Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest in Los Angeles is inspiring. I’ve talked about him before, and now he’s just been celebrated for 50 years as a Jesuit with accolades from President Biden, Governor Gavin Newsom, labor movement icon Dolores Huerta and others. He works with gang members in Los Angeles. He doesn’t judge them; rather together he and the gang members/former gang members are bearing wonderful fruit. We might initially think, well God bless him, but I’m not inspired by that; gangs are too hard and too dangerous for me to contemplate. But not only is Gregory Boyle succeeding but he inspires by his attitude and his insights about doing the work joyfully and without burning out! He is renewed daily. The fruit that he and the people he connects with are bearing is so good that even here on the other side of the country in a rural area, we can savor it and be inspired.
Regarding savoring life and not burning out, Gregory Boyle says, If the intent is to save people, or even to help people, then … you’re going to be depleted. But if the task is allowing yourself to be reached by people, can you receive people? Can you be anchored in the here and now and practice the sacrament of the present moment? If you can do that, then it’s all delight and it’s all amazement and it’s all awe. We’re only saved in the present moment. If we’re not saved in the present moment, we’re not saved at all. For me, it’s never about depletion. It used to be, when I used to think my job was saving lives. But now I think saving lives is for the Coast Guard. Our choice always is the same: save the world or savor it. And I vote for savoring it. And, just because everything is about something else, if you savor the world, somehow – go figure – it’s getting saved.
That’s amazing! Gregory Boyle’s work seems near the top of the list of ‘hard jobs’, yet not only is he succeeding, he’s thriving, enjoying it! He seems able to do all this well by putting into practice multiple strands of essential spiritual wisdom: being open to people, staying in the present moment, and savoring the moment and the people and experiences in that moment, rather than worrying (e.g., about saving the person in front of you).
LA’s Homeboy Industries is the world’s largest gang intervention, rehab and re-entry program. But at the core of its work and ministry are notions of blessing, gift and miracle, says the organization’s founder and executive director [Gregory Boyle]. It’s clear that these positive notions are essential and sustaining to this challenging ministry as, “gang violence is about the lethal absence of hope… if you don’t transform your pain you keep transmitting it” Boyle says. Lives, thousands of them, are in fact transformed at Homeboy Industries. Homeboy Industries has grown from an experimental jobs program with its first commercial ventures, Homeboy Bakery and Homeboy Silkscreen, into a multifaceted industry/ministry with education, job training, drug treatment, therapy, and other businesses like cafés. Read about Homeboy Industries and watch a video.
Their motto is, Nothing stops a bullet like a job. But Father Boyle thinks that’s only part of it. “It’s about healing. Jobs are a key part of that healing, but only part.” He says it’s also about healing the souls of gang members, healing bodies, relationships, and communities. Homeboy also provides legal aid and tattoo removal.
How does all this connect with us in the Columbia County area? Well, if hardened gang members can have their lives transformed and even become friends with former members of enemy gangs (and this is happening), we can all be inspired by that. Greg Boyle says he is dependent on God for this ministry and that a key is that he is not simply giving but receiving and seeing Jesus in these gang members. He says we have to see how we’re all connected already before we can succeed at bringing peace and justice. Through these connections and this caring young men and young women are being valued, having their hearts changed, caring about others, getting clean, getting educated and getting good jobs.
If former gang members can reach across the aisle, then we can grow in appreciation and love for those different from us in class or race or politics or strengths or weaknesses. If Greg Boyle doesn’t burn out working with gang members, then we can be sustained by joy and by being open in the present, in our work, ministry, and relationships. Like Greg Boyle, we can savor the world, the joy of the Lord as our strength.
“Sooner or later, we all discover that kindness is the only strength there is.” Father Greg Boyle.
In peace, John+
Quotations are from Homeboy Industries website and Alban Weekly/Faith and Leadership Forum, Duke University.