Evangelization -- One Family at a Time
Authors of 'Catholics Next Door' Speak of Stumbling, Getting up on Daily Path to Holiness
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By Kathleen Naab
NEW YORK, MAY 29, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI’s presence in Milan this weekend for the 7thWorld Meeting of Families sends a strong message of how important the evangelization of families is for this pontificate.
Jennifer and Greg Willits are actively involved in that evangelization, through a variety of apostolates, and most recently through a book they’ve released on living as a Catholic family in today’s world. “The Catholics Next Door: Adventures in Imperfect Living” is a book directed not only to parents and grandparents, but to anyone trying to live the Catholic faith, and struggling through the pitfalls of human weakness.
ZENIT spoke with the Willits as a lead-up to this weekend’s World Meeting of Families, to get their advice on themes including understanding holiness and sanctifying the Lord’s Day.
ZENIT: What do you think is the key to evangelizing Catholic families? With the issue of contraception, for example, (which you discuss in your book), even the bishops recognize that Catholic teaching isn't “getting through”? What’s the solution?
Jennifer: Evangelizing Catholic families is critical in our culture today. This need was a large catalyst into bringing this book to fruition. Not only was it our goal to tackle a majority of the realities pertinent to Catholic family living – i.e. a refresher on the sacraments, reviewing the idea of vocations and, of course, wrestling with the bigger teachings like understanding the truth of the Eucharist and the teachings on contraception – but we felt it important to speak in a voice that would encourage the reader from alongside him rather than from the top down. Greg and I know full well that we are not better than any couple; we just understand the journey and the pitfalls very well. I believe one of the ways we can do our part in successfully evangelizing is to first look hard at what we say we believe and compare it against how we live. In order to evangelize with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we first need to be very clear regarding what that salvation story even is. Once you know it and can appreciate the magnitude of its saving truth, sharing it with others naturally becomes easier. Evangelizing needs to occur from multiple angles: from the homilies we hear at Mass to the way we respond to our own trials – and to the way that we love and minister to our family in the Body of Christ.
Our personal wrestling with the teachings of contraception was a must to include in this book. We often wonder why we don’t hear more about this difficult teaching from the pulpit more often. In the book, we include a tragic story of what can unfortunately happen when you are seeking answers from a priest whom you trust. That incident led to our first dreadful discovery – inconsistency with the way the teachings on contraception were being taught from the pulpit, in the confessional or in private discussions with priests. A big part of the solution would be to have greater unity among the priests and bishops about this teaching; otherwise, it will continue to confuse and divide the laity of the Church.
ZENIT: You speak directly or indirectly about holiness. How would you define holiness for a Catholic family in 2012?
Jennifer: Through sharing funny and insightful stories of how we've often stumbled around in our faith with all our kids in tow, we let our readers know that Catholic family holiness is not achieved in only one day, but rather becomes a daily pursuit worth striving for. Holiness is not giving up on making morally correct and virtuous choices to the best of our ability for ourselves and for our families on a daily basis. It’s showing our children that the primary relationship to pursue is the one between us and Jesus Christ. It's embracing sacrificial love and modeling that for our kids’ sake. And it's striving for consistency with the way we live out the teachings of our Catholic identity by fighting off demons like moral relativism and sexual immorality.
ZENIT: You are the founders of various apostolates, and now authors of a book. What need are you trying to fill for Catholic families?
Greg: We’re not just trying to fill a need for Catholic families, though that’s important. Our primary goal throughout all of our apostolates and endeavors is to encourage and assist people in developing a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. The intent of our New Evangelizers apostolate (www.NewEvangelizers.com), for example, is to provide free tools and resources to assist people in the New Evangelization. Our goal is to help all people to know their faith more completely, live their faith more fully and share their faith more effectively. Through the multiple missions under New Evangelizers, our hope is to help people foster personal relationships with Christ and, by extension, to foster greater relationships with families. Going back to the original question, if our relationship with Christ is strong, it enables us to more fully love those around us, especially our families.
Our book could easily have been completely family-centric, and in fact at one point we considered calling it “Adventures in Imperfect Parenting” instead of “Adventures in Imperfect Living.” But instead, even though in the book and our radio program and our apostolates we often use our family as an example of struggling through life’s obstacles, we realized that many family-related issues are also issues that affect singles, religious and married. We all have a greater need to better understand major tenets of our faith such as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We all find ourselves at times in need of reconciliation through the sacrament of Confession. We all need to live lives of chastity. In our book and in our various endeavors, it is our hope to offer encouragement to people who occasionally struggle with, or question these areas of our Catholic faith.
ZENIT: The Holy Father will go to Milan next weekend for the World Meeting of Families, dedicated this year to the theme of work and celebration. Linked to the second part of the theme, the Pope has spoken often of the importance of Sunday for families. What advice do you have for making Sunday the kind of day God intends it to be?
Greg: Making Sunday the kind of day God intends it to be is often a difficult area for our family. With five young kids, we have a tendency to always be on the go. As a growing family, what constitutes rest? When we’re racing through the house with a 3-year-old in our arms, frantically trying to get her to the bathroom before she has an accident, are we resting? We may want to collapse afterward, but that’s not really rest!
We have to be very careful not to let Sundays become last minute grocery-shopping days, frantic moments of last-minute homework and mowing lawns. I don't think we’re the only ones who need to be reminded of the need to truly slow down. Our world in general has a difficult time with the idea of rest.
Focusing the day around Mass is absolutely critical. In the Eucharist, we have an opportunity to abide in Jesus as he abides in us. Helping our kids prepare for Mass in advance by reviewing the readings is of enormous help, and then making the day a day of mini-celebrations with occasional stops by the doughnut shop help to emphasize the importance of the day to them.
Though it’s borderline impossible not to do some sort of work with so many kids around, we’ve learned (and continue to learn) of the benefit of making that a day to spend with family, resting in God and enjoying each other’s company. Like many other areas of our lives, we often trip and stumble in our efforts to slow down; but as with all areas of our faith lives, we must continue to push forward and ask the Holy Spirit for the help to improve.
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On the Net:
"Catholics Next Door": http://www.franciscanmedia.org/thecatholicsnextdoor/