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Book Review: The Whole Language: the Power of Extravagant Tenderness, by Fr. Gregory Boyle

Jesus often made his point by telling parables, Fr. Boyle provides us with story after story about young men and women, their lives, their struggles, their relation, their insights: their WHOLE story. He did the same in his first two books: Tattoos on the Heart: the Power of Boundless Compassion, and Barking to the Choir: the Power of Radical Kinship. The titles tell it all: compassion, kinship and tenderness define the actions of God towards mankind, and the adjectives (boundless, radical, extravagant) describe His nature, so far from the way we, in our brokenness, approach each other and the world.

This book was begun in the opening months of the pandemic, and completed shortly after the 2020 election, both which turned our worlds upside down. By now, we are all aching to return to “the norm.” But we’ve learned that “the norm” is plagued by division and systems of inequality; we now know, if we hadn’t known before, that some people weather such storms in comfort and confidence, while others barely keep their heads above water. This is not a “norm” we should want to return to.

In his stories about the thousands of broken lives transformed through the ministry of Homeboy Industries, Fr. Boyle challenges an image of God who tests us, punishes us, and who must be entreated to be merciful. He reveals a God instead who is “utterly reliable in unconditional love that does not waver.” Meister Eckart wrote, “How long will grown men and women in this world keep drawing in their coloring books an image of God that makes them sad?”

The stories of these Homeboys made me sad. I think Fr. Boyle wants them to break my heart…break it wide open with boundless compassion, radical kinship, extravagant tenderness, in short, to make room for the loving God who is all joy. My recommendation to you is to read one page a day— only one page, and roll it around in your mind. Let it really sink in. The insight and wisdom will flood your heart with the image of God you always wanted.

Mary McCarty is a native of Southern California and has been managing the bookstore at the Jesuit Retreat Center for over 4 years.

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