God saying, “Why you? It’s because I don’t like you, that’s why.” They feel that if they had not sinned or made bad choices, then God would have loved them more and it would have all turned out differently. But of course, it is not true. God loves us passionately. Jesus died for us passionately. However, many on the unforgiving streets struggle with this, and in the midst of their self-hatred they look for someone who will bring them a glimmer of hope. 

I was starting my evening and made my way to a downtown church that is a haven for street people who find shelter and food within and around its welcoming walls. Sitting on the steps was a young man eating a sandwich, and as I said “Hello” he looked up and said, “Hey you’re a reverend, can I talk with you?” 

“Sure, how are you tonight?” I asked. 

“Well, I’m not doing great,” he said, and soon a torrent of pain and suffering overflowed his emotions and came pouring out. “I’m not used to this lifestyle yet. For years I had a great job as a welder until I had a car accident, and that was the beginning of my downward skid. I had so much pain I had to give up my job, and then I got addicted to the pain killers. It was one thing after another, and my wife walked out on me.” 

“Where are you living now?” I asked. “I live in a tent in the gardens,” he said, referring to a local park where many homeless people hang out. “Every day I go up to the cathedral and I pray for forgiveness. I cry for the pain I have caused people in the past. I have hurt so many people and it haunts me. Would you pray for me please and bless me? I need hope and peace in my life.” 

I laid my hands on his head and prayed that he would feel the passionate love of Jesus come upon him, and he would hear the words of the prophet Isaiah: “No need to recall the past.” As I walked away, I thought to myself that it is easier to hand out food than to hand out hope.

Late in the evening I heard someone screaming in agony and I thought it was probably someone acting out their addiction. I came to an intersection, and across the street was a elderly man lying on the ground screaming and wailing, “Help me it’s my leg.” I looked at the bus shelter beside me and noticed that two drug dealers I know were also watching the scene. I immediately thought I should call an ambulance but hesitated as I saw a young lady who looked dressed for the local strip club approach him and kneel beside him. Another deathly scream was released as she touched his leg and tried to lift him to his feet. She then took off into a nearby store and returned with a drink for him. As she touched his leg again, he once more released a wail when she gave him some money, got to her feet, and continued on her journey. 

As soon as she left, the man leaped to his feet and walked up to his apartment. The two dealers burst out laughing and one said, “He just wanted the girl to touch him.” Suddenly, I was relieved I had not called the ambulance on this well-rehearsed scam.

Walking to my car, the mood of the street seemed to brighten. I passed a couple of young men, one with rosary beads around his neck and he said, “My rosary beads are all I got. That’s why God helps me. God helps those with nothing.” 

“Ya,” said his friend sarcastically, “My future’s so bright I got to wear shades.”

Just another crazy evening for the Church on the Street, but I could not erase the memory of the young man longing for forgiveness for his past. How difficult it is to believe that you are lovable when you are filled with self-hate and despair. The late Brennan Manning said that the one question we will be asked by God is, “Did you believe that I love you?” One look, one word of acceptance from a passing stranger, can be what enkindles that belief in the contrite heart of a young man on the street.  

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

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