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!).
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!