Tattoos on the Heart, a new book by Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, tells the story of the remarkable ministry that the famed “gang priest” has built in East LA. His Homeboy Industries is one the most successful outreaches to LA gangs, but Boyle doesn’t look at success in conventional terms. “I’m not opposed to success,” he writes. “I just think we should accept it only if it is a byproduct of our fidelity. If our primary concern is results, we will choose to work only with those who give us good ones.”
In his review of the book in America, J. Peter Nixon writes:
What is needed, suggests Boyle, is not another set of well-intentioned interventions targeted at “them.” Instead, we need a radical commitment to re-weave the bonds of communion that have been eroded by our insistence on drawing lines that exclude: race, class, neighborhood, gang membership. “The margins don’t get erased by simply insisting that the powers-that-be erase them,” he writes. Those powers “will only be moved to kinship when they observe it. Only when we see a community where the outcast is valued and appreciated.”
Which is why, in the end, Tattoos on the Heart is a profound work of theology. More powerfully than any treatise, it reveals a God who “dines with tax collectors and sinners,” and leaves the 99 sheep to find the one who has strayed; a God who forms one people from a group of fractious tribes and one church from a motley collection of Jews and Gentiles.