Summary of today’s show: Greg and Jennifer Willits are the hosts of the satellite radio show The Catholics Next Door and authors of a new book by the same name, in which they delve deep into what it’s like to be that “wacky Catholic family” with lots of kids and who hold to that old-time religion. In their conversation with Scot Landry, they have a lot of laughs and talk about their new web site, NewEvangelizers.com, the Gabriel Award for their Catholic sitcom, and the potential pitfalls of writing a book with your spouse.
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Today’s host(s): Scot Landry
Today’s guest(s): Greg and Jennifer Willits
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Today’s topics: The Catholics Next Door
1st segment: Scot welcomed Greg and Jennifer Willits to the show. Scot noted that Greg and Jennifer have been early proponents of Catholic new media and host their own satellite radio program on The Catholic Channel. Jennifer said they wrote their book to linger on aspects of Catholic living that radio doesn’t allow them to. When they were asked to write it, they didn’t have a solid idea of where they were going and the publisher gave them free rein. They decided to talk about their faith and dive deep into the big topics and not hold back. They were very transparent with their journeys living with the teachings of the Church. They tackled writing a book together.
Scot said Fr. Roderick Vonhogen wrote in the foreword that these are above all “real people” who desire to share their lives in the midst of a culture where TV shows “reality” that is all but scripted.
Scot asked Greg what it’s like to write a book with someone else and how they went through the process. Greg said it was the hardest part of figuring out how they were going to do it without stepping on each other’s toes or repeating what the other said. Greg said he’s sometimes over analytical. He said they’ve been cohosting their radio show for four years and their podcast before that for four or five. In that process, he’s always taken the lead of setting the outline and doing the preparation, but she said with the book that she wanted equal input.
Finally, they did have the outline down and knew the topics that are most important to Catholics in general that they wanted to cover, topics that Catholics who grew up in the 70s and 80s didn’t have a firm grasp on. They knew they didn’t get the best catechesis and so they want to make someone else’s journey a little easier. It could help someone feel less alone and grow closer to Jesus.
After the outline, they had to figure out the voice. They started with a combined voice of “we”, but it became difficult, especially when talking about natural family planning and ovulation and the like. So they turned to a book that had a dramatic impact on them, “Rome Sweet Home”, by Dr. Scott and Kimberly Hahn. Greg first read the book at a critical time when he was questioning whether he would remain Catholic. The book said you are exactly where you’re supposed to be, it’s good to have questions, it’s good to seek answers, and it’s okay to have doubts. So Greg and Jennifer modeled the way the Hahns wrote their book, in which they took turns talking about their journey. Greg said he believes the Holy Spirit took their book in a direction that will benefit a lot of people. Now other people are comparing the book favorably to “Rome Sweet Home.”
Scot said in many ways we’re all the Catholics next door to other people who come to us with questions in the faith. The book says to be a Catholic next door is to live sincerely. We’re not perfect or experts or the best Catholics we can be, but we want to be. We recognize that others are at different places on the way and we accompany them on the way. The book wants to let people know that they are not alone in their journey in Christ. Scot said Catholics who live their faith don’t look down on others, but know they are imperfect.
Jennifer said we have to realize we are Catholic 24-7, not just putting on the church-face during Mass. It’s at the bank or the grocery store or in the park. When you encounter anyone else, you have an opportunity to let your Catholic light shine. Maybe sometimes you will say the right thing, but we certainly want to strive for it everyday. She wants to encourage people not to be ashamed of being Catholic, but to be loving and charitable.
