Friend of the show Father Greg Boyle, S.J. shares stories and reflections on forgiveness in his new book, “Forgive Everyone Everything.” He has seen radical examples of mercy as the founder of Homeboy Industries, where he walks with ex-gang members looking to rebuild their lives.
Based in Los Angeles, CA, Homeboy has become the largest gang-intervention, rehabilitation, and reentry program in the world. For more than 34 years, they have employed and trained gang members and felons in a range of social enterprises. They also provide critical services to thousands each year who are seeking a better life.
“Some 10,000 gang members a year walk through our doors wanting to reimagine their lives,” Father Greg says. “It’s a safe place. And it’s a place where gang members and felons can be seen, and then be cherished. And that’s a very healing and compelling thing.”
He also explains how this helps all those in the community. “[If] traumatized people are more likely to cause trauma, then it’s equally true that cherished people will be able to find their way to the joy of cherishing themselves and others.”
Father Greg expands on this idea in the new book, and explains how sometimes we “settle for forgiveness” rather than embracing mercy. “Forgiveness waits for people to come to terms,” he says, “but mercy doesn’t wait. It’s just right there. It’s the father running to the son and embracing him, even though he’s behaved badly.”
He recounts this kind of mercy in the first story of the book, where Father Greg discusses “the hardest baptism” he’s ever performed. The baptism was for a 17-year-old boy named George in a detention facility, and after the ceremony Father Greg had to tell George that his brother had been killed the previous night. However, George’s response of peace rather than rage surprised him. “He knew that hanging on to the resentment of this, he knew it immediately, would be a thing that would cripple him and he didn’t want any part of that anymore,” he says.
Father Dave connects this mercy to St. Paul’s famous letter to the Corinthians about how love “does not keep a record of wrongs,” but notes that humans prefer to keep score. Father Greg says, “Clinging is the source of our suffering. If you cling to resentments, brace yourself for a world of hurt and pain. But the minute you let go of stuff, and you just love being loving, you discover your true self.”
Each story or reflection on forgiveness in the book is accompanied with art by acclaimed street artist and former gang member, Fabian Debora, whom Father Greg has known since Debora’s childhood. Father Greg explains the difficult road and “lethal absence of hope” that Debora endured, and how he now mentors others. Debora is the Executive Director of Homeboy Art Academy, and the idea to combine Father Greg’s stories with Debora’s work naturally developed.
“It’s kind of a devotional book,” Father Greg says. “It’s a thing that you might read every day, and pray over and have you carry it through the day. And it’s coupled with really striking art.”