Of Compassion & Peeling Onions

By Sr. Margaret Hoffman, SND 

Even with my glasses on, I tear up peeling onions.  Recently, while reading a book entitled "Tattoos on the Heart," I found myself responding in a similar way–tearing up.

Gregory Boyle has been a Jesuit pastor for 20 years in a Los Angeles neighborhood with the highest concentration of gang activity in the city.  He founded the Homeboy Industries as an antidote to the despair and meaninglessness in the lives of the young men and women caught here. He tells true modern parables of hope from his contact with this dark world of pain.

Our Sisters have ministered in this South Central area since the 1920s and continue in two schools there. I was drawn into these stories by my own SND Sister’s experience in the ’80s of walking with a family of one of her fourth graders who was caught in a driveby shooting.  The child went into a coma and months later died.  For Sr. Pat this experience was life changing and brought her into the clowning that has given joy to so many people.

Father Greg is able to see into the depths of pain and despair in these young hearts but also to see the potentiality and to draw it out. With compassion and tough love and much humor he offers us sketches of the struggles and triumphs expressed through the authentic voices of the barrio. He remembers being touched by Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, who described standing on a Louisville street corner and suddenly seeing everyone around him as if with the eyes of God.

That kind of epiphany is offered us by Fr. Greg in these hope-filled sketches of the potentialities released in the lives of "homies" touched by love and grace. He invites us to move from judgment to compassion, to try to see others with the eyes of a God who loves us more than we can ever imagine. It is God who dries our tears and can turn our pain into gladness. Alleluia.

"Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion," Gregory Boyle,  Free Press, 2010.