The only word God knows is ‘love,’ says Boyle, so fire all the other gods


“There is nothing more consequential than our notion of God. God is the tender one who calls us to be in the world,” said Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J. He delivered the homily for the 9:15 a.m. EDT Monday, July 13, morning devotional on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

His sermon topic was “Fire All the Other gods.” The scripture text was 1 John 1:1-5 (NRSV) —

“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us — we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.”

When one knows the God of Love, fire all the other gods. “Fire the gods who separate children from their parents at the border. Fire all the gods who pack a church during a pandemic. Fire all the gods who allow some people to think they are better than others,” said Boyle.

Boyle was at a book signing in a church and heard Kiki, the homie who came with him to the event, talking with a woman who wanted advice about how to help her son.

Kiki said to her, “Be lovable. Don’t yell at him. I am not saying that you do yell, but if you do, don’t.”

Boyle said, “The remedy is that God has a limited vocabulary, a mono-syllabic vocabulary. God does not know what you are talking about when you think you have disappointed God. There is nothing more consequential than knowing God face to face.”

When you know the God of love, you fire the god who allowed you to think you were too small,” said Boyle.

A homeboy called Fi, short for Fiberto, came into Boyle’s office one day. Fi was in a wheelchair, parazlyzed from a gunshot. He had with him a tiny photo from when he was 9 years old. Boyle said, “Oh,” acknowledging Fi, and went on with his day.

Fi came back in a few days later and said, “You know, G, I am still looking at that picture and I am now 19.” Boyle acknowledged that he remembered it from the first time.

Fiberto came back a third time and flipped the picture onto Boyle’s desk. Boyle noted that Fi had hair in the picture but now his head was shaved. Fi asked, “Do you think we can make it big?”

Boyle took the photo to the camera store. The technician thought it might be too small to enlarge, but he worked at it. He succeeded, even though the photo was a little grainy and had a green tinge.

“It was not about the photo. It was the story of the self; the photo made him feel too small. It was a message of shame. When you know the God of love, you fire the god who allowed you to think you were too small,” said Boyle.

Before the pandemic started, Boyle was in 25 different detention centers each week offering mass in the gyms. In one of them, Louie was going to have his first communion. He was dressed in a white shirt and black tie.

“The volunteers who were there said he had to go to confession. That was their need, not his,” Boyle said. 

Boyle took him aside and asked about his family. His father was in and out of the picture and often beat him or his mother. One day Louie was sent home from school in the third grade. He did not know why. His father happened to be home and asked what had happened.

Louie said to his father, “If I tell you the truth, will you promise not to hit me?” His father said, “I am your father, you can tell me.” Then Louie started to cry and told Boyle, “He beat me with a pipe.”

Boyle then let him sob and when he stopped, he asked about Louie’s mother. Louie pointed to a little woman across the gym,

“There is no one like her,” Louie said. “Do you know how many busses she takes every Sunday to visit my sorry ass? Seven.” He cried again as he had earlier.

Boyle continued, “Once you know the God of love, fire every other one. God is never preoccupied, never enfeebled by our sin. God is not silent, not speechless.”

It is a lie to talk of a god who does not comfort us and remind us who we are. “God is light and there is no darkness in God at all,” Boyle said. “God only knows the word love. Nothing is more consequential than knowing that truth. When you know the God of love, fire all the other gods.”

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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.