Sitting in the hot afternoon sun of a late August day I was pleasantly greeted by my tired, yet excited son. He jumped into the car after his freshman orientation exclaiming “It was good.” I asked him about the overnight, the activities and the new kids. All questions received an affirmative answer followed by “Oh yeah, I met a nice kid in my group.” “Great” I said “tell me about him.” Andrew went on to share that this boy was funny, kind and in the movie making business. When I questioned him about this last part he said “Yeah, he’s really into it and said he would show me how to make a movie one day. Also, I admire his tenacity.” Before I could ask another question Andrew concluded “He was born without fingers on one hand and was bullied in middle school. I think that stinks. I want to make sure that does not happen to him here at CM.” Wow, I thought – well done my boy. Andrew’s new friend and all people with disabilities really do matter!
Relaxing at my brother and sister in law’s lake house on a cool September evening, I had the joy of finishing of very good book – Rev. Gregory Boyle’s, S.J., latest book Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship. After reading the last word on the last page, I sat for many moments…thinking about the hundreds of young lives which have been changed for the better by the power of God’s abundant love and mercy. Fr. Greg is the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world. I read his first book a few years ago, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, and was immediately struck by his passion for meeting folks on the margins and through love, helping them become their best possible selves. Fr. Greg’s compassion for the most vulnerable people in our society is a beautiful example of Jesus’ invitation to “Come, and follow me.”
Fr. Greg is asked to speak all over the country sharing stories of lives transformed. He usually brings a few homeboys with him to tell their unique stories. On a trip to his alma mater, Gonzaga University, Fr. Greg brought Mario and Bobby, two former gang members who now work at Homeboy Industries. Bobby, the most tattooed of the group, was asked to share his story with the main audience, before Fr. Greg’s remarks. Like most former gang members, Bobby’s story contained tales of abandonment, torture, abuse and violence. It was delivered in a heartfelt manner and most audience members were crying at the conclusion. During Q&A, a woman asked Bobby “Since you are a father now, what advice do you give your children?” Bobby stood silent for a long time and finally said through tears “I just don’t want my kids to turn out like me.” Confused the woman said “Why – you are gentle, kind, loving and wise. I hope your kids turn out like you.” Bobby held his face in his hands and sobbed with Fr. Greg holding him. This woman spoke words of truth! Bobby, Mario, all gang members and those on the margins of society really do matter!
Sometimes we may feel beaten down by life’s challenges and wonder if we matter. These challenges can include anything from a terminal illness, a tough working environment, loss of a loved one, a chronic illness, to a job loss and everything in between. Dealing with daily back pain has affected me in many tough ways. On one hand it has caused me to pray more and offer up my pain for those most in need of God’s mercy. But the pain can also get into my brain and cause me to feel quite unworthy at times. When this happens, I seek out people with heroic virtue, like my beloved mom Joan, who can pull me out of the well.
As we approach the second year anniversary of my mom’s returning home to God – September 9, 2018 – I am confident the she continues to teach all of us from her eternal home. She once wrote “It’s how you survive the hurts in life that brings us strength & gives us our beauty!” I don’t know where she got that but I know it reflects her faith and hope in life, even in the darkest moments. When mom was going through chemo and I was having back surgeries, she was always by my side. It is incredible to think that she willed herself to strength so that she could accompany me in my pain and struggle. This is the kind of heroic virtue that lifts my spirit and propels me forward. Mom’s courageous example during every season of her life is one that I seek to emulate. Despite her weakness at the end of her life, Mom really mattered, just like all cancer patients matter. Mom taught me that I really matter, just like everyone who is reading this blog matters!