One of the most basic things Boyle teaches is that life is only worth living if it’s pleasurable. He remembers speaking on a Spanish talk radio show. Callers ask him about gang violence, and one caller is a man named Fili, who Boyle recognizes as one of his employees. Fili has called in to the radio show to tell Boyle that he’s feeling sick and won’t be able to make it to work that day. Afterwards, Boyle takes a moment to think about how he wouldn’t trade his life for anyone else’s.
In many ways, Boyle has a tough job. But he manages to find the joy in his intensive work as a priest and a community organizer. Here, for example, he finds the humor in one of his own employees calling in to a radio show to say that he’s sick.
Boyle elaborates on Spider, a nineteen-year-old ex-gang member who works for Homeboy Industries. Spider has to take care of his wife and two children, and he always makes sure they have enough food. For Boyle, Spider’s selfless delight in taking care of his family is like God’s “unalloyed joy” in tending to mankind.
Building on the points he’s made in earlier chapters, Boyle analogizes the love that Spider shows his family to the love that God shows to all humankind. God does not simply abstractly love people— he also actively takes care of them.
Boyle remembers his father, who died a month after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. In the hospital, he watched his father endure great pain, breathing in and out. It occurs to Boyle that life is a constant “breathing in” of joy and spirituality, accompanied by a constant “breathing out” of love for other people.
Boyle suggests that a righteous life is a kind of equilibrium, comparable to “breathing in” and “breathing out.” People need to give love to other people and also receive other people’s love in return. (This is roughly similar to the way that the prisoners in the previous chapter contributed ingredients to the stew and then received cups of stew in return.)
Boyle recalls an elderly woman named Lupe, who speaks up at a church meeting. Lupe has read about the image of the Virgin Mary appearing on the back of a tortilla, and thinks that God is sending an important sign to mortals. But another congregant, speaks up and says, “God is not like that.” Boyle thinks that the second congregant is right. God wants us to live “within the withinness of God.” Put another way, good Christians should delight in the beauty of the world and the elegance of Christian teachings, rather than simply waiting for overt signs from Heaven.
For Boyle, the only relevant “miracle” is the miracle of compassion. To live among the people of the Dolores Mission and receive their love is a constant source of wonder for Boyle. Explicit miracles (like the supposed appearance of an image of Mary) are beside the point.
Boyle knows a Homeboy Industries employee named Moreno. He’s known Moreno since Moreno was a young child. As a teenager, Moreno was locked up, and later released on probation. Boyle began spending lots of time with Moreno, and learned that Moreno loved learning about biology. Today, Moreno works in the reception center of Homeboy Industries.
Boyle admires Moreno’s energy—in particular, his interest in biology (however, the anecdote doesn’t show how Moreno developed this interest over time). Boyle seems to present Moreno’s interest in biology as an example of his overall enthusiasm and desire to lead a good life.
Boyle considers the ways that most Christians think about worshipping God. Some say that loving God is a difficult process. This is true, but some people use it as an excuse for not loving God wholeheartedly—they tell themselves that they just don’t have the strength. Boyle remembers some of the hilarious “homie-propisms” that his students and employees have made while reading from the Bible. They mispronounce words, or substitute certain words for others. Once, a teenager named Olivier accidentally said, “The Lord is nothing I shall want.” Humor aside, many people believe this—they think God is too intimidating to be loved. The beauty of Christianity is that it allows humble people to become great with God’s love.
Boyle wholeheartedly believes that people can only lead truly moral lives when they recognize the majesty of God. However, he believes that many people refuse to accept God because they’re frightened. They’re intimidated by Christianity, or don’t believe that they’re worthy of God’s love. However, Christianity teaches that everyone is worthy of being loved by God—and, furthermore, that people become majestic themselves when they accept God’s love.
One day, Boyle notices two teenagers who work in his program, Mario and Frankie. He sees Frankie leaning in and smelling Mario’s chest. Frankie is embarrassed, and tries to explain to Boyle that Mario just smells good. Boyle nods—“Delighting, he thinks, “is what occupies God, and God’s hope is that we join in.”
In this section, Boyle seems to witness some potentially homoerotic behavior between Mario and Frankie. Boyle doesn’t discuss the homoerotic side of the encounter, and in fact draws a totally different lesson from it—we should delight in the world. In all, the passage is too brief for readers to be sure what’s happening between Mario and Frankie.
Boyle returns from a lecture tour and meets with a former gang member named Marcos. Marcos explains that his son has just been born. Boyle is impressed with the sheer joy on Marcos’s face. This joy, Boyle concludes, is what Christianity is all about—taking pleasure in the delights of life. He also remembers meeting a group of former gang members, and seeing a beautiful owl, a creature that none of the gang members have ever seen before. They’re transfixed by the owl, “breathing it all in.”
One of Boyle’s central points in this chapter is that Christianity, far from being a solemn, somber ideology, is a joyous way of life. God loves humanity and wants humanity to be happy. To appreciate the beauty of the world is a joyful act and, potentially, a moral one, since it constitutes a way of loving and worshipping God.
Boyle goes with Israel and Tony, two employees of Homeboy Industries, to the annual Christ the King parish in Los Angeles. There, he speaks about gang violence, but first he gives Mass. Israel and Tony read part of the Mass, and Boyle is impressed with their knowledge of scripture. It makes him think about how the Vatican II Council Fathers changed the words of Catholic ceremony to reflect a new worldview. For example, the Council changed the words “Grief and anguish” to “joy and hope,” thereby changing the way millions of Catholics would think about religion and therefore the world.
During the early 1960s, the leadership of the Vatican (the seat of the Catholic Church) held an influential council reforming Catholic ritual and belief. Vatican II is often regarded as having modernized Catholicism, removing some of the overly legalistic or ritualistic elements of the religion and emphasizing the importance of joy in religious faith. While some traditionalist Catholic groups continue to reject Vatican II, Vatican II upholds Boyle’s own optimistic interpretation of Christianity, emphasizing the importance of joy.
One Saturday morning, gang members open fire on their rivals, brothers Rickie and Adam. In the gunfire, Rickie and Adam’s little brother, Jacob, is murdered. Shortly after the funeral, Boyle hires Rickie and Adam to work with him. He invites them to one of his lectures in San Francisco. On the plane, the brothers worry about having to leave the airplane by parachute. But eventually they relax, and by the end of the flight, Rickie tells Adam, “I love doing this with you, brother.”
The chapter ends with a particularly poignant example of the importance of joy. In the tragic aftermath of Jacob’s death, Adam and Rickie find that they’re still able to take pleasure in each other’s company—they love being around each other. Confronted with grief, the two brothers continue to celebrate their shared bond, both as brothers and as people.