My youngest girl received her first holy communion this past Saturday. If you’re unfamiliar with Catholicism, all you need to know is that this is a Big Deal in Catholicland. It’s the beginning of a kiddo’s journey to adulthood, the first of many decisions she’ll …
From the publisher:
In a moving example of unconditional love in difficult times, the Jesuit priest and bestselling author of Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle, shares what three decades of working with gang members in Los Angeles has taught him about faith, compassion, and the enduring power of kinship.
In his first book, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, Gregory Boyle introduced us to Homeboy Industries, the largest gang-intervention program in the world. Critics hailed that book as an “astounding literary and spiritual feat” (Publishers Weekly) that is “destined to become a classic of both urban reportage and contemporary spirituality” (Los Angeles Times). Now, after the successful expansion of Homeboy Industries, Boyle returns with Barking to the Choir to reveal how compassion is transforming the lives of gang members.
In a nation deeply divided and plagued by poverty and violence, Barking to the Choir offers a snapshot into the challenges and joys of life on the margins. Sergio, arrested at nine, in a gang by twelve, and serving time shortly thereafter, now works with the substance-abuse team at Homeboy to help others find sobriety. Jamal, abandoned by his family when he tried to attend school at age seven, gradually finds forgiveness for his schizophrenic mother. New father Cuco, who never knew his own dad, thinks of a daily adventure on which to take his four-year-old son. These former gang members uplift the soul and reveal how bright life can be when filled with unconditional love and kindness.
This book is guaranteed to shake up our ideas about God and about people with a glimpse at a world defined by more compassion and fewer barriers. Gently and humorously, Barking to the Choir invites us to find kinship with one another and reconvinces us all of our own goodness.
My little guy is sitting beside me, drawing, and his tongue is sticking out of his mouth in concentration. “Mom?” He looks up from his coloring sheet, one covered with superheroes and villains. “Why is Ironman called that when he doesn’t do any ironing?” I answer him, trying not to laugh, and notice that his eyes look green today. They reflect the dinosaurs marching across his pajamas. He was wearing them when we dropped the girls off at school, a little homebody who’s relieved to spend most of the day with me, away from the rest of the world.
Superheroes have powers, but what about us? What are ours? I try to keep telling myself that the best way to start changing the world–because yes, we need to, and no, we’re not overthinking it–is to begin with my own family. Show each person in this house unconditional love. Grant a little mercy and grace more often. Make each kid and adult feel like he’s someone good, someone worthy, someone capable.
And then somebody smears toothpaste all over the bathroom mirror and I lose my shit.
I started an argument over Trump with one of my family members Saturday, at a birthday gathering. Not my finest moment. Yesterday, I got up and went for an innocent run, then posted a dopey picture of the sunrise to Instagram before scrolling over to my news feed where the atrocities in Las Vegas were laid bare like some kind of surreal nightmare. I accidentally watched a video of the scene someone had taken while it was happening–I thought I was pulling up a news anchor’s commentary–and desperately wish I hadn’t. Because even though thousands of people experienced this horror, I shut down after a minute and thirty seconds.Changing the world is a lofty notion, isn’t it? I’m not consistent with calling my reps, though I do on and off. I’m not good at trying to listen to the “other side,” because often I feel that no one is listening to anybody, so what’s the point (and my opinion is right, so everybody needs to listen to me, of course. DUH.). And I’m not so good at stopping my mouth before the words come out with my kids, or David, or my beloved family member whose politics are different than mine. The term “gentle warrior” does not, nor ever will, apply to me. I’m more “feisty Irish girl who forgets why she’s mad two seconds after the fact.” That hasn’t changed, though I keep trying at that, too.
I’m naive. I’m ignorant. I’m hopeful and well-intentioned but terrible at follow-through. But each day my kids leave for school I make sure to hug them tight. I wave until they’re out of my sight, out of both fear as much as love. I watch Cian in his dinosaur pjs asking me questions about strength and power as he colors a superhero (who most definitely does not have time to iron). There’s so much bad out there. It’s woven through our very fabric, personal and societal. Yes, there’s good. Of course there’s good. But it’s so easy to settle into the bad: acceptance. Ignorance. Selfishness.
This morning I looked into my son’s green eyes as he talked about dinosaurs and heroes. I wanted to take a picture of his little tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth while he drew. My goal, every day, is to live in a way that will make him and his sisters want to continue to make the world better. More days than not, I fail. But I’m also stubborn.
