Homeboy Industries is a foolish business. The employees dress inappropriately and in ways that terrify middle class America. Their language is full of curse words. They show up late or not at all. The people they hire are truly unemployable. So why employ them? Father Boyle believes we are to imitate the kind of God we believe in. He believes passionately that God would be hiring them and giving them third, fourth, fifth and sixth chances.
To understand Father Boyle you need to understand the image of God he imagines. His vision is simple. God is hopelessly, passionately, excitedly and unexplainably in love with us. God does not fall out of love with us, ever. God does not grow disillusioned with us, ever. God is so crazy in love with us, He that God can’t take His eyes off of us.
This is the Father in the story we read from Luke today. It didn’t matter what his son had done or why he had come home. He had come home and that was enough to fill the father with so much joy he wanted to throw a party to celebrate. For years, the father was estranged from this son as he lived far away. Now he was back and he couldn’t take his eyes off of him.
Read story of Willy, page 22-24
In this story, Willy comes to Father Boyle and asks for $20. Willy is a gang member but his true gifts are in talking and charming. Father Boyle takes him to get $20 at a nearby ATM in a small grocery store. He tells Willy, almost as a joke, to spend his time waiting in the car praying. When Father Boyle returns, he is surprised he is actually praying. He asks what God said to him. Willy’s eyes filled with tears and he said, “God thinks I am firme.” To the homies, firme means “could not be one bit better”.
God thinks we are firme even if we are like Willy and there is little firme about us to the rest of the world. We say all the time that God loves us, but we live with the sinking suspicion that we might just be outside the embrace of God’s love. God’s arms of love just can’t get around the wide girth of our life. We stop believing that God thinks we are firme, because the evidence is so overwhelming that we have become unlovable.
Boyle writes that in our DNA we seem to have an overactive disapproval gland. We are so used to judging ourselves and others, comparing ourselves favorably or unfavorably to those around us that we imagine God does the same thing. We read tragic stories in the newspaper and soothe our worries with the secure knowledge that bad things happened to them because they were bad people in bad places at bad times. We spend our lives disapproving of ourselves and others and have convinced ourselves that God must be made in our image and all about disapproval, too. Boyle is passionately against this image of God. Disapproval does not seem a part of God’s DNA. God is too busy loving us to have room for disappointment in us.
Read story of Cesar, page 28-31
Cesar was a man that Father Boyle knew since he was a kid. Cesar was in his 20’s now and had been in and out of prison since his teens. He had just been released after four years and called Father Boyle to get new clothes. Father Boyle picked him up and took him to Penney’s where he purchased $200 of clothes. In the store, Cesar realized everyone was frightened of him. At three in the morning Cesar calls Father Boyle at home and tells him that he always looked at Boyle as his father. He wants to know if Father Boyle looked on him as his son. “Hell yeah”, Boyle says. Cesar lets out relief and says, “Then I will be your son. And you will be my father and nothing will separate us right.” “Right.” Cesar did not discover that night that he had a father. He always knew that. He discovered that he was a son worth having.
When the prodigal son returned he knew he would have a father waiting for him. What surprised him was that he was a son worth having, worth celebrating, worth throwing a party for. This is the God Boyle imagines, a God who can’t take his eyes off of us and can’t stop celebrating our existence without qualification. God loves us and it is God’s joy to love us.
Boyle ends this chapter with a story from a time when he did some mission work in Bolivia shortly after he was ordained. His Spanish was poor at the time and it was before he could lead the mass comfortably without any notes. In Bolivia, he was asked to travel up a mountain to an isolated community of Indians that had not seen a priest in years. This community made their living growing and harvesting flowers and bringing them down the mountain to sell to wholesalers.
He agreed of course and soon found himself on the back of a pick up truck to make the trek up the mountain. Midway he realized that in his backpack he had not packed a copy of the Spanish mass. He panicked. He didn’t know the words by heart. He might be able to wing them in English, but certainly not Spanish. All he had was a Spanish bible.
The truck pulls into a huge field with hundreds of natives waiting for him. He faked his way through the liturgy, making things up and reading parts of scripture authoritatively that had anything to do with Jesus eating. He lifted the bread and wine randomly throughout. Someone translated what he said in Spanish to the language of the tribe. It was a disaster Boyle writes.
He is humiliated and no one, no one tells him good job. The health workers that brought him were obviously disappointed in him. He had been delayed a half hour by an old Indian woman. When she left he looked around and realized he was completely alone. The truck had left him there. All the Indians had left. He would have to walk down alone the mountain road to the village he was stationed. He thought to himself this is exactly what he deserves for his disappointing work that day.
As he made his way to the road, an Indian man who looked ancient approached him and walked right up to him. He was a foot shorter than him covered with mud, wrinkles and creases. He calls Father Boyle, Tatai, which is an intimate and loving way of saying priest. In Spanish, he says Tatai¸ thanks for coming.
The short man with the creases and mud reaches into his pocket and takes out fistfuls of rose petals and holds them up. Father Boyle tilts his head to allow the man to stand on his tippy toes and drop them. Petals of yellow, red and pink fall to his feet and the man reaches in his pocket and gathers more. With his head tilted this goes on for what seems like hours. The pockets seem infinite and the beautiful petals at his feet were wet with his tears.
Finally, he left, leaving just as quickly and mysteriously as he had arrived. He never saw him again and no one he asked could think of who he might have been. God, I guess is what he writes. Because this would be just like God to shower us with rose petals on the day we are convinced we disappointed God the most. God’s joy doesn’t know what we are talking about when we think we don’t measure up. God has only one thing on God’s mind, to drop endlessly rose petals on our heads, so pleased God is with us. Behold the One who can’t take His eyes off of you. Amen