Let me introduce you to one of my favorite Jesuits – Rev. Gregory Boyle, S.J., founder of Homeboy Industries ( http://homeboyindustries.org ) and author of Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion (Free Press, 2010).
For 25 years, Fr. G (as he is respectfully called by the homies) has run Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program located in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights neighborhood, otherwise known as the gang capital of the world. “Hope has an address.” Its mission is “to provide hope, training and support to formerly gang-involved and recently incarcerated men and women, allowing them to re-direct their lives and become contributing members of their community.”
To find joy in serving others. To love unconditionally. To acknowledge everyone as a human being with value. To learn the patience needed to walk in the darkness with someone sorely in need of being lifted out of despair, out of the darkness, into the light.
A Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi
“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light, and
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive –
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
It sounds like St. Francis of Assisi would feel at home working in LA, right next to Fr. G of Boyle Heights. Encouraging us to seek something much bigger than ourselves as individuals.
“Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.” ~ Fr. G
My son – the one who was born on St. Francis’ birthday and has Francis as his Confirmation name – called me up one night quite awhile after I gave him his own copy of Fr. G’s book. The above quote was the one that stood out for him, the same one that stood out for me. Interconnected. Reaching out. That same son (actually, my one and only) who helped his Dad and I for more than 8 years in our church’s soup kitchen, told me that he found the book to be exceptional, but (there’s always a but) he couldn’t keep wiping away tears one minute, then laughing out loud, while reading it during his daily subway commute.
Laughter and tears. I agree. But by no means is it only about darkness.
David: “Yeah, I know I can fly. I just need to catch a gust o’ wind.”
Sharkey: “Damn, G. I’m gonna tattoo that on my heart.”
Willy: “God thinks I’m ‘firme’ (could not be one bit better).”
Rascal: “You know, I’m gonna take that advice, and I’m gonna let it marinate (pointing at his heart) right here.”
A homie who has given up: “That’s it. I’m moving to Mars. This planet is tired of my ass already.”
Scrappy: “I have spent the last 20 years building a reputation for myself…and now…I regret…that I even have one.”
Betito: “Hey, G, you know what you are? You da real deal.”
Terry (a 16-year-old pregnant girl in a short, bright red dress): “I just want to have a kid before I die. Promise me you’ll bury me in this dress.”
Leo: “I was watching Jerry Springer…and they had a commercial ’bout that ITT Institute – where ya learn shit, and I think, maybe I’ll call G, you know, and get me one a’ them careers.”
A homie calling off work: “I have anal blindness. I just can’t see my ass coming to work today.”
Moreno: “Damn, G – Biooooology. That’s the boooooomb right there! On Monday, we’re gonna DIGEST a frog!”
Soledad at the death of 2 of her children: “The hurt wins…the hurt wins.”
Chico at his new job: “Dear G: I am learning how to use a fax machine. A am learning a gang a’ shit here. Thanks for getting (this job) for me.”
A place of truth. Community. Dismantled boundaries that were erected to keep others out. Boundless compassion. Acceptance. Love. Kinship. Loveliness. Sacredness.
A gathering of souls. Where our souls quicken in awe at the rightness of it. Where the human spirit triumphs.
As Fr. G says: “And so the voices at the margins get heard, and the circle of compassion widens. Souls feeling their worth, refusing to forget that we belong to each other. No bullet can pierce this.”
One last thing: Fr. G has been diagnosed with leukemia. A cancer of the blood that cannot touch his heart. His soul shines and marinates in love, compassion and understanding.
Enlightened witness. Priest. Jesuit. Man.
“Go forth and set the world on fire.”
~ St. Ignatius of Loyola
That is what I wish for the world. For the new Pope. For the homies.
And for Fr. Greg, whose grace and spirit are tattooed on my heart – my love, prayers, gratitude and blessings.
Pax vobiscum. May peace be with you.
You are my light.