Homilists for the Homeless: A project with heart and soul

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It’s a sad reality that although I attend Mass every Sunday, I rarely get to hear an entire homily.  With two young kids, I usually find that the priest’s reflections on the Gospel are interrupted by a six-year-old who needs to use the bathroom or a four-year-old who is enthusiastically narrating a picture book to himself.

It’s a shame, because there is nothing quite like a good homily, the kind that makes you leave church with your soul renewed.  Luckily, I now have a book that can feed my good homily craving.  It’s called Hungry, And You Fed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C, and features homilies from a variety of gifted preachers and writers.  I was delighted to interview the book’s editor Deacon Jim Knipper and one of the book’s contributors, Fran Rossi Szpylczyn  (Fran also happens to be a blogging buddy of mine and a good friend of RandomActsofMomness.)   Read on for more information about their unique project, their vision, and their all-star cast of contributors.

Please give us a brief overview of your book. 

Jim Knipper: The book is a compilation of 65 homilies covering all the Sunday’s, Holydays and Feast Days in the current liturgical year of Cycle C. Under the moniker of Homilists for the Homeless, 15 writers and preachers, men and women, from three Christian denominations have generously donated their material so that proceeds from this book can be given to the four charities selected for this volume.

 How was the project idea born? 

JK: I have been fortunate throughout most of my life to enjoy the fruits of great homilists—whether it was growing up in Colts Neck and listening to Fr. Bill Bausch, or at the University of Scranton enjoying the wisdom of the Jesuits, or in my home parish having our pastor, Msgr. Walt Nolan (now recently retired), warming the congregation with one of his many homiletic stories.

As a deacon in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey, I’m passionate about great homilies for they provide a unique opportunity to break open the gospel message. Over the past decade, through various occasions and contacts, I’ve been blessed to encounter Christian clergy and laity who are gifted with the ability to spark transformation thereby touching people’s lives through their homilies, sermons, and reflections.

So in February 2012 I officially launched this project, leading me to reach out to 14 men and women who are some of the best of the best when it comes to breaking open the Word of God. My goal was to compile, edit a book and publish a book by the first Sunday of Advent that would feed the heart and souls of the readers and act as a vehicle to raise money to feed the hungry and homeless.

What kind of response have you received from the book?

JK: The response has been excellent.  With nearly 1,000 copies sold in less than three months the feedback from the readers has been overwhelmingly positive!

 What was it like to write your contributions to the book?

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn: It was both incredibly graced-filled, and a bit daunting! I mean me, in a book with Richard Rohr, James Martin and Mickey McGrath? Hello!?!

I am privileged that I generally have two opportunities a year when I can offer Scriptural reflections at my parish. Add to that, I had an outstanding homiletics professor in grad school, Fr. Chris DeGiovine. So much of my work for the book was born out of what I learned from him and from my outstanding classmates. My contributions were written as if they would be proclaimed aloud, but meant to be easily readable as well. It was an exceptional experience, and I feel like I learned so much along the way. Clearly lots of people were praying for me!

 This is, obviously, a very collaborative project.  What was that process like?

JK: I basically broke out the Liturgical year and mapped out what homilies were needed and their corresponding readings.  Then, working with each of the homilists I was able to assign the work out.  With each writer hitting their deadlines I went to work on reading, reviewing and editing where necessary, all of the work.  At this point we dropped them into the design format that we had developed and then sent back to each Contributor for their final approval.  This was then followed by an intensive word-by-word review of the entire text to cull out any final minor errors.  Through the grace of God and a great deal of cooperation and hard work by each Contributor we hit all the deadlines and had the books in hand about a week early!

 FRS: Jim was always available to answer questions, and I can imagine him laughing when he reads this, as I had so many questions! He was a great editor, accessible, understanding, and yet direct. Jim’s sense of joy and his communal nature really drove the project in a beautiful way and made the process easy – and fun. We were so many diverse voices, collaborating for God, the common good and those in need. Allow me to add that one of my favorite collaborative moments was I met some of my esteemed companions in New York City in November!

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Some of the contributors to the book, left to right:  Deacon Jim Knipper, Rev. Carol Howard Merritt, Mike and Vickie Leach, Fran Rossi Szpylczyn, Rev. Penelope Nash, Richard Rohr, OFM,  Fr. Michael Doyle, Rev. Paul Holmes

To learn more about or purchase the book, visit the publisher’s website or the Homilists for the Homeless Facebook page.  You can also read more about the charities that are supported by the sale of the book.

2 Responses to Homilists for the Homeless: A project with heart and soul

  1. Ginny, thank you for your support of our project!

  2. You’re so welcome, Fran! It’s such a great book that I’m happy to be able to get the word out.