Monday, May 25, 2015

The Catholic Almanac and Would you Baptize an Extraterrestrial? (Image Books)

Image Books is a publisher I'm pretty loyal too. When I first started my blog, they were one of the companies that took a chance on me and provided me with free review copies of books. I don't always agree with everything that they publish, but I could say that about each and every publisher. Today, I am going to be featuring two of their Fall 2014 books, and yes I am embarrassed it took me this long to review them. The two books are The Catholic Almanac and Would you Baptize an Extraterrestrial?.

The Catholic Almanac is more than a book. It is a daily journey through American Catholic history. Each of the 365 days highlights a specific Catholic person and something that ties them to that specific date (birth, death, ordination, etc.). For example on January 15, 1844, the Indiana Legislature granted Fr. Edward Sorin a college charter, and that was the birth of Notre Dame. The beauty of this book is that there are both famous and ordinary people highlighted in this book; people who were great Catholics and people who had some general connection to Catholics. Some of the names in this book are John F. Kennedy, Al Capone, and Jack Kerouac to name a few.

The book is what I call an appetizer book. It whets your appetite, gets you interested in a specific person/subject, and hopefully leads you to read more about the specific person/subject. The best use of this book I see is in a Catholic classroom or a homeschool setting. It is also just an interesting read if you are a history buff. Just so we're clear, this book is not a devotional, but it is a book you can read after your daily devotional (if you are the daily devotional type). Another minor pet peeve of mine is that there is no February 29th. I know it only comes up every four years, but it would have been nice to have unless nothing interesting was found for that day. Four stars!

Would you Baptize an Extraterrestrial? is a unique book in conversation style between two Jesuits, Brother Guy Consolmagno and Father Paul Mueller, who work on the research staff at the Vatican Observatory. The fact that the Vatican has an observatory is pretty awesome in and of itself. There are six conversations in all:

1. Biblical Genesis or Scientific Big Bang?
2. What Happened to Poor Pluto?
3. What Really Happened to Galileo?
4. What Was the Star of Bethlehem?
5. What's Going to Happen When the World Ends?
6. Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?

Questions Four was most interesting to me, as I have read many explanations on the Star of Bethlehem before. Brother Guy and Father Paul address most of the planetary alignment theories and the possibility of the star being a nova or supernova. They never tell you what the answer is, because honestly they don't know the answer. Instead, they show you that science is able to provide a lot of possible explanations to something that so many people doubt. (I personally believe that it was the Holy Spirit and not a physical star, but to each their own.) This book isn't going to give you simple black and white answers to these complicated questions. Instead, it is going to invite you to stop trying to separate and compartmentalize science and faith from one another and look at these questions in light of both. This is just one of the ways the Catholic Church is more beautiful than Protestantism. We aren't a "one or the other" church, but a "both and" church.

Overall, I would give this book four stars. It is intelligent, but accessible. It is clever, but conversational. At times when they went off topic to talk about pizza or whatever, I found myself wishing they would stick to the matter at hand, and that is why I took a star away from it. These men, however, know what they are talking about, so I can see this broadly appealing to a wide audience. It might not answer all your questions, but it will open your mind and make you think more, which is never a bad thing.

These two books were provided to me for free by Image Books in exchange for an honest review. If you found the reviews helpful, click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Pope John XXIII

Pope John XXIII, also known as the Smiling Pope, was a pope elected to be a caretaker. No one expected him to do much, being elected shortly before his 77th birthday, but they were wrong. In 1962, four years after his election, he called the Second Vatican Council, the most recent ecumenical council to date. He was recently canonized on April 27, 2014 alongside another great pope in Pope John Paul II. After Pope John XXIII's canonization, two books came out to celebrate this great man's life and legacy. Today, I would like to tell you about both of them.

The Story of Pope John XXIII is a graphic novel illustrated by Joe Sinnott. For those of you unfamiliar with Joe Sinnott, he is a comic book artist (primarily an inker) who is known for his work with Marvel, primarily the Fantastic Four. To those of us comic book lovers, his work is legendary. In 1962, he began work on The Story of Pope John XXIII. Last year, through a Kickstarter campaign, they were able to bring these comics back to life in a beautiful 10" x 15" hardcover.

