THE CATHOLICS NEXT DOOR
Adventures in Imperfect Living
By Greg and Jennifer Willits
Servant Books, 2012
160 pages, paperback, $16.99
From tawdry housewives in suburban New Jersey to beauty pageants for toddlers with Texas-sized hair, reality TV — much of it of dubious quality — abounds.
For Catholics looking for a dose of reality, husband and wife evangelists Greg and Jennifer Willits use their new book The Catholics Next Door: Adventures in Imperfect Living to provide some actionable guidance to those — particularly to married couples or those contemplating marriage — striving to live holy lives while navigating the challenges of life.
As the title implies, it is through the travails of everyday life — raising children, earning a living and growing in their marriage and faith — that the couple uses to spotlight their own spiritual growth and to provide guidance and encouragement for others on similar journeys.
Divided into a baker’s dozen of chapters and organized with the author’s voice alternating from Greg to Jennifer, the couple addresses a number of pertinent issues, such as natural family planning, parenting and educating children, and developing and sustaining a strong and healthy marriage, all in fewer than 200 pages.
In clear and unvarnished prose, the couple details their own struggles — such as accepting the Church’s teaching on NFP to embracing fully their vocations of motherhood and fatherhood — without ever sounding preachy, self-righteous or overburdened. In fact, the couple regularly acknowledges their own imperfect lives and constant quest for holiness, mixing in regular doses of humor and levity.
Greg on providing direction spiritually for the family: “A good dad is a compass. It’s my job to stay directed and to set the example. When I look at the development of faith in our family, a very clear thread shows. Whenever I, as the father, lead the way in a spiritual endeavor, the family will follow and blossom, and our individual and collective relationships with Christ will be strengthened. And when I don’t do that, I often feel like a failure.”
Jennifer on family prayer and spirituality: “Do we pray perfectly every day as a family? No. Do we try our best? Yes. Do we read Scripture around the dinner table every night? Not always, but we do talk about and reference Scripture when it makes sense to. Do I fill our family schedule with multiple charitable activities? Not at the moment, but we do encourage and try to foster an attitude of love and giving when possible.
As the couple makes clear, living lives of holiness is a never-ending endeavor that requires constant effort, prayer and faith in God and one another.
This book is not a “seven easy steps” panacea to a perfect marriage and family life because, as the authors would probably agree, no such magic recipe exists. Just as Christ bore his cross, so to must all persons striving to live lives of holiness, as getting to heaven is not easy.
The Willitses do not provide a laundry list of dos and don’ts or a one-size-fits-all prescription for every situation, from disciplining children to making time for one another. Rather, they note that every family will have its own recipe and set of ingredients, but that the one indispensable ingredient for those striving for a life of holiness is an unwavering faith and trust in God: Absent such a spiritual foundation, even the most well-intentioned of efforts will be for naught.
It is through such a faith that the couple has navigated their own challenges, including three miscarriages, two sons on the autism spectrum and the financial, time management and other stressors of life.
As a husband and father of three young children, I found the book to be a worthwhile read that offered some helpful suggestions. Ultimately, it offers husbands and wives seeking to live lives of holiness with the reassurance that others are navigating similar challenges and struggles, providing a needed dose of “reality,” Catholic style.
Nick Manetto writes from Herndon, Virginia.