Where do you stand?
I recently read an excellent book called Tattoos on the Heart. It was written earlier this year by Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who has loved and served the poor and marginalized of Los Angeles for twenty-five years. He started his priestly career assigned to a parish in the largest low-income housing project in the country. Gang activity was (and is) rampant in the neighborhood, and gang members told him: we need jobs.
Two and a half decades later, Father Greg is still running the ever-expanding Homeboy Industries – the largest gang intervention program in the United States. He finds jobs for those who want them at either their silk-screen shop, the Homeboy Bakery, the Homegirl Café, or among his many contacts around the city.
In reading his book and then hearing him speak at St. Joseph’s two weeks ago, I was particularly struck by his patience and understanding. He gives so much, even when the people he cares about reject him, or his help, or go back to their old ways.
Father Greg doesn’t have any illusions that he can sustain himself or his ministry by his own strength. He just faithfully serves those closest to him. Those people just happen to be thousands of gang members and their families. He loves them because God loves them. Through his words and actions he says, “You are exactly who God made you to be. All you have to do is accept and inhabit that truth.” He possesses a deep understanding of each person’s identity in Christ. You are not a failure. You are more good enough. You were created with a divine purpose. And it’s this understanding that keeps him going. He’s not changing anyone, he’s making people aware of what they already are, and finding joy in those relationships. He says, “Anyone can hold the mirror up to show people who they are, and in return we are returned to who we are.” We look at the poor and we judge them, but what we need to do is look at the poor and marvel at the burden that they carry. And then come alongside them and bear their burdens with them.
Lastly, he spoke about the story from Mark two when four men couldn’t get into the house to bring their friend who was paralyzed to Jesus. They opened up the roof and lowered their friend down on a mat right in front of Jesus, who healed him. We might look at this story and think: wow, Jesus healed that guy. Or we might think: so it sounds like Jesus was pretty popular. But the revolutionary thing is this: they ripped the roof right off of the place, and the people on the outside are now on the inside. Those who were deemed Not Good Enough are no longer shut out. They are brought in and all join together in God’s presence.
In his words, Father Greg stands with the marginalized until they are no longer marginalized. He brings people in from the outside, until no one is on the outside anymore. What does that mean for me? Where am I standing? Am I in the right place?