I’ve already been called too hippie, a “You Liberal” (by different people, even), and a bad Catholic for my views. But honestly, that’s fine. God is love, folks. And most of us choose and vote and try really, really hard to act the way we think love should work in the world. This is mine.
To end gun violence, get in touch with Everytown for Gun Safety (please note: the important words here are “gun SAFETY,” not gun banning). Text ACT to 64433.
An incredible tool for contacting your representatives is Resistbot. Text RESIST to 50409.
I follow Father James Martin, SJ (@jamesmartinsj), Sister Helen Prejean (@helenprejean), Pope Francis (@pontifex), and Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries (@frgregboyle), on social media (all are authors, as well). They are most definitely not bad Catholics.
Today I’m going to spend time with my children and write some words. I’m going to clean up my kitchen, because even though I’m a natural-born slob, my kids deserve to grow up in a house that’s at least working toward calm and peace. I’m going to call my husband, who’s teaching some colleagues today and either really overwhelmed or really happy to be away from the messy kitchen. And then I’ll figure out how to work on some bigger stuff. Little, then big, over and over again.Until the change happens.
It’s back-to-school shopping, Catholic kid style. A small uniform store crowded with frazzled moms (always moms), wallets in hand, expressions pulled tight as they watch the numbers climb on the register. You can tell right away which are the ones with younger kids, before you even spot …
When you send your kiddos to Catholic school, and one of your children is in 2nd grade (first communion time is INTENSE, y’all), you find yourself at church a lot once spring rolls around. A LOT. I mean, a lot a lot. On Facebook I jokingly called the month of May Faithapalooza–sooooo many church visits–and I wasn’t really kidding. Life around here has been in Catholic Overtime. I keep looking at David out of the corner of my eye to see if he’s freaked out yet, but so far he’s staying strong. He even made it through one church visit where there was unexpected rosary time (unexpected by me, I mean. Everybody else was prepared, well-used prayer beads in hand, while I looked like the dunce who mistook the church for a coffee shop and was wondering where my latte was. I said I was Catholic. I didn’t say I was, like, Best Catholic Ever). He only gave me an incredulous look once. Or twice. I can’t remember. I was still waiting for my coffee.
In the middle of Faithapalooza, I went to the school’s mid-week mass (yes, the kids go to church twice a week. Yes, I will be lucky if they don’t resent us by 5th grade and decide to turn Rastafarian. Best parents eeeevvvvver). It was something special: a holy day? The mass to celebrate the 2nd graders? It’s all a blur. I will leave out the part that I never, ever attend the weekday mass, because I want you to think I’m a person full of good intention and integrity, and not one who is likely still eating breakfast in front of her email at the same time the kids are singing the opening hymn. Anyway, I was at church bright and early one of these mornings with Cian, who sat quietly the whole hour and paged through a borrowed lift-the-flap book on Moses. (Quiet, I mean, except for the moment Cian chose to shout out in the middle of the priest’s homily because he spied cartoon baby Moses floating along a river. “What the HECK?!” could be an appropriate response to a sermon, don’t you think?). This isn’t a surprise. No matter how impish Cian can be in normal life (meaning, the usual 3-year-old stuff: whining, throwing balls into picture frames, announcing in the middle of a public bathroom stall that he is a boy ’cause boys have “PEEEEEEEENIIIIIISSSSSSES!”), during church, when we go as a family on Sunday, he’s usually really relaxed and calm.And this time, as we were driving home afterward (after I gave Saoirse a big ol’ smile when I saw her because hey, look, sweetie! I’m a good mom! I’m here as often as you are! This week, I mean), I said to Cian, “You were so good in church today! Wait till I tell your daddy!”
Cian nodded. “I didn’t stick my tongue out at ANYBODY.”Success, people. Success is all about the little wins. Surviving Faithapalooza. Being okay with laughing at yourself. Keeping your tongue firmly in your mouth. Allowing yourself to acknowledge that while you fail constantly, at least you keep consistently trying. Because look at it this way: shouting “what the heck” in the middle of a church service is still way better than some other things that could be said.I’m happy enough with that.
Let’s talk about faith (faith-a, faith-a, faith-AHHH–baby!), shall we? You guys know that I’m Catholic, the product of a devout mom and a Christian-but-not-Catholic dad (I asked him once why he’d agreed to raise us in the faith if he didn’t believe in it. His …
We took our kids to South Bend, Indiana this weekend to see Notre Dame (go Irish!) play Navy. It’s always a good game to take kids–respect! honor! tradition! a flyover!–but it’s also an incredibly intense weekend: we drive out early on Friday from our home …