Stay anchored, freshly grounded in your heart, says Fr. Greg Boyle

Dave Munch/Photo Editor
Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., delivers his homily (not a sermon, he noted Thursday morning, as he is a Jesuit) on “The Stillness in charge” Sunday in the Amphitheater.

There are times when Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., would not trade his life for anyone else’s. 

He shared one such time at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. His title was “So gathered,” and the scripture was Matthew 7:21-29.

Some years ago, Boyle was on a morning drive radio talk show, speaking in Spanish and answering questions from mothers about how to help their children who were in gangs. 

“When they said, ‘We have time for one last call,’ I thought the show’s finally over,” Boyle said. “The call was from Filiberto from Lynwood and I thought, ‘We have a Fili at Homeboy from there.’” 

The caller said, “Hey, G, I’m not feeling so good so I won’t be at work.” 

“He chose to call in sick on a radio call-in show,” Boyle said Thursday. “I realized I would not trade my life at that moment.”

There are times, Boyle told the congregation, when we feel anchored in gratitude. We know how to be a house built on a rock, anchored in the sacred, in gratitude and in truth.

Boyle said that Jesuits don’t do sermons, but homilies — and they don’t give them titles. He handed in his sermon titles to the Chautauqua Department of Religion on June 9. That day, his mentor and friend, the Rev. James Lawson, died at the age of 95. Lawson had been the tactician of the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King Jr. relied on him for strategy. 

“He was at a church in Los Angeles for the last 40 years of his life. I had the privilege of being arrested with him many times,” Boyle said.

Civil rights activist and U.S. Rep. John Lewis once described Lawson as “a mystic, so holy, so gathered.” 

“If we want to belong to The Way, as it says in Acts, we have to know how to stay anchored,” Boyle said. “Jim held out for holiness, not just piety. He was anchored in his heart to touch the sky. His house was built on a rock.”

One day, while visiting New York City, Boyle was out for his usual morning walk. He passed two construction workers, one of whom was trying to convince the other to try his brand of coffee. He said, in a very measured way, “Freshly Grounded … Turkish Coffee,” and repeated it to his companion.

Boyle thought, “A mantra has been born. Breathe in ‘Freshly Grounded,’ Breathe out ‘Turkish Coffee.’” And he used it for the rest of his walk.

“We have to be freshly grounded to be anchored,” Boyle said. “When we are grounded, we can be anchors for each other. Anchors walk each other home to wholeness, but self-absorption trips us up. It is destructive.”

On a busy Saturday, Boyle had been out to two detentions centers to give communion and had to be at a baptism at 1 p.m. but he decided to stop in his office to check the mail. Lisa walked in for the first time in her life.

She was in a gang, had been to prison, heroin-addicted and engaged in sex trafficking. The homeboys called her “the one who screams,” because she could be heard screaming at bartenders as they threw her out of the bar, or on the phone, looking for a place to stay: “It’s just for tonight.”

Lisa said, “I need help. I’ve been to like, 50 rehabs; I’m known nationwide. I graduated from Catholic schools. I graduated from Sacred Heart High School and the first time I used heroin was right after graduation. I have been trying to stop since that moment.”  

She cried and cried until she could look up at Boyle and said, “I am a disgrace.” 

Boyle told the congregation, “Her shame met mine. I had mistaken her for an interruption.”

He continued, “Self-absorption is destructive. It trips us up. From the rock we gather inner peace that does not depend on how things turn out, but how a broken heart opens into a loving heart.”

When Homeboy Industries was founded over 30 years ago, there was no exit ramp for gang members, no path away from violence. Over 10,000 people a year now come to Homeboy for their services to build a life of tenderness. 

Early on there were lots of news crews who came. King Charles (Prince Charles, at the time), came with business advisers and there were busloads of Japanese tourists.

Roman, who was the biggest drug dealer at the time in the area, stayed away from Homeboy despite invitations from Boyle to turn his life around — until the birth of his daughter, Florida. Roman went to work in the bakery, the first Homeboy enterprise, working with former enemies and he became the foreman for his crew.

He hated when visitors would come. One day, he and Boyle were waiting for a group of farmers from outside Los Angeles. As they were directing the bus to its parking spot, Roman noticed the microphone at the front of the bus and picked it up. 

He said, “Welcome to Homeboy, where you can observe gang members in their natural habitat. Please keep your hands in the bus and don’t attempt to feed them, as most of the homies have not been tamed yet.”

Boyle left the tour group in Roman’s hands. Several hours later, Boyle caught up with Roman and asked how it went. 

Roman said, “What’s up with white people? They always use the word ‘great.’ They see how clean the bakery is and say, ‘This place is great.’ They meet us and say, ‘You fellas are great.’ When they eat the bread, ‘This bread is great.’ How come?”

Boyle replied, “I have no idea.”

“But,” Boyle told the congregation, “at every opportunity, I told him how great he was.”

About six months later, Bolye dropped by the bakery as they closed. Roman rushed to Boyle’s car with a story to share. For the first time in his life, Roman was living in an apartment paid for by honest money that he earned. 

His daughter, Florida, ran into the apartment and into the living room and said, “This is great.” Roman told Boyle, “I thought she was turning white. I asked her, ‘Mija, what’s great?’” 

Florida said, “My home.” 

Those two words stopped Roman from talking. He and Boyle stood in silence as tears welled up in their eyes. Then Boyle said, “You did this. You never had a home, and now you have one. You never had a father and now you are one. I hate to tell you this, but, you’re great.”

Boyle paused in the sermon and then said, “You never forget the first time you tell a story. I told that one four months later at his funeral. Roman had been packing his car for a camping trip and some rival gang members saw him and executed him.”

Many of Roman’s friends and other Homeboys asked Boyle what was the use of doing good if something like that could happen. They had a point.

At Roman’s funeral, Boyle said that “Roman discovered who he was and that he was exactly what God had in mind. No bullet, no prison, not even death could touch that he was great. He was built on a rock and I am glad that happened before he died.”

Boyle told the congregation, “We need to be freshly grounded. We are all longing for integrated wholeness, anchored in the heart so we can touch the sky.”

The Rev. J. Paul Womack, pastor emeritus (almost) of Hurlbut Memorial Community United Methodist Church, presided. Ruth Becker, a member of the Motet Choir and active in the United Church of Christ Society at Chautauqua, read the scripture. Although overwhelmed by the noise of lecturegoers who did not realize that worship had started, two members of the Motet Consort, Joseph Musser, piano, and Barbara Hois, flute, played “Introduction and Romp,” by Arthur Frackenpohl as the prelude. The Motet Choir sang “Look who gathers at Christ’s table,” music by John Ferguson and words by Thomas H. Troeger, for the morning anthem. The choir was directed by Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, and accompanied by Rees Taylor Roberts, organ scholar for the 2024 season, on the Massey Memorial Organ and Barbara Hois on the flute. Roberts played “Prelude in F, 1829,” by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, for the postlude on the Massey Organ. Support for this week’s chaplaincy and preaching is provided by the Edmond E. Robb-Walter C. Shaw Fund and the Lois Raynow Department of Religion Fund.

Tags : Fr. Greg Boylemorning worshipreligionS.J. Homeboy Industries

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.