Before the pandemic, every Good Friday some friends and I would view some religious film. The viewing took place in the early evening after many of us had attended the Good Friday liturgy. Usually I chose the film and after viewing it we would discuss the religious meanings dramatized in the film. One year I did not choose what we would watch. Someone had seen a documentary about Father Gregory Boyle, an American Jesuit priest who had founded Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest gang-intervention, rehabilitation and reentry program in the world. I confess that before I viewed the documentary I knew nothing about Father Boyle. Now he has become one of my heroes.
The documentary was awesome. All who attended the Good Friday gathering thought the film was wonderful and were deeply impressed by Father Boyle’s apostolate. The group discussing the documentary spanned ages from 25 to 75, and all were impressed by Father Boyle, who has received the California Peace Prize, been inducted into the California Hall of Fame and in 2014 was named by the White House a Champion of Change. He was also awarded Notre Dame’s 2017 Laetare Medal, which is the oldest honor given to American Catholics.
About five minutes ago I finished reading Boyle’s third book, The Whole Language (New York: Avid Reader Press, An Imprint of Simon & Schuster, 2021, pp. 226, $27.00). On page xv1 of his introduction, Father Boyle writes the following about what he and his staff are trying to do in Homeboy Industries: “We aspire to see beyond rap sheets and past behavior, beyond tattoos and trauma. We aspire to see the mystical wholeness of the other. God sees this way. Jesus sees this way. We want to see this way.” I was hooked!
Several times in this weekly column I have expressed my belief that when we meet someone in whom the Holy Spirit lives, someone who is a temple of the Holy Spirit, we are meeting not only the human person but also meeting the Holy Spirit.
The philosopher Martin Buber, who was Jewish, claimed that in any love relationship, we meet not only the creature with whom we are having the relationship, but we also meet God. Reflecting on what theologians call “sanctifying grace,” I have come to believe that every person we meet can be like a sacrament for us because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I think this is what Father Boyle means when he stresses that he and his staff want to see the mystical wholeness of the other. How wonderful it would be if all of us tried to do this. There would be a kind of love explosion, a revolution of love.
In trying to explain what Homeboy Industries is, Father Boyle writes the following:
“Homeboy Industries, along with providing concrete help and a culture of healing and transformation to gang members, also wants to be what the world is ultimately called to become: a community of kinship and a sangha of beloved belonging. Homeboy doesn’t want to point something out. We want to point the way. Not just a solution, but a sign. It points the way to the power of transformation, the holiness of second chances; a commitment to demonize no one; and the power and possibility of redemption. If Homeboy were a volume, you’d have to cover your ears. Homeboy Industries reminds us that we belong to one another.”(p. xv11)
I believe that the world is called to become a community of beloved belonging. Each and every one of us is called to help in the building of that community. There are no free rides. Everyone has a vocation to make a self-gift to the community. There are as many possible gifts as there are people. The unimportant person does not exist. God could not create an unimportant person even if God wished to create such a person. Every one of us is precious, sacred, important in God’s plan. No one who believes in the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection should have an inferiority complex. From the baby in the womb to the stroke victim in a coma, every person is a unique image of God.
Reading Father Boyle’s book and the success of Homeboy Industries in helping former gang members to appreciate their goodness, I often had the feeling that I was reading “miracle stories.” Father Boyle has proven that the power of love cannot be measured.
If we profoundly believe that, we may both experience and observe personal transformations taking place. Those transformations may be in our own lives and also in the lives of those we love. How powerful is love? What can love not accomplish?
I cannot answer that question. Christians believe that love has conquered even death.
by Father Robert Lauder
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.