In their new book, The Catholics Next Door: Adventures in Imperfect Living, Greg and Jennifer Willits claim that there is no bilocating or levitating going on their suburban home. I have to wonder though, as they seem to be doing superhuman work in the “New Evangelization” of the Catholic faith.
They founded The Rosary Army to promote devotion to the Blessed Mother’s favorite prayer and have given away millions of free rosaries. Then, they started the Star Quest Production Network (SQPN) as a global network for Catholic podcasters. Their video series, That Catholic Show, is used by parishes worldwide, and they currently host a three-hour talk show on SiriusXM radio’s Catholic Channel. Oh, did I mention that the Willits have five children, whom they occasionally homeschool?
Greg and Jennifer generously took the time to talk to me about their new book and their adventures in imperfect living.
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Peggy Bowes: I read every word of your book and loved it. I really related and felt as if you were telling my story. I think we’re sort of the “lost generation” in terms of catechism, but there seems to be a renewal with more and more reverts to the faith. How can we get others in our generation to be excited about being Catholic?
Greg Willits: We need to be praying for others in our generation who were led astray or didn’t get the full catechesis we wish we had in the 70’s and 80’s. Being a witness in both quiet ways and in loud ways is very important. We grew up in a time where we were told that your faith is your personal belief in God and what you believe is fine, but just keep it to yourself. We need to switch that around and stop keeping it to ourselves, to be more willing to let other people see God working through us.
Jennifer Willits: I sense that while this generation may be a little lost in their catechesis, they’re also hungry. I sense a great hunger among my own friends, and I find that if I just reach out and offer any form of catechesis that it’s eagerly received. Men and women are eager to know more about our faith. While they may be lost, I think they’re smart enough to know that they’re hungry and searching. This is a prime opportunity that we have to give them real substance, real meat. When we wrote this book, we didn’t want to be too heavy, but we didn’t want to water down any aspects of our faith either. We understand where you are because we’re there too. That’s not an excuse to not take advantage of any opportunity we’ve got to increase our own catechesis on our own time outside of Mass.
Peggy: I loved your analogy about how kids drive parents crazy to how we must drive God crazy. That perspective was very eye-opening for me. How can we be more child-like in our faith without being childish?
Greg: Just do what you’re told! I think about it like this with our kids—I tell you certain things, but I often have to tell you multiple times before it gets in your head. If you just had not brought that juice into the living room, you would not have spilled it. I told you ten times before, “Don’t bring juice in the living room. Now you’re in trouble!” I think that God does the same thing with us. He gave us ten pretty clear rules to follow, but we keep finding ways of going against them until we get ourselves to the point where we’re separated from God, where we feel miserable, and we’re just so tired and thin. When you’re brought down in so many different ways, that disconnection from God has a negative effect on us physically and emotionally. If we had just listened to what God said to do, we wouldn’t have gotten ourselves in this mess. Adam and Eve were the first examples. God said, “I told you, don’t eat from the tree.” But they said, “Yeah, but we thought, maybe…” They tried to come up with excuses. We’re very much like that. God is much more patient with us than we are with our children, but I think the analogy very much holds true that we tend to act like little spoiled kids even when we’re 40, 50, 60 years old and even older.
Jennifer: I’m glad you brought up the angle of obedience because that certainly is a very important aspect of being a good child, to be an obedient child. I think the other aspect to consider is being eager to please. What I mean by that is I think of the scriptures when Jesus says, “Let the children come to me,” and how much Jesus loves children. That really piqued my curiosity. When you read that, you want to instantly know what is it about children that you love so much? I think they’re so eager to please. I see that in my own children. With all the things that they want, their misbehavior and their inability to be discreet, at their root they just want to please us and they want us to be happy with them. I think that’s something we as adults should strive to do in our relationship with Jesus, to be eager to please Him. If that is our motivation, it’s going to affect the choices we make. Ultimately, I want to please my Lord, so what can I do that will bring about that kind of a joy in our relationship? I think it’s very, very wise to constantly remember that relationship of parent to child. I’m grateful that we have children because we have a constant learning opportunity around us every single day.
Peggy: I don’t know if you’re familiar with Fr. John Riccardo and his show “Christ is the Answer,” but he often talks about how being normal while living out your faith is one of the best ways to evangelize. I think you two really exemplify that. How do you think being both devout and socially “normal” can help more Catholics intensity their faith?
Greg: One approach we can take is that you often hear things like, “Red, it’s the new green,” or “Blue, it’s the new orange.” They’re always trying to make whatever was popular once be the new popular. I think that we need to make Catholicism the new “normal.” I think the way we live out our faith is normal. The rest of the world does things that are often abnormal. We have to try to get people to accept that following God is not something that is impossible. Trying to find His will in our lives is not abnormal, but the natural law, the natural way of doing things. One overused phrase is that we’re supposed to be in this world but not of this world. I think that’s true, but there’s something about that phrase that makes people feel like they need to be something different than this world. That I need to separate myself more from things going on in this world. In some cases you do have to separate yourself from negative situations or negative people, but we’re also supposed to be witnesses to those people. Living out your faith fully is asking God to place you in the right situations.
