I have long admired Gregory Boyle, SJ, whose books I regularly teach in my classes in the Boston College PULSE service learning program. I have had the opportunity to meet him a couple of times when he was on the lecture circuit, and he is the “real deal.” I’d call Boyle a living saint, except that I’m pretty sure that if I said so, he would maybe just nod and then remind me that we are all sacred in God’s eyes, all potential saints in the making. The point is never about Boyle himself, but whether, as he writes in his book, Forgive Everyone Everything, each one of us comes to know “the fullness of God and the solid goodness at your core” (40)—and to see this goodness in everyone else that we meet.
Boyle’s writings on his interactions with gang members in L.A. resonate with my own experiences as a person who has long-volunteered with a spirituality group at a state prison. Men and women who are incarcerated are not fundamentally different from the rest of us, in that we are all good and all capable of love. The key question is, What are the obstacles to realizing that this is true?
Early on in my time serving at the prison, I attended a Mass that was to be celebrated by the bishop. I was still relatively new and did not know many people there yet. After greeting some of the men for about half an hour, I sat down eager for the Mass. The service, however, was delayed. We waited, and we waited some more. As we waited, a fellow volunteer told me that the men had planned to engage in some liturgical movement based on the life of St. Dominic. I inwardly sighed, as at that time I was not always a fan of liturgical dance; my main experience of it had been high-school girls waving around pink and purple scarves during the procession. I kept my thoughts to myself and looked at the clock on the wall.
More people came by to say hello, but still no bishop. Word came through the chaplain that he was delayed. More time passed. All the volunteers started to get antsy, wondering what had happened. However, none of the inmates seemed noticeably bothered. Many were smiling and appeared calm and happy as they caught up with others. I commented to the man sitting next to me that they seemed to have a better attitude than we volunteers did. He replied, “Oh, we are used to things not happening on time. We are just grateful that everyone is here together. The bishop will show.”
I realized that the men had two virtues that I lacked in that moment: patience and an attentiveness to the graces of community that were already there. I felt momentarily ashamed of my own impatience and then decided to take the time to connect with others in the room. The community was still newish to me, but I had a chance to get to know others better, instead of feeling irritated with the delay.
The bishop finally did arrive and celebrated a beautiful Mass. The men engaged in liturgical dance prior to the service. Their dance demonstrated nine ways that St. Dominic had recommended as good postures for prayer—movements like bowing to God, genuflecting, and lying prostrate. The men turned prayer into a dance. But not just any dance. Men wearing their mandatory prison gear of t-shirts and jeans, many with brawny arms covered with tattoos, showed us the veneration of a bow, the delight of opening a book to pray, or the surrender of opening one’s arms, as if on a cross. Their movements communicated the goodness of having a body and reverence for God. Their dance communicated knowing something of the suffering of Jesus. I was deeply moved; this was worth the wait. I was the one who was being converted.
This was but one of many times that I learned something new from the men that I visit as a volunteer. I think that sometimes they also learn something from me. It is a two-way street, or really a three-way street, because God is always there as well.
Boyle’s book is not just for those who serve in prisons or only about service, for that matter. Rather, Forgive Everyone Everything is about being human. Boyle gives us the wisdom of being reminded that God’s invitation to us is to joy, and that being “courageously tender,” that is, being loving, is the “passport” to that joy. (29, 11)
Participating in our Lenten read-along of Forgive Everyone Everything? Introduce yourself in the comments below! And post your thoughts, favorite quotes, or reactions with #lentreadalong on social media.
Beautiful & inspiring book.
Our Sunday Spirituality at Saint Cecilia’s in Boston is reading “Forgive Everyone Everything.” I’m delighted to have found the Lenten read along resource! Thanks to Denise Gorss and everyone at Loyola Press for your ministry. 💕🕊
I was just wondering what social media site I go on to follow along with the book reading and people’s thoughts.
I couldn’t find it on Face Book!
Thanks for your help. I am Absolutely Loving Gregory Boyle’s writing!
Susan, we encourage readers to use whatever social media channel works for them. If conversation is not happening on your preferred social network, be bold and start the conversation. The comments box here at dotMagis is always open for discussion too.
The Reverend Greg Boyle is serving humanity with dedication and distinction. May his tribe increase.
As Lent approached, I wanted to choose one book, from all the many wonderful books, to read and reflect on this Lent and the title of this book caught my eye. I felt blessed to be able to order the book online and also that it arrived on time. Thanks so much for this opportunity to journey through Lent with Forgive Everyone Everything.
“Being resilient is about how you choose to see. It’s easy to choose to see ourselves as victims of wrong doing, and harder to see those events as opportunities for growth and learning.
Ike the second part of the Serenity Prayer, “accepting hardships as the pathway to peace”. I too have had a cold, complaining, irritable spirit sneaking up on me.
“No longer about doing good but loving goodness.” Maybe not try to compile a list of doing good deeds but rather letting go of a need to accomplish things and just look at the goodness in others for a change.
Right out of the gate I loved the quote about Resilience……Being resilient is about HOW we choose to see and is indeed a daily practice…..to move and process stagnant negative energy through our muscles, tissues and mind that inhibits our ability to truly SEE with Spiritual eyes.
I love the Jesus Father Boyle describes in his writings. Jesus in the trenches. Goodness and divinity live in all created beings because of the creator.
I am reading along daily. Today’s read hit home. I knew a cold, complaining spirit was sneaking into my heart, but haven’t really worked to oppose it. Thank you
I’m a long-time Greg Boyle mentee, too. Have had the great fortune to visit Homeboy Industries and participate in the Global Homeboy Network gathering. Thank you for the opportunity to journey through Lent with Forgive Everyone Everything.
Praying that sharing and meditating on these reflections will introduce me to a personal Jesus.
How refreshing and illuminating to read this. It made me realise how ready we can be to judge our brothers and sisters. Thank you.