Scot said the first chapter is titled “Our neighbors think we’re nuts.” In the book, they quote Ghandi who said he likes Christ, but not Christians, because Christians are so unlike Christ. The chapter ends, “we’re called to do what we can… We don’t have to be superheroes or super-saints, but we may have to be willing to be a little nutty.” Greg said that comes from a previous production in the That Catholic Radio Show video series they did on being able to be a Christian within our own home. While they were filming it, Greg had Jennifer doing a lot of weird things like dressing up in costumes so Greg wanted to dress her in a superhero costume in their backyard. The idea was that in the simple things in life, you can still be a superhero to those around her. So he started pelting her with clean pairs of kids’ underwear while she hung from the monkey bars. Their neighbor comes out in his yard, sees them, and shakes his head at them and drives away. Greg said he’s certain the neighbor thinks they’re off their rocker, but Greg still takes the opportunity to say things like “I’ll pray for you.”
Scot said going to the supermarket with five kids is a silent way of living out and witnessing to faith. Jennifer said she’s proud of going out with her whole family as she knows what she must look like. People will even approach her and think she’s some kind of superhero. The trick is she delegates chores to the kids. Greg said she ends up in the backyard drinking a glass of wine.
Jennifer said she often wears her Catholic T-shirts and people will sometimes approach and ask about it. Then there is an opportunity to witness to a perfect stranger. At the very least, we always witness to our children. They are always watching the good and bad.
Scot asked Greg about the idea of raising our kids well and the chapter Greg wrote on fatherhood. Scot said what resonated with him the most was the four simple rules of being a dad. Greg said they are rules he tries to adhere to himself and will look back at the chapter as something the Holy Spirit wanted him to write for himself.
- I need to do what I can do to get myself to heaven. I need to develop a personal relationship with God; that I remain in a state of grace.
- I need to do whatever I can to get my wife to heaven.
- Do what I can to get my kids to heaven.
- I need to help anyone else get to heaven. Of course, the Holy Spirit is throne doing the converting while we’re just a tool for the Spirit.
Scot talked about how he too is also the one who always does the driving. In the book, Greg has an analogy of the husband driving the family minivan to heaven and not leave anyone behind. Also, Greg said one of the best lessons for a Catholic dad is to love our kids mom even more than we love the kids and we need the kids to see that.
Greg said with so many kids in the house, they’ve always struggled with making sure they have time together, especially in the summer when the kids are staying up later as they get older. for years they were able to sit down after 8pm bedtime. Now they are spending less time together. So now he reminds the kids how many of their friends who have parents who are separated and divorced and whether they want the parents to stay married, and then tells them to go to bed. there’s always something that needs to be done and we keep ourselves so busy that it’s easy to get lost in the world. Love is not just an emotion, but it’s an action. They have to keep reminding that we need to love in a tangible way, spending time with each other, reminding themselves of why they fell in love in the first place. It’s like exercise. If you stop, you get fat and lazy.
Scot said parents see their kids as gifts from God, but the “we” time for the couple gets the less attention because it’s not as urgent and not as “squeaky a wheel” as the kids. Jennifer said their 15th anniversary was one of the most exhausting things they had done. It was a significant anniversary so they decided to include the kids in the celebration. They got a “city pass” which allows people to experience all the major attractions of Atlanta. They had three 10-hour days in the midst of the summer and they were so drained from what they had done, Greg and Jennifer felt so defeated on the last day, she wondered if they had really celebrated their marriage. So she decided to arrange a last-minute getaway for them to renew and recharge and refresh and recall the sacramental reality of their marriage. Sometimes we can forget the entire marriage and everything in it is a sacrament.
Greg said at the same time, their intention to spend time with the kids was good, but they got out of balance. While the intention is good, they need to check and balance. They realized their marriage also needed some time and attention. Jennifer said parents of lots of kids know the challenge of getting away is easier said than done. Overnight childcare on short notice is pretty difficult. She was hoping God would send someone to help them on two hours notice. By the time they got home from Atlanta, they actually had everything they needed. They were already willing to be thankful for what they had on their anniversary no matter what and God gave them the extra treat.
