Book Review: “Invited” and Interview With Author Stephanie Calis

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CS_BOOK REVIEW1

I have one regret about my wedding day. “Invited: The Ultimate Catholic Wedding Planner” penned by Stephanie Calis had not been published then.

“Invited” is the one book you need as soon as you become engaged. It is the book you will want to gift your children or best friends or sisters when they get engaged. Why? Because Stephanie Calis lays down impeccable advice for Catholic brides, which range from practical tips (how to disagree and compromise with your fiancée, choosing appropriate music and timeless dresses) to spiritual sound bytes (the power of the Sacraments, discerning future family decisions) and theological tidbits (the real meaning of love and sex, consecration to Mary).

Stephanie Calis writes with the voice of a sweet, knowledgeable and wise matron of honor, holding a bride’s hand through the planning. Her husband, Andrew, contributes to the conversation intermittently. In each chapter, there are guide questions for discussion between the engaged couples. It’s not an exaggeration to say “Invited” will help many brides and change many married couple’s lives.

I’ll let the interview reveal Callis’ ground-breaking work for Catholic brides.

How were you first inspired to write “Invited”?

After my wedding, I moved away from our hometown without a job lined up. I felt hungry for a creative project. We had close to a dozen weddings coming up in the next year or so, and I’d noticed while planning my own wedding how few resources are out there specifically for Catholic couples.  I started my blog, Captive the Heart, in February 2012 out of a desire to minister to other brides, and about a year later, I was surprised when Pauline Books & Media contacted me about writing a Catholic wedding book.  Their initial email says, “our editorial team sees a desire among readers for a book that would address, from a Catholic perspective, planning and preparing for the wedding day, while emphasizing marriage as a sacrament, vocation, and lifelong commitment.”

My goal was to combine the spiritual and the practical aspects of planning a wedding, along with ideas for creating a beautiful day, into a single resource, which is something I couldn’t find when it was my turn. It was also important to me that my book talk not just about the wedding day, but about a lifetime together.  [Through] Pope St. John Paul II’s life-giving words on authentic, sacrificial love–particularly in his book Love & Responsibility–I’ve become convinced that self-sacrifice, self-gift, and the pursuit of chastity, in the sense of seeking that which makes one most free to love, is the surest path to a fulfilling love. These messages have been so formative for my husband and I and are so desperately needed in our culture; I wanted to share them with other couples through Invited.

 How did you learn about the Theology of the Body; how has it impacted your life?

Thank you so much! I first encountered the Theology of the Body through a few talks I went to in college, but it wasn’t until my first year out of school, when I was working full time as a speaker, that I had the opportunity to go deeper. The organization I worked for sponsored my colleagues and myself in attending a retreat at the Theology of the Body Institute, based near Philadelphia, for 30 hours’ worth of lecture by Christopher West on John Paul II’s catechesis, along with time for prayer and the sacraments. I drank so deeply that week of those beautiful truths about our creation as men and women and what that means for our vocations and salvation, and honestly, I am still reaping the fruits five years later…

In a more specific sense, my experience with TOB has given my husband and I a prescribed ideal to strive for in our marriage: complete self-gift, love that is free, faithful, total, and fruitful, and an unwavering desire to sanctify each other and return each other to the Father. Of course, we fall short of those ideals every single day, yet our efforts to get back up when we fall and to recommit ourselves to the good of the other have done nothing but draw us closer spiritually and encouraged us to forgive and sacrifice for each other more readily than we might otherwise.

You are a deeply Marian Catholic.  Has devotion to Our Lady in your engagement strengthened your marriage? How?

I’m so happy you noticed this in my writing! Devotion to Our Lady has absolutely strengthened our relationship. I grew up going to Sunday Mass and CCD, but didn’t really have a true understanding of the faith, nor a relationship with Mary, until college. I joined a prayer group called Militia Immaculatae, a Marian devotion group founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe, during my freshman year and she hasn’t let me go since. My husband, on the other hand, was raised in a very Catholic home and never stopped practicing the faith, but had distanced himself from prayer and a conscious pursuit of virtue during college.

I used to pray and write letters to my future husband, and I always hoped the man I married would have a devotion to Our Lady. Unknown to me, Andrew had recommitted himself to getting his spiritual life on track and to praying a daily Rosary a few months before we became friends. Our nighttime Rosary walks around our campus in those first months of our relationship are one of my most cherished memories. So through those instances, and several others, I can so clearly see Our Lady’s hand in our relationship, and am so thankful for her intercession. During our engagement I prayed often to imitate her example, in purity, trust, and devotion to her husband, as a bride. We’ve kept up our Rosary walk tradition since getting married, and two years ago we consecrated ourselves to her using Fr. Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory. The thing the both of us love and appreciate so much about dedicating ourselves to Mary, about being entirely hers, is the way it’s deepened our trust in God–Our Lady reflects his love and points us straight to her son, that the peace that’s brought to our hearts has been so beautiful. 

