[Quotes from Fr. Greg Boyle come from an interview with Krista Tippett as publicized on OnBeing]
In 1986, the Catholic Order the Society of Jesus, aka the Jesuits placed Father Greg Boyle in the Dolores Mission. In other words, Fr. Boyle was being sent to the poorest parish in the city, which had the highest concentration of gang activity in the world at that time.
We are in a season of learning from teachers who live into the spirit of Jesus’ messages in any number of ways.
SLIDE: Today’s teacher - Fr. Greg Boyle.
His book, Tattoos on the Heart, tells some of his reflections and experiences working with youth who come from situations hard to imagine.
like a kid whose father left the home on his sixth birthday. They were all waiting for his dad to come home to light the candles and he never showed up.
There's drug and violence and incarceration in these kids' families.
Kids who've ceased to care.
In the light of Father Boyle’s work with young people, I was reflecting on this challenging passage from Mark.
Jesus doesn’t hold back when talking about what happens if anyone causes a little one to stumble.
The phrase “cause to stumble” comes from the greek Scandalizo - like our word scandelous.
I’m bringing the heat when I bring out the Biblical greek!
Biblical greek can take on a variety of meanings given the context. And one meaning of “cause to stumble” is, to quite literally put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall.
Life is full of obstacles--so many things that can cause us to trip and fall.
What does it mean to put obstacles in the way to those Jesus called the little ones, the least of these, those most vulnerable in society…
Who are these little ones?
Certainly the plight of refugees fleeing desperate situations has been brought to our attention in recent weeks--never has the world experienced such a displacement of people fleeing war, and unihabitable lands due in part to explotation and climate change.
It’s a terrible situation, some respond by putting up barrier, we need to erect huge walls over all kinds of borders, keep them out.
Jesus offers a different message. The scripture says, Jesus saw the great crowd, and he wasn’t overwhelmed.
He didn’t throw up his hands and say what can I do? He didn’t run! He didn’t propose building a big wall - scandelous -
Scripture says, he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
SLIDE: Compassion - from one of my favorite greek words - splanchnizomai -- my password for everything so go ahead and write it down!
Literally, to be moved as to one’s bowels (Touch your belly)- there was thought to be the seat of love and pity.
Compassion - the passion of the Christ - to suffer with.
That’s what we all felt when we saw the image of that little 3 year old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, washed up to shore.
We felt it deep inside---
Compassion for the parents, for all who resort to such measures
And what do we do with that feeling?
I think Father Boyle has some helpful words for us from his work with gang youth--lost youth,
sheep without a shepherd
He talks about three things:
compassion, the importance of relationship, and hope
Father Boyle was inspired to ministry by the words of St. Ignatius, who says very simply,
"See Jesus standing in the lowly place."
See Jesus standing in the lowly place..and stand there with him.
It's about walking with Jesus and being a companion.
Father Boyle learns how to be compassionate by standing with kids like Jose:
Jose tells his story like this:
"You know, I guess you could say that my mom and me, we didn't get along so good.
I guess I was six when she looked at me and she said, 'Why don't you just kill yourself? You're such a burden to me.'"
Usually when Jose says this his audience reacts like you did, and he says, Yeah and it sounds a lot worser in spanish!
“I guess I was nine when my mom drove me down to the deepest part of Baja California, and she walked me up to an orphanage and said, 'I found this kid.'”
He was there about 90 days before his grandmother could find out where his mother had dumped him.
“[My grandmother] came and rescued me.”
“My mom beat me. I had to wear three T-shirts to school every day.”
When Jose tells his story he kind of loses the battle with his own tears a little bit.
“I wore three T-shirts well into my adult years because I was ashamed of my wounds. I didn't want anybody to see them.
But now my wounds are my friends. I welcome my wounds.
I run my fingers over my wounds.”
You see, now Jose is working to help other youth who’ve gone through hard times and he sees it this way, "How can I help the wounded if I don't welcome my own wounds?"
Most people see Jose, may initially put him in a box, and write him off as a detriment to society, basically put a stumbling block between themselves and him, “because we're so inclined to judge this kid who went to prison, is tattooed, and is a gang member, and homeless, and a heroine addict.”
But when we hear his story, we realize he was never seeking anything when he ended up in those places. He was always fleeing his own story.
Father Boyle says it’s moving past judgement to a place of openness, to listening to stories, and welcoming.
And more, The measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with those we feel called to serve.
We can speculate about strangers all day long,
but Jesus calls us to relationships of kinship, and in those relationships, that's where we discover God.
Father Boyle says it’s not so much about helping others--but a common calling to delight in one another-- delight that comes from relationships with those most different.
This is what he calls mutuality in relationship.
