May 29, 2013

What's the Church Smell Like

I am currently reading a book called "Tattoos on the Heart" by Father Gregory Boyle. It's a book about a priest who goes into one of the most heavily gang-infested areas in America with the love of Christ.

The stories of transformation are real and heartwarming. It is well worth the read.

I want to share an excerpt that beautifully illustrates who and what the church can be.

The church that Father Boyle pastors made a commitment that they would stand in solidarity with undocumented workers. So one of the decisions the church made was to use the sanctuary as a shelter for the undocumented workers.

Having undocumented workers was a great idea. But it also came with the particular odor of about a hundred or so men sleeping in their sanctuary every day.

Well, people started to complain.

It was too stinky.

Father Boyle decided to tackle the odor issue in one of his homilies. This is what he writes:

I start the homily one day with, "What's the church smell like?"

People are mortified, eye contact ceases, women are searching inside their purses for they know not what.

"Come on, now," I throw back at them, "what's the church smell like?"

"Huele a patas" (smells like feet), Don Rafael booms out. He was old and never cared what people thought.

"Excellent. But why does it smell like feet?"

"Cuz many homeless men slept here last night?" says a woman.

"Well, why do we let that happen here?"

"Es nuestro compromiso" (It's what we've committed to do), says another.

"Well, why would anyone commit to do that?"

"Porque es lo que haria Jesus." (It what's Jesus would do).

"Well, then...what's the church smell like now?"

A man stand and bellows, "Huele a nuestro compromiso" (it smells like commitment).

The place cheers.

Guadalupe waves her arms wildly, "Huele a rosas" (smells like roses).

The packed church roars with laughter and a newfound kinship that embraced someone else's odor as their own. The stink in the church hadn't changed, only how the folks saw it. 

I love that!

That's the smell of church.

That church smells like Jesus!


John W. Potter said...

Sounds like a bold and effective sermon. Thanks for sharing the intriguing story. Does the Father say what his text was? There must be more to the story? It is not wrong to consider bad bodily odor as a problem to be solved in a church sanctuary, is it? The end of the story cannot just have been to declare, "Well, it smells like roses if you keep your eyes on Jesus". Illegal aliens don't cease being a problem for the USA just by saying Jesus requires us to love all people.

John W. Potter said...

Sounds like a bold and effective sermon. Thanks for sharing such an intriguing story. But does the priest say what text he was preaching on? Surely there is more to the story. What did the congregation do about body odor in the sanctuary? It may be memorable to say that some members declared that smelly feet can smell like roses if you keep your eyes on Jesus. But it's not wrong to consider b.o. in church a problem that needs a solution, is it? Illegal immigrants in the USA is also a real problem that is not just solved by acknowledging that Christ calls us to love them.

James Kim said...


This is one of many stories which the author shares in his book. The book doesn't deal with the issue of illegal immigration except for this particular story.

Tattoos of the Heart is more a book of the power of the love of God.

The problem of illegal immigration is a much more complicated problem as you say.

Thanks for reading and commenting.


James <><