I guess I wasn’t overly surprised at the crowd that showed up for the “social justice” lecture series at Saint Louis University the other day. The speaker, Fr. Gregory Boyle S.J., is a bit of a rock star as Jesuits go – the author of a New York Times bestseller, Tattoos On The Heart.
Father Boyle’s message, on the other hand, did surprise me a bit. I went in thinking I’d learn about practical strategies for dealing with gang violence—lessons he’d gleaned in the trenches as the founder of Homeboy Industries, a gang member recovery ministry in Los Angeles.
We did hear some stories along those lines. Remarkable stories, testifying to the power of “a community of mutual kinship, love, and a wide variety of services ranging from tattoo removal to anger management and parenting classes.” In fact, Homeboy Industries serves over 10,000 former gang members each and every year.
What surprised me, though, was Father Boyle’s witness about who is actually changed in the process.
“We go to the margins,” Father Boyle said, “not to rescue…but to be rescued. We go to the margins not to make a difference…but so that the people we find there can make us different.”
The work of social justice teaches us what we seem to have forgotten: That we belong to each other. That God desires our kinship with each other. “…that they may all be one.”
Kinship is powerful medicine for what ails us, he said. By reaching out to the widow, the orphan, the poor, the gang member…we discover what God truly desires: “I don’t want anything from you, only for you…”
But it’s a lesson that only works well if we approach the task with the correct attitude—following Jesus’ strategy, anchored in humility (“What would be of help to you?”) rather than hubris, the strategy of the Pharisees (“Here’s what your problem is!”)
And in fact, we hear Jesus making this very point in the Gospel passage proclaimed at Mass this Sunday:
For [the scribes and Pharisees] preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.
If we truly long to fix what’s wrong with the world, the journey must begin close to home – with the recognition that we are all in need of healing…all in need of help. We go to the margins then, not to rescue…but to be rescued. Instead of saying “measure up!”…we simply show up…and begin to discover a kinship that effectively quenches God’s thirst “that all may be one.”
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.