Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ, uses stories about the Homeboys and Homegirls to give the congregation he is preaching for a glimpse of their humanity. The 9:15 a.m. Tuesday, July 19, morning worship service in the Amphitheater was full of stories that brought laughter and tears to both Boyle and the congregation.
His sermon title was “Love is God’s Religion,” and the Scripture reading was 1 Corinthians 13: 1-9.
Trevon had just gotten out of prison after 21 years. He had been tried as an adult while he was a juvenile. He wanted to join Homeboy Industries and was meeting with Boyle to understand the process for beginning the program. People who want to become part of the program have to get a drug test, then a week after that meet with a selection committee made up of Homies.
Boyle writes a note for each new applicant to get “a drug test any Friday at 10. G.” Trevon was hyperventilating as he sat in front of Boyle. In an attempt at small talk, Boyle asked him how he heard about Homeboys.
“I heard from some female,” Trevon said.
There was silence.
“Yeah,” Trevon said, ‘“you fathered all her children.”
Boyle stopped writing.
Then Trevon said, “No that’s not right. You baptized all her children.”
Boyle put down his pen and said, “You start today.”
Boyle said that most congregations know 1 Corinthians so well that minds wander while it is being read.
“We hear it at every wedding, and pretty soon we hear ‘Love is kind, love is patient … blah, blah, blah. Did I move my laundry from the washer to the dryer?’ ” Boyle said.
He was saying Mass at the San Fernando Valley Juvenile Hall, and the reading for the day was 1 Corinthians 13. Boyle had been half listening, when the Homie who was reading stopped with one more line to read. He said, “Love never fails,” and sat down.
“There was not one person there who did not believe him,” Boyle said. “Love never ends, love never fails. But I like another translation: ‘Love never stops loving.’ ”
Boyle once said, “Love is God’s religion, and loving is how we practice it.”
The poet Rumi said that “only from the heart can you reach the sky.”
One of the Homies told Boyle that we “need to allow God to bring us back to the entrances of our hearts.”
“We need to surrender to God who can’t take her eyes off us,” Boyle said.
Gilbert was a Homeboy who worked in the Homeboy Silkscreen business. He was sent to see Boyle one day, and Boyle knew this could not be good.
When Gilbert arrived, Boyle asked him what happened.
“Supposably I stole a shirt,” Gilbert said.
“Did you?” Boyle asked.
“Yes, but it was not exactly stealing,” Gilbert said. “I only took one, and there were thousands of them.”
“So if I want a car, and go to the car dealer and only take one car, that is not stealing because there are 1,000 of them on the lot?” Boyle asked.
“Exactly,” Gilbert said.
“God does not wait for us to get it right,” Boyle told the congregation. “God sees beyond our petty larceny and wacky logic.”
The Tuesday Zoom sessions that Boyle and some Homies started during the pandemic now meet once a month. One of the Homies told Boyle, “Jesus wants us to do him one better. He says to love our neighbor as yourself, but we don’t love ourselves.”
“You mean instead of loving your neighbor as yourself, you could love your neighbor as you love your children?” Boyle asked.
“Yeah, that does Jesus one better,” the Homie said.
The journey of faith, said Boyle, is the journey of union with love itself, love that is lavish.
Boyle has leukemia that is in “ ‘intermission.’ Yeah, I hope it is out in the lobby buying popcorn. May the line be long.”
Gina, a Homegirl, told him it was their turn to take care of him. Grumpy, “a Homeboy built like a linebacker,” called and said, “What (bodily organs) do I have that you need?”
Another Homie called Boyle on a collect call from jail to ask what was going on. Boyle told him that his doctors said his white blood cell count was high. The Homie said, “Doctors, they don’t know nothing. Hello! Of course your white blood count is high, you’re white.”
The Homies drove Boyle to and from his chemotherapy and radiation appointments. Riding in a car with a Homie is harrowing, he noted. One day when he got back from his treatment, one of the younger Homeboys greeted him.
“You have leukemia? My cat had leukemia. She died,” he said.
“Receiving love is transformational. We have to work at it, practice it,” Boyle told the congregation. “Not one day at a time like they tell you in 12-step programs. It is really one minute, one breath. It is not once and for all, or not just praying in the morning and we are good for the day. It is a choice we make all day to love.”
The poet Rumi wrote:
“If the house of the world is dark, love will find a way to make windows.”
One of the saddest times at Homeboy Industries occurred when Art, sitting in his truck eating lunch, was murdered in a revenge killing. Boyle went to the hospital to be with the family and to tell Art’s mother he was dead.
Boyle had to get back to the Homeboy office before it closed at 5 p.m. so he could be at the door as people left for the day, sobbing and hugging him.
He went to his office and thought he was alone in the building when Chino came in and asked how Boyle was doing. Boyle sighed. Chino, crying, said, “I know your heart is broken, and if I had a magic wand I would wave it over your heart and take away the pain.”
In unison, Boyle and Chino sobbed and wailed. They let all the grief leave, then Chino said, “All of us were drowning and you reached into the river and swooped us up.”
Chino stood, somewhat defiantly and said, “I swear to you, if someone gave me the chance to have a million dollars or to swoop you up, I would choose to swoop you up.”
“That is what you just have done,” Boyle assured him.
“Love is God’s religion, and loving is how we practice it. Love never stops being loving,” Boyle said. “Fierce loving brings us to the entrance of our hearts, making windows in a darkened world. Only from this heart can we touch the sky.”
The Rev. Paul Womack, pastor of Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church in Chautauqua, presided. Maggie Brockman, co-host with her husband Bill of the Department of Religion Guest House (Hall of Missions) since 2003, read the Scripture. Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and holder of the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, played improvisations for the prelude and postlude. For the anthem, the Motet Choir, under the direction of Stafford and accompanied by organ scholar Nicholas Stigall, sang “Holy, Heavenly Love,” music by Mark Browse and words by Christopher Wordsworth. Support for this week’s services is provided by the Harold F. Reed Sr. Chaplaincy. Unless otherwise noted, the morning liturgies were written by the Interim Senior Pastor, the Rev. Natalie Hanson. Music is selected and the Sacred Song Service was created by Stafford.