The story is divided into nine chapters or issues. The first chapter discusses what John XXIII was like as a pope. Reading through this section, we get a better insight into what kind of leader he was. You can also see a lot of similarities between his papacy and those of John Paul I and Francis. By this, I mean that he cared about the laity and went out of his way to interact with them, talk with them, and bless them. The other chapters of the book covers Pope John XXIII's life both as a child and as he moved up the ranks from priest, to bishop, to cardinal. The final chapter discusses every so briefly how a new pope is elected and shows him being announced as the new pope.

This book is visually stunning to behold. The size of the panels and the attention to detail are impeccable and you can truly see an artist at work in this book. Though I was not alive for the reign of Pope John XXIII, I find myself more in admiration of him after reading this book. This is a book I have shared with others and will treasure for years to come. I hope my son will too when he is older. In addition to the featured comic, there is also some bonus features at the end, primarily a few comic strips on the pope that followed John XXIII, that being Pope Paul VI. If you would like a copy of this book, you won't find it on Amazon. Simply go to Joe Sinnott's page and email his son using the email address at the top of the page for cost and shipping charges. Also, I forgot to mention that the book is autographed! Maybe that won't matter to you, but it's a cool touch for nerds like me.

Just for Today is a hardcover illustrated children's book, which was a daily set of rules of Pope John XXIII. It begins by telling us that Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) declared at his First Communion that he always wanted to be good to people. In this book, he talks about what he will and will not do today. It focuses on self-improvement, not the improvement of others. There is also talk of taking it one day at a time and resting in God knowing that He loves you. It is a simple book with a simple message, but the message is powerful. In fact, it is a book I feel children and adults should read at least once a day. About the only thing I don't like about the book is the illustration style. I can't put my finger on it, but I'm just not a fan. Overall, I give this book 4 out of 5 stars and think the message of this book puts it in the category of must have for a Catholic home.

This book was provided to me for free by William B. Eerdmans in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Early Syriac Theology (CUA Press)

When we think of the Church, we think of the Roman West and Greek East. While this is the majority of the Church, it also overlooks an important branch - the Syriac. In the recent book, Early Syriac Theology, Chorbishop Seely Joseph Beggiani draws on the words and writings of St. Ephrem the Syrian and Jacob of Serugh to explain a number of theological topics through the lens of Syriac Christianity. There are twelve chapters/topics total including Mary, The Church, Incarnation, and Revelation to name a few. To give you an idea of the Syriac viewpoint, I will be providing some small quotes from different chapters.

When looking at the Creation story, St. Ephrem the Syrian and Jacob of Serugh both speak about man being made in the Image of God. When speaking of this theological concept, they discuss the idea of Jesus' human form being created first. Therefore, Adam was created as Jesus was going to appear on this earth. The book goes on to say that "Jacob of Serugh concludes that humanity was created originally as a kind of double image - as an image of the Son, who is the image of the Father, but also as an image of the Son made man." In regards to sin, the Syriac Fathers don't seem to dwell on original sin. Instead, they say sin is a result of error and darkness. "It consists ultimately in a distortion of the image of God that human beings are, and in a loss of the harmony between the heavens and the earth."

The chapter on Redemption is pretty deep and awesome to read. In this chapter, Jesus is compared to the Passover lamb. No, this isn't groundbreaking, but the way it is spelled out makes you pause and think. "He is the lamb who is also the priest." That means Jesus offered himself as a self-sacrifice. No priest is able to accept Him as a sacrifice though, so he must be the one who is sacrificed (the lamb) and the one to accept the sacrifice (the priest). This chapter also develops on the theme of the Cross as both reconciling Heaven and Earth and as a Bridge. St. Ephrem builds upon the idea of Jesus being the son of a carpenter (Joseph), and Jesus using the Cross to build a bridge over Sheol. You might recognize the image from Protestant tracts, but the idea has been around longer than any Protestant denomination.

Reading through this book, one gains a basic understanding of Syriac theology. In it we see an emphasis on allegory and hidden meanings of Scriptural texts. The book also touches on the Maronite Church;s liturgical tradition and demonstrates how both St. Ephrem the Syrian and Jacob of Serugh influenced it. With the little amount of Syriac texts available in the English language, this is truly a one of a kind book. If you would like to learn more about this subject, then I can recommend no better place to start than this book.

This book was provided to me for free by Catholic University of America Press. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!