One day Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ, was standing in front of the Homeboy store in Chinatown in Los Angeles. Johnnie, who had worked in the Homeboy Bakery, and now was a chef on his own, came up and gave Boyle a hug.
Boyle had not seen Johnnie during the pandemic.
“He looked at me and I said, ‘What?’ ” Boyle said.
“You look different,” Johnnie said.
“Well, I have lost 30 pounds,” Boyle replied.
“I didn’t know hair weighed that much,” Johnnie said.
“Self-defecating humor,” Boyle said. “Check (that off the list).”
The title of Boyle’s sermon at the Monday, July 18, service of worship in the Amphitheater was “Fire all the Other Gods,” and the Scripture reading was Isaiah 62:1-5.
Isaiah, the prophet, told the people of Israel, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent.”
“Naturally the first thing we think is ‘oh, oh,’ ” Boyle said.
Then Isaiah said “You shall be called ‘My Delight is in Her.’ ”
“Wow, didn’t see that coming,” Boyle said. “The God we actually have is different than the God we have settled for. God delights in us.”
He continued, “My friend, mystic scholar Mirabai Starr, has said ‘Once you know the God of love, fire all the other gods.’ This is the adult journey in faith.”
The poet Hafiz wrote: “The sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.”
“When God says delight, we hear disappointment,” Boyle said. “We are lost in autocorrect.”
Boyle was getting ready to say Mass for some monjas, Spanish for nuns, when he got a call from a Homegirl named Bertha asking, “Where you at?” Boyle told her he was getting ready to say Mass for the monjas.
“Bertha thought I was in a room full of ninjas, which was way cooler,” he said.
God can’t take his eyes off you, Boyle said.
For Boyle, one of the gifts of the pandemic was Zoom. Each week on Tuesday, he had a Bible study with about 12 of the Homeboys. The group included the “dearly deported,” five of the Homeboys who went to jail and were then deported.
It was near Christmas on a Tuesday, and Hector, who was in Mexicali, told the group, “I have trouble with the carol ‘O Come Let Us Adore Him.’ I never understood that because my God adores me.”
“Let us allow God to adore us,” Boyle said. “God actually adores us, he does not ask us to admire him. It is consequential which God you believe.”
At a Mass in the San Fernando Valley Juvenile Hall, Boyle was listening as the young people read the Scripture. After the Old Testament reading, the next young person got up to read the Responsorial Psalm. He said, “The Lord is exhausted.”
Boyle, thought, “What the hell? It is ‘exalted,’ then I thought, ‘Wow, this is way better.’ We can connect with this after spending time with grandchildren. We think, ‘They are my delight and I am exhausted.’ ”
He continued, “We keep score until we find out God does not. Find an image of God that helps you.”
A woman Boyle had known for years recently died of pancreatic cancer. Her family, with Boyle, gathered around her bed and anointed her. Afterward, he talked with two of her sons, Vincent and JC, whom he described as “knuckleheads.”
JC remembered a time he was in juvenile detention and his mother came to visit. She smiled at him and said, “Is anybody watching?” JC said no; she put her hand in her bra and pulled out a warm burrito.
This was a burrito from Al & Bea’s Mexican Food in Boyle Heights.
“It was the special chile relleno one,” JC said.
“This was not a foot-long burrito, but a tiny one,” Boyle said. “Behold the one beholding you and smiling, and when no one is watching, pulls out a burrito.”
He continued, “The God of love has no need to be liked, zero concern that we return his love, because it is not about Him. God is so magnanimous, He is not needy, never fishing for a compliment. God has room for the victims of Uvalde and for the one who killed them. God can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
How much greater is the God we have than the God we think we have, Boyle asked. In Hindu temples, worshippers go to let God see them.
Boyle was saying Mass at a probation camp when he was approached by Louis, a 15-year-old, wearing regulation jeans, a white shirt and thin tie. He was taking his first communion.
The staff insisted that Louis needed to go to confession first. Boyle asked if he had siblings. Louis said he had a sister and brother, “But they are good.”
“Mijito (my child), you are good and you will know it,” Boyle said.
Louis’ father beat and abused him. One day when Louis was sent home from school for a reason he did not remember, his father beat him with a pipe.
Louis sobbed as he told Boyle his story.
“See that tiny woman by the entrance, that’s my mom. There is no one like her,” Louis said. “Do you know how many buses she takes to visit me and my sorry ass every Sunday? Every single Sunday? Seven. Imagine seven buses.”
“Imagine, yes imagine,” Boyle said. You are my delight, and I will take seven buses just to adore you. God can’t take her eyes off you, and when no one is watching brings an Al & Bea’s burrito. Look what happens with love like that — it lights up the whole sky.”
The Rev. Natalie Hanson, interim senior pastor for Chautauqua, presided. The Rev. Paul Womack, pastor of the Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church in Chautauqua, read the Scripture. The prelude was “Ein feste burg ist unser Gott,” (BWV 720) by Johann Sebastian Bach, played on the Massey Memorial Organ by Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and holder of the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist. The Motet Choir sang “Yet doth the Lord see it not,” from Elijah, op. 70, by Felix Mendelssohn. The choir was directed by Stafford, and Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar, played the Massey Memorial Organ. The postlude was “Nun danket alle Gott,” (BWV 79) by Johann Sebastian Bach, played by Stigall. The Harold F. Reed Sr. Chaplaincy provides support for this week’s services.