Scott Rodgerson,

Christ’s face shines with tears and joy

  • October 12, 2023

Some weeks, violence raises its ugly head to remind us that it is always lurking, shrouded by the darkness of the night.

I was walking on one of the darker streets when a couple of rats scampered in front of me, making me wonder if they were a portent of things to come. In the darkness I could see three ambulances, three firetrucks and one police car parked outside a men’s shelter with emergency personnel moving around inside the building. Further down the street a young man was on his hands and knees looking in the gutter for drugs that may have been dropped by addicts when they were using. He looked up and said, “Hello Father,” before continuing his search. It reminded me of my youth when people walked the street gutters looking for discarded cigarettes.

Suddenly, I came across a bus shelter whose window had been blown out by gunfire. I stepped over shards of glass as an angry disoriented man started shouting at two bystanders, “There’s a war going on in this area and this is what happens. This is my home; this is where I have always lived. Didn’t you hear what happened? Last night there was a fistfight, and some men went away and brought guns back. Four people were shot.”

I could only think of the shortest verse in scripture, “Jesus Wept.”

It is not just the trauma of those involved in the violence, but also the burnout and trauma of those who witness it. A good friend that I have written about frequently in these columns had called me just a few days before. After years of addiction and trauma, she is now 10 years clean. She called me to say that she had to take time off her job as an addictions’ counsellor in a safe injection site. She had witnessed a shooting outside her work location where a young mother was killed by a stray bullet. She is scared to go outside now and is receiving counselling.

“Jesus Wept.”

That same week I had called Tracey, who is 16 years clean, to see how she is doing in her work as a housing support worker. I have often expressed my admiration for support workers who go into the homes of people who may have had serious addictions and mental health issues in order to support them so that they can maintain their housing. Tracey has always gone above and beyond the requirements of the job, and she tells me that she feels she has to, because she remembers how she was when she was addicted.

It was clear in her first few words that she was not doing well.

“I had a terrible experience last week.” she said. “I took my client to a hospital appointment and the doctor said he was okay and I could take him home. I made sure that he could reach his food and was able to get around the apartment. A couple of days later I was going to my other job and thought I would go to see how he was getting on. I knocked, and there was no response, so I let myself in and I found him on the bathroom floor dead. When I was on the street I saw so much when I was using drugs, but this got to me. I am getting counselling now because it brings back so much of my own life to me.”

“Jesus Wept.”

With all these thoughts in my head, I made my way to see if “Red Bag” was on the streets. In my mind I had always called her “Red Bag” because of the large red bag she held as she waited for customers. It has only been in the past five months that she has given me her name and is relaxed and chatty. When she saw me in the distance, she broke into a large smile and shouted, “What are you doing downtown tonight? You are usually here on Thursdays.”

“I told you,” I said, “I worry about you, and I pray for your safety. I came downtown tonight specifically to see you, because last Thursday you were not around, and I wanted to make sure you are OK.”

On my way home I stopped at the Salvation Army Mission where a healing service was underway. A young man saw my collar and said, “God bless you.” and I believe finally Jesus Smiled.

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

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