Book Review: The Catholics Next Door: Adventures in Imperfect Living

There’s a certain genre of Catholic writing that’s never particularly appealed to me. I’m not sure what to call it, but it encompasses parenting books and marriage advice, Catholic living and holiness “how-to”s.

The defining characteristic of these books tends to be a hoity-toity know-it-all attitude that exalts one way of parenting or spirituality as “the way” above all others, without regard to the rich diversity of the Church’s history and practice.

The Catholics Next Door is not that type of book.

In fact Greg and Jennifer Willits go out of their way to assure readers that they don’t have all the answers, that they are just like the rest of us poor schlubs trying to honor God while making a living, raising a family, and attending to the rest of life’s demands. But, as they point out, there is holiness in that imperfection. Call it a “spirituality of the screwups”:

In a way it helps to know we’re not the only screwups in this world. I suspect that many of the seemingly perfect parents sitting in the pew ahead of us at church, the ones with the angelic children, are screwups as well. I don’t know why that helps me, but it does.

It’s good to remind ourselves, especially when we’re ready to throttle a kid who just spray-painted a brand new set of golf clubs, that you were a screwup before your kid was. And you still are. But you’re getting better, with the help of God.

The Willits cover a wide range of topics in the book, from living with our neighbors to natural family planning, using technology for evangelization to the Eucharist. The connecting thread is a relentless focus on Christian living in the messiness and uncertainties of modern life. Jennifer and Greg take turns offering their own perspectives in short 2-3 page sections. This “he said, she said” style could have felt forced or trite, but the sections transition smoothly into each other and never feel jarring or forced. This is a testament both to their writing and to each author’s unique and engaging voice.

I especially appreciated their encouragement and advice on family prayer. They recount their own travails in praying with their five children (leading to the chapter’s title: “Family-Rosary Wrestling”) and, as with the rest of the book, assure parents that being a “work in progress” is nothing to be ashamed of: “There will be victories and head-smacking embarrassments. But as long as we maintain our focus on Christ, stay close to him in the  sacraments, and remain loyal to the teachings of our faith to the best of our abilities, we will be equipped to handle any  challenge  Gods wants to put before us.”

The Catholics Next Door  is a funny, inspiring, and down-to-earth book on Christian living. I recommend it to imperfect Christians everywhere.

Keeping Advent

Every year it seems that the cultural observance of Christmas starts a little bit earlier. Stores are constantly seeking to lengthen the time they have to sell holiday items; this year I even saw some stores with Christmas decorations in stock before Halloween!

While this is understandable from a commercial point of view, it clashes with the Church’s observance and understanding of Advent — that time of both preparation for Christmas and anticipation for the Second Coming of Christ.

How can we keep Advent in a culture that has forgotten this important liturgical season?

  • Put up an Advent wreath in your home. Light it during meal time with your family.
  • Start each day in prayer and reflection. Many parishes provide a booklet of reflections for use during Advent; you can also purchase such booklets from a local Catholic bookstore or online Catholic supply store.
  • Utilize a site such as the University of Creighton’s “Praying Advent” page for daily prayers and audio reflections.
  • Don’t decorate your house or trim your tree until the week before Christmas and leave the decorations up throughout Christmas Time.
  • Attend the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, either at a parish reconciliation service or at your parish’s normal time.
  • Find or download an album of Advent music (yes, they do exist!) to play during the season.

For the record: This year Advent begins on November 27. The Octave of the Nativity of the Lord begins on December 25 and ends on January 1 (the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God). Christmas Time begins the evening of December 25  24 and runs until January 8 (the Epiphany of the Lord) 9 (the Baptism of the Lord).

Have a very blessed Advent season. Come, Lord Jesus!

Why I Still Use My Sunday Envelope

A few years ago my parish started offering an electronic funds transfer option for Sunday giving: you sign up for the service and a set amount is automatically withdrawn from your checking account every week. No more envelopes!

It’s a good system, and I’ve used it to make some one-time gifts, but I’ve resisted going all-electronic with my Sunday offering. I wasn’t sure why until, for some reason, I was thinking about it last night.

While I think the electronic option would be good for older couples or single persons, as a father with small children it is important to me that my kids see how our family supports the Church financially. If they never see the money we give — if it comes straight out of our accounts to the Church — it is a lot harder for them to see the connection.

By handing them the envelope and encouraging them to “put it in the basket,” hopefully they will learn the habit of giving intentionally to the Church.

Does your parish offer electronic giving? How do you teach your children about supporting the Church?

Cross-posted at CatholicTechTalk.com.