Monthly Archives: July 2014

Mary in the hall, with flowers

Everything in the vase came from our own yard.  That’s a very nice feeling, somehow.

Where are you finding beauty today?


Q and A with Deacon Jim Knipper of Homilists for the Homeless

If you’ve ever attended church, you know the power of a really good sermon.  Well-chosen words can change lives, in ways both subtle and profound.

Someone who knows this firsthand is Deacon Jim Knipper.  A deacon in the diocese of Trenton, NJ, he decided to harness the power of good preaching and use it as a vehicle for helping the homeless.  This vision has resulted in two terrific books: Hungry, And You Fed Me and  Naked, and You Clothed Me, both compilations of sermons for the liturgical year (Cycles C and A respectively).

It’s a pleasure to welcome Deacon Jim back to this blog (you can see my interview about his first book here) and to get his take on spiritual writing, encouraging social justice, and taking kids to church (as a deacon and the father of four, he knows a thing or two about that!).

Knipper Head Shot (1)

For those who aren’t familiar with Homilists for the Homeless, what’s the soundbite description?

Homilists for the Homeless is a moniker used by a group of Christians who are dedicated to spreading the Good News through their ministries, especially in their preaching.  Each Contributor has donated their works to be published in a compilation of homilies that cover the Liturgical Years.  Proceeds from each book go to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick.  So far we have published the books for Cycle C and A and will release this October  Sick, And You Visited Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle B.

Who is the intended audience for this book? 

These books speak to a wide audience – not only those who preach each weekend  but also to the faithful who wish to enrich their understanding of the Sunday readings.  We are hearing of many who use our books for their weekly meditation as well as those who are using it for their prayer groups.


What is one unexpected gift you’ve received from this project?

There have been many gifts that I have received with this project that have been unexpected – but one of those at the top has to be the outpouring of appreciation and love from the contributors as well as the readers.

Homilists for the Homeless combines two important things: social justice, and writing about spirituality.  Who are some of your own personal heroes in these two areas?

Wow – hard to limit this to identifying just a few, but when it comes to social justice both Fr. Michael Doyle in Camden and Fr. Greg Boyle in Los Angles have to be two people who have truly lived lives that show all of us what it means to be there for our sisters and brothers.

When it comes to writing about spirituality…the best?  This one is easy: Fr. Richard Rohr.  Over the past 40 years his books, his talks, his conferences have opened the eyes of so many.  He reminds us that we are not humans learning to be spiritual…rather, we are all spiritual trying to learn to be human.  If one listens to Pope Francis it would be hard to believe that he has not read the books of Richard Rohr, as should you!

What can parents do to encourage their kids to care about social justice?

When parents are present at the baptism of their children, they may be distracted with all that is going on and may miss the prayer that is said over them at the end of the liturgy….when they are reminded that they are the first and best teachers of their children by what they say and do.  You want your children to care about social justice?  Pick a cause and be passionate about it and bring your children into early on in their lives.

Do you have any advice for how to make Mass meaningful for kids?  (the $64,000 question!)

Better asked – how do we make mass meaningful for everyone?!  But to your question in particular, the answer varies from region to region, diocese to diocese, parish to parish, and within each individual.  When I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, Mass or Church was a place where people gathered as a community.  There was no internet, social media, email, etc.  While technology is great,  we need to see what is taking place in the building up or the decay of ‘community’.  There is no doubt that many kids do not see benefit in going to mass.  Why?  Mass is longer that 140 characters and requires 60 minutes of attention…..many times the priest/deacon have not given enough time or lack the talent to provide an enriching homily…in some places liturgy is weak….some parishes do not serve the youth well…and so on.

So what to do?  As we heard in Matthew’s gospel on July 13th (15th Sunday in Ordinary Time) the seed falls on the different types of ground but only yields harvest in fertile ground.  So see what you can do to enrich the ‘ground,’ i.e. the liturgies  for kids in your own parish.  If impossible, then go looking for a parish/church that nourishes your child, yourself, and allows the feeding of your body and soul and empowers you to do the same to others.  That is where you will find Christ.

What’s one thing that your own kids have taught you about faith? 

Faith comes in all different shapes, sizes and colors. And in the words of our beloved Pope, “Whom am I to judge?”  Amen!

Naked, And You Clothed Me and Hungry, And You Fed Me are both available at Clear Faith Publishing.  These books are a marvelous way to support the homeless, with the added benefit of providing rich spiritual food for thought.  Thanks to Deacon Jim for being my guest today!

Inscriptions in books = love on a page


My grandmother wrote the above inscription  in 1975.  It’s on the flyleaf of this ABC book, which is falling apart:


In case the reading is too hard to read, here’s what the inscription says:

To my dear little Ginny who at the tiny age of two sings the “Alphabet Song” like a real pro — With lots of love, Grandma.  March, 1975.

My grandma died twenty-five years ago, but when I pick up this book and see her handwriting, she feels very close.  I’m touching something she touched; her handwriting, always so distinctive, triggers all sorts of memory centers in my brain.  I think about the fact that she not only chose this book for me, she thought about what to write, and sat down — probably at the dining room table underneath the oil painting of a still life with fruit and goblets — and put pen to paper.  If I think about it, I can see her sitting there, in that house I loved to visit, writing something that her granddaughter would cherish and blog about thirty-nine years later.