Years ago, I had this idea that I was a hunter, going out to hunt for situations in which I could be this uber Catholic. That was just the wrong way. I need to be the best Catholic I can by myself, then I need to be the best Catholic I can in my home. When I go out into the world, I still need to continue to live out my Catholic faith and wait for God to provide opportunities for me to witness. I would go out looking for opportunities to witness, but then I thought, “Is that about God or is that about me?” I think that the normal way of doing it is to make Catholicism to be an aspect of everything I do, say and how I react to other people. That’s naturally going to be attractive to other people when you encounter them, in a natural way. If you’re a big football fan, you don’t go out looking for people to convert to NFL football fandom. You look for opportunities. “Oh, you like football? Let’s talk about it,” or, “You don’t like football? Let’s talk about why you don’t like football.” I think that’s a little more natural. We as Catholics need to find and be open for those natural opportunities to share our faith with people when God produces those opportunities.
Jennifer: I believe for the mainstream Catholic, there are two identities that we hold on to. We have our church identity, the way we are when we’re at Mass. Then there’s the way we are at home, in our little comfort zones, in our bubble, where we tend to be our “normal” way. That normal that is outside of Mass is where we can evangelize and let people know in that comfort zone that we are like you too, but you need to be Catholic there too. Not to just have a “church faith” and then a “work faith” and then a “home faith.” But to have one faith, and that’s a Catholic faith, that transcends all the activities that you’re a part of. We try to invite people into our home so that they can see the normal sense of chaos. People don’t like to feel that they’re alone in something. I think through that relatability, that normal context, is a great opportunity to evangelize. People will give you their ears to listen. They want to listen! I think there are great opportunities to take advantage of that time outside of Mass when people go home because that’s their reality, that’s the most consuming part of their lives. We want them to know that their Catholic identity should be the most consuming part of their life. That’s the message we hope to bring across in the book.
Peggy: Contraception has been a huge issue in the media lately, and now we’re seeing more and more information about NFP and chastity. You address this really well in your book by showing how it worked for you while being non-judgmental. How do we get more Catholics on board with this teaching?
Jennifer: First of all, the big key is knowledge. You have to get the facts straight. For the sake of clarification, let’s just focus on oral contraceptives because that’s the predominant method of contraception in this country. That pill is so easily introduced into women’s lives because they feel it’s medically responsible. They’re introduced to it through their trusted physician, and the women have very little push-back because they don’t know they should be questioning it at all. They have no idea that there are medical concerns related to those drugs. It’s so easy for it to slip right in to a normal part of their routine. Women need to know the truth about the harmful dangers of this pill on a medical level. Once you address the medical part, then I think you can go on to the spiritual. Most women aren’t ready to start off with the spiritual flaws with contraception first, then the medical second. Some women just have to be addressed from an intellectual place so that they feel that they are making the decision for their bodies.
Some women really detest the idea of being told what to do with their bodies. I was one of them. I didn’t like the idea of somebody else tell me I had to stop doing a certain thing. I had to journey through that and make my own claim to it. The way I had to do that was through learning what I was really doing to my body and why does the Church say it’s bad? So education was really the answer to pull me out of it. That, and a lot of prayer. I prayed, “God if this is wrong, you’ve got to show me or give me a little more to work on here.” Women are very intelligent. If you present women all the facts, they will choose wisely. I truly believe that!
Greg: From a scientific perspective, especially for people who are using chemical-based contraceptives like the Pill, one approach is to simply say, “Do you recycle?” Most will say yes, because it’s good for the environment. “So do you use the Pill? Why are you using the Pill when it pollutes the environment? Why would you take something that is going to pollute your physical environment but also through your waste matter, pollute the water streams and other resources? Why would you do something like that when at the same time you recycle your bottles? It doesn’t make sense. If you are really environmentally friendly, why are you going to lace yourself and the environment with additional chemicals?”
That’s one approach, but then if you get a couple that uses condoms, it’s another conversation. You’re still putting barriers between you and your spouse. You’re putting barriers between you and God. If you say you give 100% to your spouse but you hold a part of yourself back or you make your spouse hold a part of herself back, you logically cannot say that you give yourself completely to your spouse. To apply logic in that respect, you have to ask if you want to give 100% to your spouse or do you want part of your spouse away from you? Most couples will say that of course I don’t want to do that. That’s what contraception does.
You have to take out the fear factor because most people say, “I can’t afford to have a baby,” or, “I don’t want to have children.” Well, let’s talk about it first from the perspective of how does it damage your relationships, then you can also address what contraception is and isn’t and what it does and doesn’t do for you. Not using contraception and using Natural Family Planning doesn’t mean that you’re going to have a thousand kids! It simply means that you’re going to pay more attention to the way that God made your body work in a natural, beautiful, perfect way and to operate in conjunction with it. That’s all it is. You’re not promising to have more children than you can afford. You’re not promising to stress your body by having a zillion kids. You’re basically saying that you’re going to treat your body the way that God intended you to treat it. You’re going to be healthy, to take care of your body and do the right thing. You’re also going to be treating your marriage more healthfully by not pushing your husband or wife out and suppressing their fertility in any way.
The Catholics Next Door is available as a softcover book, Kindle edition or audio CD. Find more information on the book and Greg and Jennifer Willits’ other apostolates at their website www.TheCatholicsNextDoor.com.
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