As a young man, Boyle has a memorable encounter with his good friend and spiritual director, Bill Cain. Bill’s father has become very sick with cancer, and Bill spends all his time caring for his father. At night, Bill’s father refuses to sleep—he just wants to look at his child while he’s alive. Boyle often thinks that God is like Bill’s father—he’s always watching his children, loving them and supporting them.
Each chapter of the memoir takes the form of a lesson, supported with dozens of examples from Boyle’s tenure as a priest. In this chapter, Boyle explores the idea that God loves humankind unconditionally, with a love far greater than any that human beings are capable of feeling.
In 1990, reporters come to Boyle’s church to report on his work in the community. Mike Wallace, the famous newscaster, tells Boyle, “I cam here expecting monsters. But that’s not what I found.” Wallace realizes that many of the people in Boyle’s classrooms are criminals, whom Boyle refuses to turn in to the police. The students trust Boyle to protect them, and when Wallace asks one student why this is, the student shrugs and says, “God … I guess.” In this chapter, Boyle will talk about how God has inspired him to help others.
Mike Wallace was the host of 60 Minutes on CBS for many years. The fact that he interviewed Boyle and Boyle’s congregants is a sign that Boyle was becoming renowned for his nonprofit work in the 1990s. Boyle doesn’t obscure the fact that he’s motivated by his love for God: without his Christian faith to support him, he wouldn’t be able to muster the strength to fight gang violence in Los Angeles.
Boyle wholeheartedly believes that God is greater and more compassionate than any mortal could imagine. One night, Boyle gets a visit from one of his students, a young man named Willy, who asks Boyle for money and food. Boyle doesn’t have much money, but he drives Willy to get a meal. He parks the car and walks to an ATM, telling Willy to pray in the meantime. When he returns to his car with a little cash, Boyle finds that Willy seems humbler. He’s prayed to God—and God has told Willy that Willy is “firme,” meaning that he is loved and respected.
This is one of many surprising passages in which one of Boyle’s students experiences a sudden change in demeanor as a result of religious faith. God, Boyle suggests, has the power to make people feel loved. Especially for gang members, who aren’t used to receiving unconditional love, this can be a tearful, overwhelming experience.
Boyle has been raised to believe in God’s love and mercy. As a priest, he tries to fill his congregants with the same love of God he’s felt his entire life. To accept that God is greater than any human being can be a humbling, but also an inspiring, experience.
One of the central tenets of Christianity is that God is all-powerful and all-loving, and Boyle argues that people become capable of greater moral acts when they recognize God’s infinite love and mercy.
Boyle goes to visit a teenager named Rigo, who’s living in a detention facility. Rigo’s father is a drug addict, and he beat Rigo for years. Rigo loves his mother, however—he’s grateful to her for visiting him in his detention center every Sunday. Boyle argues that God’s love for humanity is even greater than Rigo’s love for his mother. It’s hard for people to understand that there’s a being capable of total love.
One day, Boyle gets a call from a man named Cesar, whom he’s known since Cesar was a child. Cesar has just gotten out of prison, and he’s hoping that Boyle can help him out. Boyle agrees to pick up Cesar and help him. Cesar is a large, menacing man, but when Boyle picks him up, Cesar is overjoyed. Later on, Cesar admits to Boyle that he’s always thought of Boyle as his father. Shyly, he asks Boyle if Boyle thinks of him as a son. Without hesitation, Boyle says that he does.
Boyle isn’t just an employer or a community organizer. For many of the gang members with whom he works, he’s a father-figure. He provides gang members with love and support that they never received from their own parents.
In 2004, Boyle reunites with a man named Scrappy. Boyle has known this man since 1984, when Scrappy was a teenager. In 1989, Boyle sees Scrappy while he’s leading a funeral for one of Scrappy’s friends. Scrappy gives Boyle an intense look, and then walks out. Three years later, Boyle breaks up a fight between Scrappy and other gang members. Scrappy pulls a gun on Boyle. Onlookers, who respect Boyle, yell for Scrappy to put away his gun and show some respect for Boyle.
Not all of Boyle’s employees and associates treat him with respect. Some of them are pretty rude, or even actively threatening. One such person is Scrappy. However, notice that the majority of people in the crowd tell Scrappy to put his gun away, suggesting that the majority of the community respects Boyle and his moral cause.
When Boyle reunites with Scrappy in 2004, Scrappy is a calmer man. He sits down in Boyle’s office and tells Boyle, “I’ve never disrespected you.” He explains that he’s spent the last twenty years trying to undo the things he did as a teenager. He begins to weep. Boyle hires Scrappy.
While Scrappy has disrespected Boyle (by pulling a gun on him), Boyle doesn’t hold it against him. Inspired by God, Boyle chooses to forgive Scrappy for his past misdeeds and give him a chance at a fresh start.
Shortly after being ordained as a priest, Boyle works in Bolivia, tending to poor, uneducated congregants. His Spanish is atrocious, so he finds it difficult to communicate with them. He also preaches among the native Quechua Indians of Bolivia, many of whom have never seen a Christian priest before. During his time among the Quechua, Boyle crosses paths with an old Quechua man who calls Boyle “tatai,” a word that connotes respect, love, and intimacy. God’s love for humanity is greater than any that Boyle has ever experienced from another person. He often thinks about this in the course of his nonprofit work.
As a Jesuit priest, Boyle believes that he has an obligation to not only live a Christian life himself, but also to spread Christianity to other people. Boyle is a firm believer in the human race’s potential for goodness—a potential that can be found in all cultures. However, he also seems to believe that true goodness can only arise from the belief in God: a supreme, infinitely good and moral being.