I have the pleasure of walking alongside formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women every day as they “return to themselves,” in the words of Father Greg Boyle, S.J., the lifeblood of this Heaven Experienced on Earth—Homeboy Industries.
Now, if Lent is a time to examine the corridors where we have turned away from God, then Homeboy is the banquet hall where homies turn toward God and feast on self-restoration. It is here that I meet students who marry their lived experience on the street with academic knowledge in the college classroom. And it is in this renewed creation, in the “no telling what I can do if I learn the book part,” that we see the words of today’s Old Testament reading from the prophet Jeremiah come to life. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is in the Lord” (Jer. 17:7).
What God hopes for us is what we hope for ourselves in the “capital T-Truth” of who we are. Father Mark Torres, S.J., mental health therapist at Homeboy, suggests that we sometimes merely wander off from that truth.
“He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream” (Jer. 17:8). As a former trainee exhorts a young person to pursue college or a homie comes to the realization that he cannot fix social injustices without identifying the problem sociologically, the roots outstretch a little longer. Cycles of social resource inequities and racial oppression are thwarted as homies take what they learn in the classroom back to their communities. And, like a tree planted beside the waters, I return to myself through communion with homies in higher education.
Which particular people and what specific experiences have allowed me to open my eyes and better see the inherent potential in others and in myself?
Dan Simonds is a second year Jesuit Volunteer who, after a year teaching at Detroit Cristo Rey High School, is continuing his westward trek from the smallest town, Warren, in the smallest state, Rhode Island. He is serving in 2018-2019 as a Student Services Coordinator at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, California. Dan calls Gordon College—a small Christian liberal arts college near Boston—his alma mater.