On Saturdays, Boyle goes to probation camps and delivers Mass. Then, he returns to his parish and officiates at baptisms, weddings, and other important events. One Saturday, during a brief moment of free time between his priestly duties, Boyle gets a visit from a woman named Carmen. Boyle knows Carmen—she’s a heroin addict and prostitute. Carmen wants Boyle’s help getting off of drugs. She breaks down and wails, “I am a disgrace.”
In this chapter, Boyle discusses another aspect of his Christian faith: his belief that all people are worthy of love and respect. One of the most common problems that he encounters in the Mission is self-hatred: people simply don’t believe that they’re worthy of love. Boyle suggests that many people become gang members precisely because they hate themselves.
Boyle has read that people become addicted to drugs in part because of their strong sense of shame. The same could be said of “addiction” to gang life. People hate themselves, and don’t believe that they’re worthy of a good, happy life, so they turn to a life of danger and violence. But Boyle believes that, deep down, all people long to love God and feel God’s love in return.
Boyle sees God, and Christianity, as the antidote to the “epidemic” of self-hatred in Los Angeles. When people develop some respect for themselves, they’re more likely to treat other people with respect, too. This in turn means that the community overall is more likely to be at peace.
Beginning on the 4th of July, Boyle’s neighborhood is transformed into a massive, two-week party space. There are parades, firecrackers, and dances. One day, Boyle angrily runs out of his office—someone has set off a firecracker outside. Boyle discovers that the culprit is a young man named Danny. However, Danny insists that he didn’t set off the firecracker. Boyle nods and gives Danny five dollars to buy some food, saying, “If you tell me you didn’t do it … that’s all I need.” Danny begins to weep from shame. Boyle believes that shame is an expression of “the absence of self-love.” Over time, people can overcome their shame and embrace God.
In this situation, Boyle could state the obvious: Danny set off the firecracker. But instead, he opts for a more subtle solution: he tells Danny that he trusts him, thereby making Danny feel guilty. The point of this story is that all people—even seemingly irresponsible people like Danny—want to do the right thing. That’s why Danny begins to cry here: he knows he’s done wrong, and he’s ashamed. Although shame itself isn’t good, Boyle suggests that shame can lead to self-respect and love for God.
Boyle next discusses a man named Lula. He’s currently in his early twenties, and has a son. Boyle has known Lula since Lula was ten years old. Lula is a “special ed” student, and he finds it hard to pay attention to anything for very long. Boyle remembers how, when Lula was in school, he showed Boyle his report card. Even though it was all F’s, Lula was proud of himself for never missing a day of school. And at the church, Lula enjoys a supportive community that gives him the love he needs.
Lula is a typical member of the Dolores Mission congregation. He’s had a rough life, but he sincerely wants to do better in the future. Boyle’s duty, he believes, is to make people like Lula feel loved and supported, giving them every opportunity to make something of their lives.
The principle suffering of the poor, Boyle argues, isn’t that they’re poor—rather, it’s that they’re ashamed. Boyle has seen people’s capacity for self-hatred, and he knows how toxic it can be.
At heart, Boyle argues, most of the problems in his community are caused by self-hatred. Gang members commit crimes because they hate themselves and don’t think their own lives are worth protecting. By introducing some love and respect into the community, Boyle hopes to fight gang violence. Note, though, that this is a notably subjective and emotional analysis of a complicated social problem.
Each Sunday after Boyle gives Mass, he speaks privately with several of his congregants. One day, he speaks with a teenager who claims to be named Sniper. When Boyle presses him, the teenager admits that his real name is Napoleón “Napito” Gonzalez. Boyle thinks it’s important that his congregants be honest about their names—“We all just want to be called by the name our mom uses when she’s not pissed off at us.” Boyle remembers teaching a sullen teenager who claimed his name was Cricket. But when Boyle found out that Cricket’s real name was William, he found that Cricket opened up to him and was no longer so standoffish.
By using his congregants’ real names, Boyle argues, he forges a strong emotional connection with them. Boyle believes that gang members use nicknames because they want to forget about their childhoods (they want to forget the names their mothers used to address them). Therefore, by using his congregants’ real (or Christian) names, Boyle creates something like a parental relationship between himself and the congregants.
Boyle recalls a teenager named Speedy. Speedy would risk his life walking home a woman on whom he had a crush—an action that required him to walk on a rival gang’s turf. One day, a woman named Yolanda, who’s active in the parish, tells Speedy that it would break her heart if anything happened to him. Shortly afterwards, Speedy marries, moves away, and begins working in an oil refinery. He now has three great kids, and seems to be living a happy life. Years later, Speedy comes back to Los Angeles and takes Boyle to dinner. Speedy talks cheerfully about his family and his strong religious beliefs. As Boyle listens to Speedy speak about his children with pride, Boyle thinks about how Speedy escaped from the wreck of his “disfigured, misshapen self.”
Yolanda’s kind words are a perfect example of Boyle’s point: all human beings want to be treated with love and respect, even if they pretend otherwise. Furthermore, love can be a life-changing force. The knowledge that somebody loves Speedy is—at least according to Boyle—enough to inspire speedy to lead a good, moral life and take care of his family. While this may seem far-fetched or overly idealistic, Boyle has thousands of similar stories, in which expressions of love—even something as simple as one sentence—are a powerful force for good.