“They were of one heart, they were of one mind, they shared everything and no one was needy,” said Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., speaking about the early Christian community, in his 9:15 a.m. EDT Friday, July 17 homily on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.
His sermon title was “The Place Itself.” The scripture text was Acts 4:32-35 (NRSV) —
“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
He quoted poet Wallace Stevens, “We live in the description of the place, not the place itself.”
Boyle told the congregation, “We need to be in the vicinity of our essential friends, we need to be allies for each other. But hold out for the place itself.”
Homeboy Industries has many classes for the men and women who come there. “We help them transform their pain so they don’t transmit it,” Boyle said.
One of the classes that everyone likes is arts and crafts. “You would not think a big, tattooed guy would like it, but they love it,” he said.
One Christmas, Laura, the arts teacher, bought gingerbread house kits with icing for the cement and candies to decorate the houses.
Boyle was in his office talking to two Homies when Francisco burst in the door. “Francisco is so tiny he could be a jockey. He had a house on a piece of cardboard and he placed it in the middle of my desk,” Boyle said.
“I made this for you,” Francisco said.
Boyle continued, “I told him it was amazing and then, as if on cue, the walls collapsed and the roof caved in.” One of the Homies said, “Damn. Section 8 housing.” Everyone laughed, especially Francisco.
“Hold out for the place itself. That is kinship,” Boyle said. “One heart, one mind, all one breath.”
Another time Boyle was meeting with his team of job developers and 10-year-old PeePee burst in. “I have my report card,” he said proudly. Boyle stopped the meeting so they could lavish him with attention.
“I looked at it and it was all Fs. I wondered why he was so happy,” Boyle said. “I looked for something that I could say that was positive. Then I noticed that he had not missed a day of school. He had been in school every day so I said, ‘It’s great you were in school every day.'”
John, one of the job developers, took a new five dollar bill out of his pocket and said to PeePee, “Would you like to have this five dollar bill?” PeePee nodded yes. “Tell me how old I was when I was your age.”
PeePee thought and thought and twisted his body around and finally said, “Ten years old.” John gave him the money. PeePee said, “That was easy.”
Boyle said, “That is the place itself. That is communion and connection. Hold out to create what the world has never seen — the place itself.”
Danny was 13 when Boyle met him, as Boyle rode around the projects on his bicycle. Danny always carried a gun and let people know he carried a gun. He promised Boyle that he would never set foot in Homeboy Industries.
As Danny grew, he ended up in juvenile hall, then the youth authority and finally spent two years in prison.
“At Homeboy we say, ‘It takes what it takes for recovery,’” Boyle said. For Danny it was taking care of his mother, who had tortured him as a child, while she was dying of pancreatic cancer. Two weeks after she died, Danny showed up at Homeboy.
“He was there, working with enemy gang members, laughing with them. He got his GED and took college classes,” Boyle said.
One day Danny walked into Boyle’s office and announced, “Something happened to me yesterday that has never happened to me before.” He told Boyle that he had found a seat on a crowded train and standing in front of him was an older gang member who was a little drunk.
Danny was wearing his Homeboy shirt that said, “Jobs not jails.” The man asked Danny if he worked at Homeboy. Danny nodded yes. “Is it any good?” the man asked. Danny told him, “They helped me not to go to prison again.”
Then Danny fished out a piece of paper and wrote out the address for the man. “I was surprised that I knew the address by heart,” he said. “I told him, ‘Come see us, we will help you.’” The man thanked him and got off the train at the next stop.
It’s what happened next that has never happened to me before,” Danny continued. “Everyone was staring at me, nodding at me, smiling at me. And for the first time, I felt admired.”
Boyle said, “And it is not the description of the place, that is the place itself. It is connection, exquisite mutuality. One heart, one mind and they shared everything and no one was needy. It is the creation of a world we have never seen.”
He concluded, “It is all one breath as we lock arms in an embrace that is thrillingly mutual. We live in the description of the place; hold out for the place itself.”
The Rev. Mary Lee Talbot, morning worship columnist for The Chautauquan Daily, presided at the service from the Hall of Christ in Chautauqua. Joshua Stafford, interim organist for Chautauqua Institution, played the Tallman Tracker Organ. Amanda Lynn Bottoms, Chautauqua School of Music Alumna and currently the Washington National Opera Cafritz Young Artist, served as soloist. The organ prelude was “Elevation,” by César Franck, played by Stafford. Bottoms sang “How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place” for the hymn. The special music was “Rhosymedre,” by Ralph Vaughn Williams. The organ postlude was “Sortie,” by César Franck. The program was made possible by the Samuel M. and Mary E. Hazlett Memorial Fund.