That’s the power of an inscribed book.

I have quite a few of them in my library, and they are precious.  This copy of Little Women  was signed by all three members of my nuclear family:


Years later, when I was a senior in high school, I was obsessed with the idea of having a villa in the south of France someday (probably due to the movie “Jean de Florette” and the musical “Aspects of Love.”)  For Christmas, my parents gave me the just-published book A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle, and my mom wrote the following inscription:



Absolutely, Mom!  You’re welcome anytime!  (I just have to get the house first.)

My mother-in-law wrote this beautiful inscription in the book she sent me before Matthew was born.  She couldn’t be at the shower, living across the country, but these words, written for  her first grandchild, meant so  much:



As much as I love receiving inscribed books, I don’t always write in the ones I give as gifts.  I’m  never sure if people like inscriptions as much as I do; I’m also afraid that they may have the book already, and re-gifting a book with a heartfelt inscription in it just doesn’t work.

But maybe I just need to get over it and get out the pen and write.  Because while any gift of a book is precious, it’s all the moreso when there is an inscription that charges the book with tangible evidence of family and love and friendship.

When Matthew turned three, his godmother — our friend Mary, whom we referred to as “GodMary” — gave him this Curious George treasury.  She wrote in it, too:


This book has been loved by both boys.  The last time Matthew ever saw Mary, when she was dying of cancer, he sat next to her on the couch and read to her from this very book.  He was just learning to read, and he was slow and halting and stumbling.  Mary sat there so thin and frail, with Luke cuddled up on the other side, and she stroked Luke’s hair and listened to Matthew read and it was heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time.

With this inscription in the book, there’s a little bit of her there to jog Matthew’s memories of his godmother. A few words in pen are far more than a few words in pen when they are written in a book.  They are love on a page, love that stays.

Guest-posting at In(courage)

One of the nicest gifts I’ve ever received is this needlepoint.  My Aunt Karen made it for me when I was in eighth grade.


In addition to being pretty to look at, this needlepoint also inspired a very helpful seven-day prayer exercise.  You can read all about it in  My Week Of The Fruit Of The Spirit over at In(courage).

Have a mindful, intentional Tuesday!

The kindness of strangers


Stylish souvenir tote

There’s nothing like a backless hospital gown to make you realize how vulnerable you really are.  I spent much of yesterday in one, so I know.

First of all, no one needs to worry; I was in the hospital for a planned surgical procedure, but the procedure was for something absolutely non-sinister.  I don’t want to get too personal about my medical history on a blog, but you can trust me that there is no reason for alarm.  If a raging hypochondriac like me says everything is fine, believe me, everything is fine.

But I will say that the entire experience made me realize just how much we – and  specifically I  — need other people.

“Hospitals are fascinating,” said Scott, who was there with me before the surgery and in the post-op room.  “They are like these little worlds.”  And really, they are: busy worlds with systems and customs and protocol and residents who work together to make people like me come out of everything okay.  In my brief time there, we interacted with at least five nurses, one guy who came to do the blood test, one guy who did the EKG, the guys who wheeled me to and from the OR, the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, the fleet of attending folk in the OR, the nurse in the recovery room, and the elderly auxiliary volunteer in the maroon blazer who pushed me in a wheelchair out to the car.

It seems like so much fuss for just one person and one issue, but I’m glad they were all there.  And nearly everyone was so kind.  It’s one thing to have medical knowledge, and another to have both medical knowledge and a warm, calming demeanor.

As much as the medical issue itself wasn’t a huge deal, I will admit that I was nervous about the procedure.  I felt vulnerable in ways I normally don’t.  It’s not fun to feel like a badly-wrapped Christmas package in a paper gown,  not a whole lot of fun to have a stranger slapping EKG stickers on your chest,  not a lot of fun to need help getting out of bed and to the bathroom.  And the knowledge that I’d be totally out for an hour was slightly unsettling.

So I’m grateful for everyone who helped make it all a little less scary.  It may be a job for them, the thing they do every day, but for the patients, it’s kind of a big deal.

And I felt God’s presence there, in the nurse who distracted me with talk about her favorite English teacher while she put the IV in my hand, and in the recovery room nurse who was so kind as I swam out of my anesthesia fog and tried to get my bearings and no doubt made little to no sense, and in the skill of the surgeon who took care of it all and sealed me up neatly with glue.  (Odd to think that I was closed up with staples after my C-sections, with glue after this procedure.  What’s next — packing tape?).

I’m far more lucid today than I was yesterday, hence this blog post, and though it’s hard to be housebound, there’s something good about it, too.  It’s a forced chance to slow down, to rely on my  husband to make dinner instead of doing it myself.  It’s a chance to baby myself, which I don’t do very often, and it has prompted lots of hugs from both boys as well as the gift of a sweet, abstract impressionist drawing from my younger son.

And most of all, it’s reminded me that  God’s goodness shows up in lots of disguises, including blue scrubs.