Tattoos on a Priest’s Heart

Gregory Boyle. Tattoos on the Heart. 2010. Roman Catholic life of service.

7090193It is extraordinarily uncommon to encounter an autobiographer as compassionate, hard-working, and life-affirming as Father Gregory Boyle.

Gregory Boyle is the priestly founder of Homeboy Industries, a Catholic rehabilitation work service for Latino gangbangers in Los Angeles. In spite of having buried hundreds of young victims of gang violence, Father Gregory (or “G” as the homies call him) never succumbs to despair or dwindles in faith and love for the least of his brethren, concurring with Dorothy Day that people have a “duty to delight,” that we should not only love our neighbors and our enemies but also love to love them. Whether weeping over a boy’s bullet-riddled body or bellowing reproofs at erring youths, Father Gregory believes in “the power of boundless compassion” to transform lives and draw us closer to God. And compassion is so often all the gangbangers need to reform—thrashed and neglected by their parents, marginalized by their society, uneducated and with poor self-esteem, they need to know that someone—really, anyone—gives a shit. Their naivety is astonishing and really quite touching—the book is brimming with laugh-out-loud anecdotes about the homies thinking cancer is in “intermission” or imagining a restaurant tip to be “Don’t run with scissors” (!).

Father G’s outsize personality, humorous and affectionate but adamantine, is perfect for grandfathering these blasphemous, aggressive but essentially decent kids into upholding the motto: “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.” G cares about these homies and homegirls, and because he is a priest, so does God. Sainthood or a Nobel Peace Prize, anyone?

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