Editor’s note: This article was published in the April 2023 issue of the North Star Catholic.
The first time I read a book by Jesuit Father Greg Boyle, I was on a long airline flight. As I became immersed in “Tattoos on the Heart,” my seatmates probably looked at me askance.
I alternated laughing aloud, then weeping and sniffling. That’s how evocative that book is.
Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang rehabilitation and reentry program in the world. Homeboy provides support and training to former gang and gang-related members and help to those recently incarcerated.
So, during Lent, I decided to read Boyle’s latest, “Forgive Everyone Everything,” which contains excerpts from his three previous books, accompanied by art by Fabian Debora, the executive director of Homeboy Art Academy.
Forgive everyone everything? That sounded heavy. But Boyle’s books are never heavy. They are light with joy and hope. And this one isn’t meant to be read in one sitting. Instead, during Lent, it was meant to be read one meditative page at a time. Perfect, and not just for Lent. It’s a good Resurrection read.
It’s not that Boyle hasn’t seen the dark side. You can imagine the addiction, crime, violence, family dysfunction he encounters. And how about the funerals? He’s presided over too many violence-related funerals to count.
But he sees God walking in the midst of this, and the many successes along the way, the hopeful and bright spots. And he makes his “homies,” a tough crew, feel God’s love.
When you make a retreat, or go to someone for spiritual direction, the first question is often, “Who is God for you?”
It can be a hard question. After all, God is a mystery, and relating to this mystery takes a lifetime. Our image of God changes as we grow. But Boyle, like all good spiritual writers, starts with Scripture, and so should we.
We could start with “God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
But does he love me? And does he love those I have trouble loving? During Lent, one daily reading focused on Jesus’s instruction to love our enemies.
I don’t really have any enemies, I thought. There’s no one I hate.
Oh, but wait. What about Putin? And what about those trolls on social media forums? The ones who launch ad hominem attacks against people I love, even against Pope Francis. Do I sometimes shut down my screens with animosity in my heart for people I’ve never even met?
Love is more complicated than I’d wish, and my ability to love not as strong as I desire. And yet, our God is defined as love. What a challenge.
It helps to start by answering another question, “Who am I?” As Pope Francis said, “I am a sinner. . . whom the Lord looked upon with mercy.” We are created to love and to be loved. Sometimes, believing in God’s love for me is hard.
One of my favorite Scripture stories is the Prodigal Son. Jesus was showing us what God’s love is like. The father of the prodigal opens his arms to receive his errant son. Is the son repentant? He’s hungry and Dad is his last resort. Does the father chastise him? Remind him of the rules? No, he just wants to embrace him.
If we can sit with the image of God wanting to embrace us just as we are, we start to see those “enemies” out there as people whom God also loves. Sometimes, the best thing to do is turn off the screens, sit for a while with Scripture or a book like Boyle’s, and move into the silence where the prodigal’s father waits eagerly to embrace us.