Scot said another chapter folks appreciate is how the Willitses came to terms with the Church’s teaching on contraception and how they came to live natural family planning in their own lives. They say in the book that the Church’s teaching can help strengthen a marriage. Jennifer said honestly she forgot she was so transparent in the book. She had prayed to the Holy Spirit to guide her in what she wrote and so she wrote what she thought needed to be said. She was so honest in writing about their journey to understanding, she realized she’d struggled to find the answers from the Church and had kept coming up short. she genuinely wanted to follow the teaching, but kept getting stuck in finding what the teaching is. She’s sure there are people who wonder the answers to the questions they have encountered as well. So she wrote about how she came to understand what the truth really is. The reason there is no black-and-white list of what you can do and what you can’t is because once you understand what love is and understand the theology of the body, then you have a moral guide that answers those questions for you and you can know you’re not using your spouse in the guise of loving them. Pope John Paul II in his Theology of the Body and Christopher West in his books that break that open, all the understanding came into place. She said even now they continue to struggle with the variables of who we are from day to day.
Scot said if he were in charge of marriage preparation, he would make this book required reading for the couples. Scot said he was struck by a homily in church by Deacon Jack Jansen to get Greg to think about this topic in the first place. Greg said as a cradle Catholic, he knew the Church taught contraception was wrong, but his understanding ended there with a question mark. It’s wrong, but is it ever okay? There was no explanation of why. If we have a rule without an explanation, it can feel ambiguous. Even after they got married and had their first child, they sat down with a priest to understand their obligation in their openness to life. Unfortunately, the priest gave them bad advice and basically said it boiled down to conscience. But it’s about the Church’s teaching on God’s love and plan for sacramental marriage. When we use contraceptives, we not only create barriers between and our spouses, we are not wanting that person completely. You want everything except having the opportunity for God to bless you and your spouse with children.
So now when they heard this deacon who has nine kids give a homily and he said it’s difficult at times, but it’s a blessing, they realized it’s okay to say sometimes it’s difficult being a parent. The deacon preached about chastity in and out of marriage. Greg had thought that in marriage all bets are off and that you can do anything. But in reality you are only free when you remove the barriers between you and your spouse. The barriers prevent access to grace. It doesn’t mean you have to have 20 children. It’s about what God plans for you and how you’re including God on a daily basis. After Mass, the deacon gave Greg a tape of a talk by Dr. Janet Smith called “Contraception: Why not?” It talks about how couples who don’t use contraception have a talk on a monthly basis about where they stand in their relationship. Deacon Jack died in 2006. Two weeks after that homily Jennifer was pregnant with their third son. Chastity has given them freedom in their marriage.
Scot said a good place for any couple to start talking about contraception and NFP is this chapter in this book. Greg and Jennifer said they’ve got some great reviews and feedback on the book. Jennifer said they didn’t think people would be seeing the book as a marriage preparation book or a primer on the first 15 years of marriage. There is something for everyone in the book, whether single and struggling with Catholic identity or married with or without kids.
Scot congratulated Greg and Jennifer and their friends Mac and Katherine Baron on winning a Gabriel Award for their sitcom pilot “Mass Confusion”. Greg said people are now wondering if they’re going to a second episode. Scot said now that the format has been proven, hopefully someone will step forward to fund it.
Scot asked about the New Evangelizers website that Greg and Jennifer have created. Greg said its the fruition of almost 10 years of work in ministry. They have created an apostolate called Rosary Army, to make pray and give away knotted twin rosaries; That Catholic Show; The Catholics Next Door; and more. And as more and more focus is placed on New Evangelization, we are all called to be new evangelizers and so they put all their ministries under on banner with a motto of “Know your faith, live your faith, share your faith”. They give away a kit for new evangelizers. Scot said it gives people a lot of tools to deepen their faith. Jennifer said people just go to New Evangelizers and click on the Rosary Army link. From there people can order their free rosary, picking out their own colors.
Catholics Next Door airs Monday through Friday 1-4pm on SiriusXM channel 129.