To be that tender glance in the world

There’s another good bit of that interview with the Los Angeles priest who works with kids in gangs that I overlooked yesterday. It’s another place where he offers a version of religion that is understandable even to secular types – understandable and worth doing.

You know how you were saying earlier that, like, when you were a child, your prayers were petitional? You know, God help me pass my math test. And now your prayers are more meditative. You have, you know, mantras that you say. Do you ever do petitional prayer anymore?

BOYLE: I don’t.

GROSS: Is there a place for that in your…

BOYLE: Well, I mean, it’s in the liturgy. You know, we’re people – you know, let’s pray for, you know, this guy who died, and let’s pray for unity in our country. And all those things are good because it’s – people are articulating kind of what’s on their mind, and it’s a way for people to stand with each other.

You know, I may not be able to carry what you’re carrying, but we can carry you. And that’s kind of what prayer in the petitionary sense means. But I never do it personally ’cause I don’t – you know, when people say, I believe in the power of prayer or, as speaker Ryan said the other day, prayer works, I go, well, now talk about that, you know? It helps me find God at the center of my life. So yes, it does work. But if – you know prayer, is not going to fix our health care system. Stop it, you know?


BOYLE: Don’t think that. You actually have to do something about guns. You can’t just pray, and you can’t just, again, extend thoughts and prayers. And so the power of prayer – I don’t think people got that – people haven’t graduated from the third grade. They’re stuck there. They’re still praying for the math test, you know, when there are things that are in our control and that we’re supposed to do and that God doesn’t protect us from Hurricane Maria but will sustain us as we lock arms with each other in its aftermath. I believe in that.

In a way I can believe in that too, or at least see what he’s getting at and not be repulsed by it. People locking arms with each other is a good thing, and if that’s what you mean by “God” then go for it.

GROSS: So if you’re not doing petitional prayer when you have someone who you deeply care about, who’s gone through Homeboy Industries, who’s trying to change their life and they’re sick or they’ve been hurt and they’re in the hospital and they’re hanging on maybe by a thread, when you pray for them, what are you doing? Like, are you asking for them to be healed? Is that too petitional for you to do? Do you know what I’m saying?

BOYLE: Yeah, you know, ’cause yesterday, you know, one of our homies who’s worked for us for a long time – and I buried his brother, and his father was dying. So I went over to the hospital. We all gathered around. You know, I’m a priest, so I do the anointing of the sick. I anoint his forehead, and I invite everybody in the room. There were probably 10 of us. And each one kind of, you know, anointed him very tenderly. And we all touched him, and I said a blessing. Clearly he, you know, had a major stroke, and clearly he was leaving us. And 10 minutes later, he did.

I was so glad I got there not because this was some magical, you know, thing but that it meant a lot to this homie who works for me. And it meant a lot to just sort of gather together. But you’re not praying for some outcome, you know? You’re trying to, you know, step into this – into the wideness of God, you know, this amazing, merciful, spacious and expanse of God. And then all of a sudden, because you’re praying, because you’re bringing this consciousness to the group, everybody is experiencing the tender glance of God in that moment. And then you feel animated to leave each other’s presence and to be that tender glance in the world. That’s how it works.

But the magical thinking of pray that – you know, that this person get healed – and it’s not even pray for God’s will because people die, and people get sick. And there’s nobody who’s not going to have that happen to them. But in the process, we can lock arms with each other, and the prayer is just a way of, you know, putting first things first.

If only more priests were like Greg Boyle.

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