Not, this distance between helper and the one being helped, but that there is something mutually beneficial in any relationship, no matter how foriegn it may seem.
Father Greg Boyle calls the youth he works with homies, which means friends.
They call him Father G:
When speaking of kinship he tells about an encounter with Louie when he’d just turned 18.
He describes Louie’s as “kind of a difficult kid.
He's exasperating. he's whiny.”
He works in one of our shops, “although work may be too strong a verb,” Says father boyle.
It’s not unusual for the homies to ask Father Boyle on the street or in his office for a blessing.
They never say, "Father, may I have your blessing?"
They always say, "Hey, G, give me a bless, yeah?"
So Louie, is talking to Fr. Boyle, complaining about something. Finally, he says, "Hey, G, give me a bless, yeah?"
“Sure,” He says. So Louie comes around, he knows the drill... He bows his head, and Father Boyle puts his hands on his shoulder. His birthday had been two days before, so it gave him an opportunity to say something to Louie:
“You know, Louie, I'm proud to know you. My life is richer because you came into it. When you were born, the world became a better place. And I'm proud to call you my son, even though," — and he says, I don't know why I decided to add this part — "at times you can really be a huge pain in the ass."
And Louie looks up at Fr. Boyle, smiles and says, "The feeling's mutual."
Suddenly — kinship--that's where the place of delight is.
By blessing Louie, maybe he returned Louie to himself, but, Father Boyle says there is no doubt that Louise returned him to his true self.
In ministry of mutuality, we’re not the great healer and that desperate person over there is in need of our exquisite healing.
In kinship, we're not this delivery system dropping off food at the food bank.
In Relationship, we are called to bridge the distance that exists between us--to remove the stumbling block that would separate us.
This church has many who serve others and understand well the blessing that is received in that service because of relationship.
The session and others are exploring ways this church can be a blessing and receive blessings in the community,
one concept is mission-in-a-mile, which is to look at what is within a mile radius of the church campus -- The schools, the food bank, low income housing, the boys and girls club.
-- see how to get plugged in through ministries of caring and relationships.
It is awesome to see how this church is responding to the challenge of raising money for the Boys and girls club--but equally, more important? is volunteering there and forming relationships with some of the boys and girls there.
SLIDE: Father Boyle says, “The delight in mutuality came by way of knowing that the day won't ever come when I am as holy as the people I'm called to serve,
that the day won't ever come when I have more courage or am more noble or am closer to God than this 16-year-old gang member I’m sitting with on his porch.”
“Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” Jesus says.
Lastly, we come to hope.
Father Greg Boyle
says his ministry of compassion and kinship is to infuse young people with hope, even when it seems that hope is foreign.
As you can imagine: There's so much grief and so much heartbreak in the kids he works with...just as there can be found in so many places.
Kids who can't imagine a future for themselves.
Kids who aren't seeking anything when they join a gang.
They're always fleeing something, always, without exception.
Sheep without a shepherd. Little ones stumbling left and right.
Father Boyle calls it a lethal absence of hope.
it's hard to imagine where they would draw hope from, and the hopelessness is lethal.
One of the ways the Dolores mission offers hope--jobs.
We know so well much of our self worth comes from our jobs.
Employing the young people no one else will employ.
The mission first formed a job employment referral center, trying to find felony-friendly employers, but not many were willing to hire these youth.
They couldn't wait. The demand was so huge, and gang members kept saying, “If only we had jobs.”
SLIDE: So they started Homeboy Bakery in 1992.
And a month later, Homeboy Tortillas.
Eventually it became the highfalutin Homeboy Industries: Homeboy Bakery, Homeboy Silk Screen, Homegirl Café Homeboy Maintenance, Homeboy/Homegirl Merchandise,.
It’s not just to have a paycheck, it’s about community that trumps gangs.
Gang members work along other members of opposing gangs, and they start to get along.
The motto, on their T-shirts, is "Nothing Stops a Bullet Like a Job."
When Jesus saw the crowd he had compassion.
A ministry of compassion, of tearing down stumbling blocks requires sacrifice and is hard work.
Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.
Father Boyle says nothing has brought him
“more life, more joy than standing with Jesus, along with standing in the lowly place;
standing with the easily despised and the readily left out;
with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop;
with the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.
Standing there with them brings fullness in life.
In some ways, hearing about Father Boyle and the resilience of the youth he’s working with is inspiring;
and in some ways it can make you feel bad, or it makes me feel bad I don’t have the courage to do more!
But the good news is that Jesus doesn’t give up on us
We are and we can continue to be salt.
And let us look forward to experiencing the fullness in life when we stand with others in the lowly places through ministries of hope and compassion that we are doing now, and that we can only dream of doing in the not too far off future.In the name of the father son and holy spirit. Amen.