Disciples grow in love, not goodness says Boyle


In his sermon during the 9:15 a.m. Monday morning worship service in the Amphitheater, Fr. Gregory Boyle, S.J., delighted the large congregation — many of whom came early to get a seat for Jon Meacham’s lecture — with stories about young homies finding light, love, and their precious soulfulness to breathe into the world.

The title of Boyle’s sermon was “Precious Soulfulness,” and the scripture was Isaiah 49:1-6.

“I am thinking it is good to be alive,” Boyle said. “I got a text one time from a homie I had not heard from in a while. He wrote, ‘I heard you died so I am writing to see if this is true.’ I wrote back ‘I am texting from heaven. The cell service here is amazing.’ ”

Boyle rises early to walk by the lake. “I enjoy breathing in the Spirit who delights in my being, and I exhale that delight into a world that could use it,” he said. 

Isaiah wrote that he had been called to be God’s servant from his mother’s womb, for Israel to be light to the nations, and for salvation to reach to the ends of the earth.

One day, Boyle was out walking on First Street in Boyle Heights and he met Louie, a graduate of Homeboy Industries who worked in an air conditioning factory. After giving Boyle a hug that lifted him off the ground, he reminded Boyle about their first meeting.

Louie was very nervous in his first interview with Boyle, and told him he was “looking for unemployment.” Boyle told him he had come to the right place. Louie glanced out the window of Boyle’s office and said, without smiling, “I see smiles here; I want that smile.”

Boyle told him, “You will love it here and we will love you back.” Louie wept and said, “I will bring my light here.” Boyle responded, “Please do. We need it.”  

Louie went through the training, and in his last position at Homeboys he worked in the tattoo removal shop. In an aside, Boyle said, “We work Monday through Friday so if you are regretting your CHQ tattoo, come see me.”

On the day Louie left Homeboy for his new job, he asked to talk at the morning meeting held in the reception hall each day. He said, “I want to talk to the trainees: You are all diamonds covered in dust. When you wipe the dust off you see God doesn’t need to measure your goodness since we are all undeniably good, just covered in dust.”

Boyle said, “Louie discovered his precious soulfulness and breathed it into the world.” 

Robert was thrown out of his family at nine years old and survived on the streets. Now he works in the tattoo removal shop at Homeboy Industries. 

Every year at Christmas there is a two-week holiday at Homeboy, and one year Boyle wondered what Robert did for Christmas. When Robert came in, Boyle asked him what he had done. “I was in my apartment,” Robert said. 

“Alone?” Boyle asked. 

“I invited six guys over who had no place to go,” replied Robert.

Of those six men, three were from rival gangs. “We made turkey, ghetto style,” said Robert. “We put salt, pepper and butter on the turkey and roasted it until it tasted proper.” Boyle asked what else they had with the turkey. “Just turkey,” Robert said. “And it tasted proper.”

“How did you get to be like this?” Boyle asked. Robert thought for a while and then said, “All my life I suspected I had goodness in here (his heart) but I couldn’t find it. One day I found it and I know the truth of who I am and nothing can touch that.”

Disciples grow in love, not goodness, said Boyle. He quoted James Finley, author, clinical psychologist and former Trappist monk at the Abbey of Gethsemane: “God is in heaven. God is in you. What if God’s heaven is you?”  

Boyle also talked about the work that Chautauquan Angela James does in photographing prisoners on special occasions for their families. “They walk away feeling favored; nothing can touch them.”

Boyle urged the congregation to look beyond behavior and see what God sees, what is hidden, and know that everyone was made for loving, for love without measure. 

“You are the person through whom God shows glory. You are a diamond, a light to the nations. We are saved to ourselves, not from ourselves,” he said. 

Danny swore that he would never set foot in Homeboy. He carried a gun in the waistband of his trousers and often showed it to Boyle. Danny went to prison at age 18.  

“Like all recovery, it takes what it takes for someone to get into recovery at Homeboy,” Boyle said.

When Danny got out of prison, he became the designated hospice caregiver for his mother who had treated him very roughly. He treated her with great love and care. Two weeks after she died from pancreatic cancer, Danny came to Homeboy. “When we let love live through us, we find resilience,” Boyle said. “A cherished person finds the joy to cherish the self and others.”

Danny stopped by Boyle’s office one day and declared, “Something happened to me yesterday that has never happened before.”

Danny was going home on the train and a man, an older gang member with a lot of tattoos and clearly drunk, spoke to him. Danny was wearing his Homeboy sweatshirt that said “Homeboy Industries: Jobs not Jail.” The man asked, “You work there? Any good?” 

“They helped me,” Danny said. “I won’t go back to prison.”

Danny took out a piece of paper and wrote down the address for the man. Danny told Boyle, “I remembered the address by heart.” Danny handed the paper to the man and they looked into each other’s eyes and saw each other deeply. “Come see us; we’ll help you,” Danny said. The man thanked him and got off the train.

And the thing that had never happened before? “I looked and everyone was staring at me, everyone was nodding at me and smiling at me. For the first time, I felt admired,” Danny said.

“Danny glimpsed his precious soulfulness, his broad-shouldered resilience. Love transits the distance that separates us,” Boyle said. “We are God’s heaven: You were called from your mother’s womb to be a light to the nations and to bring life. You are all diamonds.”

The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton presided. The Rev. Natalie Hanson, pastor at Hurlbut United Memorial Community Church, read the scripture. The prelude was “Élévation,” by Léon Boëllman, played by Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair Organist, on the Massey Memorial Organ. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Stafford, sang “Thy Perfect Love,” music by John Rutter and words in 15th-century English. The postlude was “Sortie,” by Léon Boëllman, played by Stafford. Support for this week’s chaplaincy and preaching is provided by the Edmund E. Robb-Walter C. Shaw Fund and the Lois Raynow Department of Religion Fund.

Tags : Fr. Gregory Boylemorning worshipPrecious Soulfulness

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.