Tenderness, says Boyle, is the only way to bring the despised and excluded back into community


The men and women who come to Homeboy Industries are not thriving because they are the fittest people, but “they are thriving because they are nurtured; tenderness makes them feel less far away,” said Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J. at the 9:15 a.m. EDT morning devotional Tuesday, July 14, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

His sermon title was “The Thorn Underneath.” The scripture text was Matthew 8:28-34 (NRSV) —

“When he (Jesus) came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. Suddenly they shouted, ‘What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?’ Now a large herd of swine was feeding at some distance from them. The demons begged him, ‘If you cast us out, send us into the herd of swine. And he said to them, ‘Go!’ So they came out and entered the swine; and suddenly, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the water. The swineherds ran off, and on going into the town, they told the whole story about what had happened to the demoniacs. Then the whole town came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood.”

Demoniacs scare people, Boyle said. “They are the object of fear and alienated from others. At Homeboy we said, ‘What if we stand with the demonized, and stop the demonization? What if we stopped thinking about them as disposable and stopped throwing them away?’ Everyone surrounded by shame and disgrace needs tenderness.”

Robert, one of the Homeboys who works with Boyle, said, “God knows how to look underneath. God knows where the thorn is.”

Boyle was in a car one day with four of the homies and he realized he needed to get gas. He said to Anthony, “Keep a lookout for a gas station.”

Anthony leaned over and looked at the gas gauge and said, “You are fine.” Boyle looked at him and said, “It is on E and that means empty.” Anthony said, “It does?” Boyle looked at him and said, “Yeah, what did you think it meant?”

Anthony said, “I thought it meant E, enough.” Boyle asked him about the F on the fuel gauge. “It means finished,” said Anthony. “Thank you for visiting this planet,” Boyle said.

He continued, “This is the way with the demoniac, the alienated. We have to find the thorn. He looked in the mirror and he had seen empty but for them it was more than enough. They see finish but it is really about fullness. Find the thorn to explain the demoniac.”

Larry, an African-American gang member, came to see Boyle and announced that he had made a discovery.

When Larry was 9 years old, he was at home, lying on his stomach, watching TV. In his peripheral vision he saw someone in the doorway. He turned and saw his mother, her arms outstretched, blood coursing to the floor from her slit wrists. “See what you made me do,” she said. 

Larry was moved to foster care the next day, but his brother and sister were not. He lived in abusive foster homes and joined a gang when he was 17. He went to Homeboy after a long stretch in prison.

As Larry sobbed in Boyle’s office, Boyle asked him what his discovery was. 

“I discovered today that I always preferred my rage to my shame,” Larry said. He was able to forgive his mother for being mentally ill and forgive himself.

“Find the thorn underneath those severed from the people, in need of belonging and return them to the people,” said Boyle.

One night Boyle was having dinner with Kiko, who had recently been released from the youth authority. He and Boyle were having burritos and he told Boyle how he ended up in jail.

Kiko had been driving around one night and saw an acquaintance who asked Kiko to give him a ride home. On the way home, the passenger said, “Stop a minute.” Kiko pulled over, stopped and the passenger got out. Kiko heard gunfire and then the passenger got in and said, “Let’s go.”

Kiko did not know what to do. Local detectives found his car and took him to juvenile hall. He would not give them the name of the person who did the shooting.

One day, the detectives took Kiko to a room and handcuffed him to a table. They brought in a woman who sat at the end of the table. The detectives left. 

“She was the mother of the kid who was killed,” Kiko said. “I had played Little League with him.”

Kiko sobbed into his arms and the mother sat next to him. She let him cry and then he asked her, “What do you want me to do?” 

The mother said, “You don’t have to testify, just carry my son in your heart.”

Boyle said, “Kiko cried as he was telling this.” Then Kiko said to Boyle, “And I carried him in my heart every day since.”

Boyle continued, “We find the thorn underneath the demonized, excluded, despised. We are afraid to walk on the road with them. Things have darkened their lives forever; tenderness makes them less far away.”

He concluded, “God looks underneath; so must we, to know where the thorn is.”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 an improvisation played by Stafford. Bottoms sang “Silence, Frenzied, Unclean Spirit,” for the hymn. The special music was “Idylie Mélancolique,” by Louis Vierne. The organ postlude was “Préambule,” by Louis Vierne. The program is made possible by the Samuel M. and Mary E. Hazlett Memorial Fund.

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The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.