A friend of mine strongly recommended that I read the book: Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. It’s written by Fr. Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who has served in the LA projects for over 30 years. He works with gang members, helping them get off the street and lead productive lives. It’s a book full of powerful stories of redemption, forgiveness, resilience, and suffering. For most of the men and women in these neighborhoods, gangs provide the only family and community they have ever known.
Fr. Boyle tells many remarkable stories that might bring tears to your eyes, in fact my friend made me listen to a couple of stories. There are stories of lives destroyed, of deaths, too many deaths, and of the lives of those young men and boys (and occasionally women) who died. There are stories of great suffering and evil, of families broken apart by drugs, domestic violence, and gangbanging.
While many of us, most of us, perhaps, have been surrounded by love and affirmation, there are others who right now, or perhaps throughout their lives have never heard those words of love. I am recommending this book as our next must read, if you have not yet read it. During the season of Lent, we shall spend a few sessions on “Compassion.”
Recently I read the story about the Salvatorian nuns in Sri Lanka, who are engaged in social apostolates, such as peace building, non-formal education, empowering women and eradicating poverty. Sri Lanka's 1983-2009 civil war between the Tamil and Sinhalese ethnic communities claimed up to 100,000 lives, mainly Tamils seeking a separate state, according to U.N. estimates. The official registry of the Sri Lankan government, however, puts the toll at 40,000. The nuns built more than 200 homes for families from different religious backgrounds.
There are many good things happening in our neighborhood as well. Leaders at Grace Presbyterian Church in Walnut Creek said they intend to build six “micro homes” on the church campus just outside Rossmoor. I was privileged to attend one of the information sessions, while serving as a facilitator at one of the tables during the meeting. They informed us that these homes are not the tiny “pallet shelters” or other similar structures seen in other places (notably Oakland) that are little more than sheds in which homeless people can get out of the elements. “What these are, are real homes, very small homes,” with plumbing and power, said Donna Colombo, chairwoman of the Walnut Creek Homeless Task Force. I was deeply touched by the level of compassion lived out by this church.
Our own St. Vincent de Paul, through your generosity has done immense good last year, reaching out to the poor as well as assisting families with rent, thus keeping many families in their own homes. Our parish has donated over half a million dollars to charity last year, which includes St. Vincent de Paul.
One of the characteristics of the early church that caused it to experience explosive growth was its legendary care for the poor, the needy, and the hungry. The wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, said “Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.” (Prov. 22:9) What an interesting turn of phrase! Normally one thinks of a bountiful hand or a bountiful purse or a bountiful basket. But here Solomon says we must first see the poor before we will share with the poor. Too often we disregard the poor, denigrate the poor, or delegate the poor and the homeless to someone else. Yet one of the marks of Jesus was his constant notice of and compassion for the poor.
I want to wish Fr. Brian Timoney who turns 91 today (Wednesday, January 12) a very Happy Birthday. In all our names, I wish him good health, happiness and many more shots of Irish whiskey.