I have been reading Fr. Gregory Boyle’s latest book, The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness. He might have just as well called it The Whole Language of Love. Fr. Boyle runs Homeboy and Homegirl Industries in East Los Angeles for ex-gang members he has invited to find a new way to live. One thing that is clear from his three books about this mission of love is that people choose gang membership because of some big trauma in their past: indifferent or abusive or alcoholic parents, just to name some common sources of the trauma. He walks the streets of East LA in the wee hours of the night, meets the men and women there and, as he gets to know them, invites them into his work.
They enter into an 18-month training program that focused on love of them, not job training as such. Love breaks down the barriers, embraces them exactly as they are and leads them into a whole new life. Four or five years later they are able to love richly and are proud of themselves for supporting their families and leading a love-filled life.
One idea that stuck me so forcefully in his latest book is this: we all have goodness within us, although, as with the gang members, it may be deeply hidden, and we are not able to access it. “It’s not about fault,” he writes, “but about impediment.” That takes the judgment away from who we have been and what we have done and puts the emphasis on figuring out the impediments to loving ourselves, to loving others and to loving God. We have to ask ourselves, “What keeps me from loving? What trauma or lack of love makes me so self-protective?” And, then, our job is to lay each issue, as we become aware of it, on the altar of God. We give each issue up, we mourn our losses, the source of our traumas, and let them go into God’s hands for healing and transformation, so that, over time, we may be healed of all that hurt us that still bothers us today. As we deal with issue after issue, we are leaving the past behind and coming into the present moment where God dwells.
It takes a long loving look at ourselves to see the issues that we would prefer to ignore, but, when we do, we find a new freedom. And then, as God heals each layer of each issue, we find ourselves living more loving lives. We will be challenged and suffer many ups and downs just as always, but we will have the assurance of God’s presence with us. Just as the father welcomed the Prodigal Son back home, so God is awaiting our return, our repentance. He will welcome us back home, restore us to our rightful place in His household. He will not be calling us out for all that we have done wrong, but He will be celebrating our return to our home with Him.
As for the second son, the good son in the parable, he, too must give up his judgment and distance from his father who loves him just as well as the prodigal son; he must take his place in the kingdom and see the blessings that are his and accept them, not just trying to be perfect, but meanwhile missing all the love the father has for him, too.
This is a process and can take a long time, maybe the rest of our lives to come into the fullness of who we were created to be, but with each step along the way, we will be more and more be experiencing that freedom, that total love of God, and fulfill the purpose of our lives. And, finally, we can love ourselves, as well, just as we are. This is the promise of the Gospels: that to love God, ourselves and others is the fulfillment of our lives, in whatever way we are called to serve. This is not conditional love. It is a gracious, full love of us that will gradually transform us into God’s servants, able to love as completely as we are loved. Thanks be to God!
- I am giving away a 10-week journaling guide to Jesus’s Two Great Commandments. If you are interested, email me at email@example.com and I will send it to you, free of charge.
- My latest book, Called to Help the Poor and Needy, is now in bookstores and on line. It’s about the more than 2,000 verses in the Bible which detail God’s instructions for caring for those in need.
Questions to ponder over the week: Do I love myself? Or am I so highly critical of who I am that I can’t forgive all that I’ve said and done? What would it take to have compassion on me? to forgive all who have hurt me? To remove the impediments to loving myself, others and God?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who love and forgive each other and who can love God fully. May we leave behind all the impediments to God’s kind of love.
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 Fr. Gregory Boyle, The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness, (New York: Avid Reader Press, 2021), p. 38
 Luke 15:11-32