As the Founder and Executive Director of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention, re-hab and re-entry program in the United States, Father Greg provides hope to thousands of former gang members looking for a better future. Today he celebrates his 40 year anniversary of being ordained a Jesuit priest.
I first read Fr. Greg’s book Tattoos on the Heart during my 2011 Christmas vacation, and I fell in love with his compassion and the organization he founded. I followed up with reading G Dog and the Homeboys, which chronicles the earlier years of Homeboy Industries. Fr. Greg has a unique talent for putting a real face on the challenges of gang life and the men and women fighting to be better. Fr. Greg describes lives of crime, drugs, and violence and still has the humility to say, “The day will never come when I am holier than the men and women I have the honor of serving.”
Every time I hear him speak (he updates YouTube regularly at Jobs Not Jails) I can’t help but think…This is a man who doesn’t talk about the problem. He presents solutions. I’ve even heard him referred to as “the Mother Teresa of Los Angeles.”
I had the great privilege to hear Fr. Gregory Boyle speak in person this past March in Anaheim. I was starstruck later on when I met him face to face and took a picture with him. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the presence of someone so in love with what he does.
Yesterday a peer referred to a cleaning staff as “illegal aliens” in a way that was derogatory and offensive to me. I wanted to lash out, and I was close to doing so. Anger boiled in me as thoughts of how some people can never understand what it’s like to leave your homeland and enter a land where you’re not accepted. I wondered if she knew what it was like to have people look at you, question your citizenship status and wonder if you know how to speak English. Perhaps most painful was when I wondered if she would judge my parents the same way if she just saw them on the street and didn’t know who they were.
Later on, as I was still bubbling over the comment, I thought about what snarky comebacks I could use the next time I encountered such an insult. And then I thought of Fr. Gregory Boyle. One of the things he says most frequently is
“Create a community of kinship such that God will recognize it…Mother Teresa diagnosed the ills of the world when she said, ‘The problem with the world is that we’ve forgotten that we belong to each other.’ Imagine a circle of compassion and then imagine no one standing outside of that circle…We’re called to stand at the edges of the margins of that circle and hope that because we’re standing there, it will widen. We stand with those whose burdens are more than they can bear. We stand with those whose dignity has been denied. When you’re really fortunate and blessed and lucky, you get to stand occasionally with those who are easily despised, and the readily left out, with those demonized so that the demonizing will stop. And with the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. If kinship was our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice. We would be celebrating it.”
His words made me remember that EVERYONE deserves to be in that circle of kinship, even if they hurt me, perhaps especially if they hurt me. Because really, if I want to celebrate and be a part of justice, I have to remember that no soul should be left outside of the circle.
One of my favorite Fr. Greg videos