Gregory Boyle is a Jesuit who has chosen to live his life in one of the toughest neighborhoods of the toughest city in the U.S.
His day job appears to be a employment agency. He also is in charge of a cafe, and a silk screen company.
In reality, I think he is in charge of a a salvage company. He salvages human beings.
He is an unlikely saint, introducing people with little or no hope to the fact someone loves them, and to their potential, and to the reality of God in their lives. He teaches people how to be loved. He connects people to God by demonstrating humanity and compassion without limits.
This may be the most important book you ever read. In a society where compassion seems to be lacking, this can be a call to action.
His book about his experience "Tattoos on the Heart" is a profoundly touching and important message. Not everyone will get it, but I encourage you to try.
My favorite writer, Anne Lamott, calls this "An astonishing book... about suffering and dignity, death and resurrection, one of my favorite books in years. It is lovely and tough and tender beyond my ability to describe and left me in tears of both sorrow and laughter."
I can't say it better than that.
Boyle runs an organization called "Homeboy Industries," a practical, difficult and life-changing combination of job training, marketing, hard work and salvation for people who have been thrown on the garbage dump of life. The young people he works with every day tend to be from completely dis-functional backgrounds, have no or abusive parents, and see themselves as essentially worthless and bound for a quick violent death: Teenage girls who want babies too young and too soon because they don't expect to survive to adulthood; boys as young as 11 years old who have no plan or hopes for the future, because they expect to be shot down. The stories are endless, but so is the hope.
Boyle tells a story about a church congregation that was having a problem with the smell of the homeless who slept in their church. They had opened their doors so the poor and homeless would have a place to sleep, but he was getting complaints about the lingering smell of stinky bodies and feet.
Why would anyone bring the homeless into their nice church? he asked them at a meeting to discuss the problem.
Because, the congregation responded, that’s what Jesus would do.
Why do we do that? he asked.
It is what we are committed to do they replied.
And what does the church smell like?
A pause, and one voice answered: “It smells like commitment.”
And a cheer broke out.
“Compassion isn’t just about feeling the pain of others," Boyle writes. "It’s about bringing them in toward yourself. If we love what God loves, then, in compassion, margins get erased.
“Be compassionate as God is compassionate” means the dismantling of barriers that exclude.
"In Scripture Jesus is in a house so packed that no one can come through the door anymore. So the people open the roof and lower the paralytic down through it, so Jesus can heal him. The focus of the story is, understandably, the healing of the paralytic. But there is something more significant that that happening here. They are ripping the roof off the place, and those outside are being let in.”
Go in peace, and tear the roof off if you need to.