Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ presents ‘Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion’


Archdiocesan Peace and Justice Commission
Incarnate Word Foundation
Saint Louis University
Society of St. Vincent de Paul

Fr. Boyle:  I am closer to God when I am with the people at our place.

What brings you out tonight is not me, but an ongoing need for an alignment to bring us to the dream of relationship.   In the end it is about being in union with one another.  We hope the day will come when we stop throwing people away.  No kinship no peace, no kinship no equality. The only way that makes sense is if we anchor ourselves in the God who loves us without regret.  St. Ignatius says we want to know that God is always greater.  And so how do we arrive at that God?

One of the homies was reading a Psalm, and he said ‘The Lord is exhausted.’ Not ‘exalted.’  I remember thinking at the time that the homie’s way is way better.  I like the exhausted God, rather than a God who wants to spend eternity being exalted.  It’s good to be exhausted if you are helping other human beings.  It’s a good tired.  That’s the God we actually have.  A God who is loving you.

The God we settle for is a partial God.  We always need to be on the lookout for the God we actually have, not the God we settle for. When Dylan Roof killed those people in a Charleston church, a week later those families sat in his presence and said, ‘We forgive you.’  That is the God we actually have.  But nine months later we settled for the partial God with the death penalty.

We can feel the tender glance of God and then exhaust ourselves in extending that glance to others.  The depth of the God we actually have is this exhausted God who is inviting us to the margins to create a kinship with those who are out there.  That is the God we know in the deepest part of us.  We know that God only wants for us, not from us.  We don’t have to measure up; we don’t have to perform.  In asking us to create a community of kinship, God is not asking something from us, because it is in that community that the joy is.  The joy for us.

I was talking to Whoopi Goldberg, and she said, ‘That Pope Francis, he’s going for the original program.’  What does that say?  We all know what the original program is. We know this. It is the God we actually have. We want this.  It’s what Jesus wanted.

Compassionate loving kindness

That’s the original program. We want to roll up our sleeves and be in kinship.   It’s about exquisite mutuality, about relationship.

I was in the car with Manuel and he is texting with Snoopy.  I realized that Manuel and Snoopy are from rival gangs.  They used to shoot bullets but now they are shooting texts.  They are in kinship. 

In our services at Homeboy, we want to align ourselves with that, with the original program.  Service is the hallway that gets you to the ballroom, where there is the exclusive mutuality of joy, kinship.  God doesn’t want anything from us.  God just wants us to be in that ballroom.  When it stops at service, there’s a barrier—the service providers and the service recipients.  But truth be told all of us are in need of healing.  It is one of those things that join us together as a human family.

Dreamer is a super smart kid.  He’s very intelligent though I don’t recall that he ever went to school.  He is in his 40s now and is doing well.  But in his 20s he was a yo-yo, in and out of jail.  I’d find him jobs, but he’d find himself eventually doing things of vague criminality.  And then he’d wander back.  He came back after 4 months in jail and then he said this time it will be different.

 So I called Gary at the vending machine place and he said Dreamer could start tomorrow.  Two weeks later Dreamer is at my desk again waving his paycheck.  He said, “Damn G, this paycheck makes me feel proper.  My mom is proud, and my kids aren’t ashamed.  And you know who I have to thank for this job? God.” 

 He could tell I thought he was going to say, ‘You, Fr. Greg.’ And he said, “It’s a good thing we aren’t living in Genesis times because God would have struck your ass with lightning.”  The two of us fell out of our chairs we were laughing so hard.  And I defy you to say who is the service provider and who is the recipient.  It’s mutual. 

 Homeboy started as a bakery.  Then we started Homeboy Tortillas. We changed our name to Homeboy Industries.  And things grew and evolved.  We are the largest gang recovery program in the world.  We serve 55,000 individuals a year.  There are 11,000 gangs in LA.  We are healing people.  Healing is what it’s about.  They come with chronic toxic stress strapped to their backs, and they need relief. Otherwise they are living for survival.  They find sanctuary with us, and then they go home and are a sanctuary for their kids.  We promote kinship.

Diane Keaton comes into the Homegirl Cafe.  Diane asks what the waitress, a former gang member, would recommend and the waitress responds with three things she likes.  Then she says, ‘I think we have met somewhere.  I think I know you.’  And Diane says, ‘Oh, I have a face that people just think they recognize.’  Then the waitress says, ‘No, I’ve got it.  We were in prison together!’  Oscar winning actress. Attitudinal waitress.  I don’t want anything from you. It’s kinship.  That quenches God’s thirst.

Go to the margins.  As I have loved you, so must you have a special referential love for the widow, orphan and stranger.  These are folks who know what it is like to be cut off.  And because they have been cut off in this way, God thinks they can lead us to the kinship of God.  They are guides and we follow.  You are not called to the margins to rescue someone.  When we go out there, we all find rescue.  The measure of compassion is not in our service to those on the margins, but in our ability to see our kinship with them. The folks at the margins are our trustworthy guides to get us to the community of kinship that is God’s dream come true.

A woman asked me once, “How much time do you spend at Homeboy actually praising God?”  And my answer was, “All damn day.”

Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, founded Homeboy Industries, a $19 million operation that is the largest provider of services to former gang members in the world, serving 50,000. Homeboy operates a bakery, a cafe, and a restaurant at the Los Angeles Airport, as well as provides a plethora of support and social services to former gang members. 

Recommended Books: 

Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle, SJ
Barking at the Choir, Gregory Boyle, SJ