In his famous book, “Tattoos on the Heart,” Father Greg Boyle shared powerful stories of troubled youth who faced abandonment and abuse in their early years and who subsequently became caught up in the gang life of Los Angeles. The title of the book was inspired by a life-changing conversation between Fr. Greg and a hardened gang member who had been written off by society. The words were so meaningful to the young man that he said, “I’m gonna tattoo that on my heart!” The heartwarming story shows the power of empathy, compassion and the love of Christ to transform lives.
In July of 2014, I was invited to spend a few days working with the Missionaries of Charity Sisters who serve the poorest of the poor, those who are written off and left on the streets of Tijuana, Mexico to suffer and die in misery. During those few days I met about 15 old men (abuelos), many of whom were in wheelchairs or crutches. The sisters showed the same empathy, compassion and love that Fr. Greg shows in his ministry. Many of the abuelos had lived life in the fast lane for decades, leading them to separation, abandonment and a loss of hope. Their stories touched my heart, but what truly struck me, was attending Mass with them. Each day at 6 a.m., they limped and wheeled themselves to Mass with eagerness and joy. During this early morning Holy Communion, in the humblest of chapels, I witnessed the healing and transformational power of the Eucharist. Many of these men, who were near death upon arrival, rediscovered their God given dignity through the love of others, and they found a new life in Christ through reconciliation and the Eucharist.
It was then that I, as a lifelong Catholic, developed a new and deep-felt sense of God’s love for all people, including me. You might say His love was tattooed in my heart. At that moment I realized that I wanted to receive Him each day of my life. My daily reception of the Eucharist continues, most often at St. Juliana Falconieri Church in Fullerton, where I am joined by faithful parishioners who come to Mass daily at 6:30 in the morning and during multiple Mass times on Sundays. We process into church, like the abuelos I spoke of, with all our limitations and in our brokenness, often limping or wheeling ourselves (figuratively and sometimes literally) with determination and joy to encounter our Living God. As we enter into prayer and as we sing hymns of praise, we begin to find strength knowing that we are in communion with those gathered, with other Catholics around the world and with the saints in heaven who pray and sing along with us. Through the proclamation of sacred scripture, through the presider and most powerfully, through the supernatural nourishment of the Eucharist, we leave transformed with smiles on our faces, with peace in our hearts and with strengthened spirits to go out and fulfill our Christian calling.
The heavenly banquet we enjoy today was enjoyed by the parish patroness, St. Juliana Falconieri who lived in Florence, Italy from 1270-1341. As a beautiful and wealthy young lady, she had plenty of marriage offers, but she realized that she was called to live a life of prayer, of service to the poor and to establish the Servite Sisters, all made possible through her frequent reception of the Eucharist. St. Juliana’s love for the Eucharist was so strong that on her deathbed, when she could no longer consume food, she asked for a consecrated host be placed on her chest. A visiting priest obliged, and after her passing, a miracle was discovered! The Eucharist had dissolved and left an imprint of a cross on her chest, the cross that had imprinted on the consecrated host. It seems that the love of Christ, the Eucharist, was indeed tattooed on her heart as well.
“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
Across our Diocese, thousands receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, through the Eucharist daily. We leave Mass with new spirits and transformed hearts, filled with joy, peace, empathy, compassion and ready to share the love that Christ shares with us.
Whether it’s been many years, several weeks or even just a day since your last Mass, God is ready to welcome you home, to heal you through the sacrament of reconciliation and to nourish and transform you through the heavenly feast of the Eucharist. God wants nothing more than to tattoo His love on your heart, not with a tattoo that fades over time, but a tattoo that radiates His love to a world that so desperately needs it, through a renewed life in Christ.