My family and I, we’re the Catholics next door. The whole neighbourhood knows it. We’re the ones who teach in the catholic school system. We’re the ones who get dressed up to go to Mass on Sunday (called church by most of the neighbours). We’re the ones involved in church activities on days other than Sunday. And finally, I’m the one with the worry-beads (Rosary) when I’m out walking the family dog (who just happens to be Anglican because that is where the blessing of the animals is held in our small town).
We like to think we’re pretty normal, but we know that by today’s worldly standards some people see us as a little off-kilter. I always felt a little self-conscious walking the dog in a shirt and tie on Sunday mornings before we leave for Mass or felt people in restaurants were looking at us funny as we made the Sign of the Cross to say grace before meals. That was until I read The Catholics Next Door by Greg and Jennifer Willits.
The Catholics Next Door is the title of both the Willits’ book and their daily radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio (weekdays at 1pm on channel 129).What this husband and wife team does in their book and radio program is share their struggles to live their faith as best they can in today’s society. What is most compelling for the reader (and listener) is that most catholic couples can relate, in some way, to their trials and tribulations.
When Jennifer tells of balling herself up into the foetal position and repeatedly reciting the Hail Mary as a reaction to the normal rambunctiousness of her young boys, I see myself heading to the park, Rosary in one hand, dog leash in the other, to escape a noisy house after a long day at school. We need to rely on our faith to settle our minds and souls when things seem to be spiralling out of control.
When Greg tackles the dreaded topic of abstinence (at least dreaded from a male perspective), he doesn’t shy away from its difficulties, but he does highlight the amazing way it can enhance the love between a married couple. Greg points out how after abstaining for a certain period, rediscovering physical, conjugal love, is like re-discovering the passion for each other that you shared on your wedding night. Greg also explains how abstinence in marriage helps grow our love for our spouse as a whole person, running counter to the images constantly portrayed in popular media.
Finally, both Jennifer and Greg discuss how important it is for a husband and wife to put their marriage first, even before some of their children’s needs. Yes, children are an important part of the family, but they are not the only part. Without husband and wife, there can be no mother and father, and without a mother and father the sacredness of family begins to disintegrate.
Throughout The Catholics Next Door Greg and Jennifer are forthright in recognizing that they don’t have all the answers. That they are far from perfect. That they struggle and stumble, just like everybody else. This is comforting for those of us that are also trying to live out our faith knowing that we are not perfect.
With the courage of strength in numbers, we can continue to live our lives as the Catholics next door, bearing gentle witness of our faith to the world.