I enjoyed reading Andrew’s cameo writing, particularly on beauty.  How can brides cultivate true beauty before and after a wedding? What’s yours and Andrew’s perspective on that?

The time surrounding a wedding is such a heightened time of awareness for women when it comes to beauty. Beforehand, women experience the cultural and self-imposed pressure to look perfect for the biggest day of their lives, and it can definitely elevate certain wounds and insecurities about appearance. Afterward, there’s a need to come down from the whole whirl of wedding planning, of being the center of attention and of the many beauty-related appointments leading up to the wedding (hair, makeup, nails, waxing, honeymoon shopping, and exercise). I wasn’t immune to these issues either before or after my wedding.

There are a few ways brides can pursue true-not just surface level–beauty during this time in their lives. Practically speaking, I think there’s a lot to be said from periodically distancing yourself from magazines, Pinterest, and wedding websites, as they sometimes foster comparison and insufficiency more than they encourage and affirm. On the more emotional, spiritual side of things, praying to know your worth, to see yourself as God sees you, is powerful. Personally, I have meditated on the Song of Songs and on Our Lady’s beauty before in times when I hated how I looked, and there is beautiful consolation in contemplating a bride who is completely loved, revered, and adored for who she is. What’s more, a good man truly recognizes beauty in the woman he loves, whether she feels beautiful or not.

Andrew’s personal taste runs toward a simpler approach to women’s beauty, like less makeup and trendy outfits. I enjoy dressing up and feeling pretty, and I’ve come to realize my husband does notice appreciate those things, but they aren’t a condition of his love or appreciation for me.

I understand you have more resources on your website.  Can you tell us more about Spoken Bride?

Absolutely! I had a conversation with a friend of mine, who’s a Catholic wedding photographer, about what it would be like to provide a wedding resource for Catholic brides that rivaled secular wedding sites in beauty and inspiration, while also providing a means for Catholic wedding vendors to showcase their work and connect with engaged couples who could appreciate the unique benefits that a Catholic photographer, wedding planner, or other professional could bring to their working relationship. Our daydreaming turned into Spoken Bride, a website we launched this May for Catholic brides and newlyweds.

Spoken Bride was founded with faithful Catholic brides in mind; women who desire a wedding day that is good, true, and beautiful in its own right, but also because beauty is sacred and images the Maker. So for brides, the site features images from real, beautiful Catholic weddings while sharing the couple’s love story, alongside other wedding-related content. We have upcoming posts on things like marriage prep, bridal beauty, Theology of the Body, and the apologetics of Catholic marriage, along with book reviews and new and pretty wedding items our team has found. For Catholic creatives in the wedding industry, we offer membership in a Vendor Guide highlighting their work and sharing it with our audience. The idea is to offer them a platform for connecting with their ideal clients; that is, Catholic couples who appreciate not just their aesthetic, but also their fire for the sacrament of marriage.

Submissions to Spoken are an open invitation, and we’ve been so amazed by and grateful for the work we’ve received so far. Newlyweds (within the last two years) and photographers are invited to submit their weddings for our real wedding features here.

Catholic vendors can learn more about our vendor membership here, and information on written submissions can be found here. We are so proud of the site and have been praying it will pierce hearts with the beauty of Catholic marriage and be a blessing to the Church. 

You mention that you and Andrew give talks on NFP.   Can you provide us with a link to your talks or to other resources you’ve found helpful?

Something we love about NFP is that no matter what medical issues or cycle irregularities a couple is dealing with, there are a variety of methods that can help specifically address them. For general info and wisdom about living out NFP, rather than the technical aspects of different methods, we’ve found Dr. Gregory Popcak’s Holy Sex to insightfully address the graces and struggles of this lifestyle in an encouraging way.

NFP is also closely linked to chastity, and not just in the sense that it requires periodic abstinence (I’d argue that abstinence and chastity are not interchangeable, since abstinence ends in marriage but chastity doesn’t). If chastity is sexual self-control, for the purpose of becoming free from enslavement to our desires, then NFP can be a valuable tool for helping couples develop a right attitude toward chastity; toward freedom and self-gift, and vice versa.

For wise, articulate, and understanding talk about chastity, I can’t recommend Arleen Spenceley’s website and her book, Chastity Is for Lovers, enough. And on the whole, one of the books that has most influenced our speaking, and our outlook on NFP and chastity, isn’t really an NFP book at all. Christopher West’s Fill These Hearts gives voice to the longings and desires of the human heart, both sexually and in a big-picture sense, and paints such an amazing vision of the way freedom is for love and the way the struggles and cries of our hearts point us to God; to a marriage made in heaven. His words are so inspiring and truly embody a way of sharing the Gospel in a way that invites people in and lights a fire in their hearts for loving as God intends.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Invited” and Interview With Author Stephanie Calis”

  1. ” Spoken Bride was founded with faithful Catholic brides in mind; women who desire a wedding day that is good, true, and beautiful in its own right,…”

    I wonder if she researched women who desired something …pejorative, in order to make such an implicit deduction ?

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