Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life (Our Sunday Visitor)

Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life is the third commentary in the Opening the Scriptures series. George Martin's other two in this series include one on Mark and another on Luke. Alas, I do not believe there is a volume on John's Gospel. The book is laid out in a format where it gives a Scripture passage first to read. Then, it breaks up the passage into individual verses with a commentary for each verse. In addition to commentary, there are hundreds of questions for personal or group reflection, which are designed to make you think and grow in your understanding of Scripture. The sections that provide background information on the world Jesus lived in or the audience to which Matthew wrote his Gospel are invaluable if you are looking to dive deeper into the Gospel.

It would be impossible for me to touch on every passage in this book, so I am going to focus on the first chapter of Matthew, which details the genealogy of Jesus. A lot of commentators will make mention of a couple of big names in this genealogy, i.e., Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but gloss over the genealogy as a whole. Mr. Martin, however, walks us through person by person, pointing out significant figures and also anomalies in the genealogy. The main anomalies are the women, Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth. The first two women were not women of great moral fiber, yet they are part of Jesus' genealogy, and it shows us that God can bring about salvation through imperfect people.

The depth Mr. Martin dives in these books is astounding. I led a Bible Study on Luke last year, and, used his volume on Luke as my primary source. It was an immense help, and made me feel wiser and able to answer questions with certainty. The beauty of there being three volumes in this series is that each one corresponds with a specific Year in the Church (A = Matthew, B = Mark, C = Luke). Since next year is Year B, I would recommend purchasing the volume on Mark first. However, whichever one you choose to purchase first, you will not be disappointed and will want to own all three eventually. Five Stars!

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

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Struggle for Virtue (Holy Trinity Publications)

Asceticism can be a scary word to laity. We tend to largely ignore it, and convince ourselves that it is something suitable for priests, sisters, and monks, but certainly not us! That thought process could not be further from the truth. Asceticism is, in fact, the "constant practice of good works." These works consist of love of God, love of neighbor, and any other works that show we are trying to love God and neighbor. All of this information is spelled out in the introduction of the book, The Struggle for Virtue.

The book then goes on to discuss subjects such as pride and humility, Christian love, conscience, and spiritual warfare. I am not bold enough to pick a section that spoke to me more than the others, because it felt like they were all shouting at me, not in a bad way, but in a you can do better in your spiritual life. You can be better. For example, Chapter Seven deals with the distractions of life. This is something that has always been present, and not a new phenomenon that just affects our current generation. Thus, we must work to shield our heart from seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling or feeling anything that will lead us to sin. Easier said than done. I know!

Chapter Eight: Resisting Evil and Chapter Nine: Waging Unseen Warfare are both vitally important to your everyday life. Four steps are given by the Holy Fathers, which I will briefly summarize:
  1. Based on your life experience, know your weakness and know that you cannot do any good without God's help.
  2. Ask God to reveal to you your weaknesses.
  3. Fear for yourself and beware of Satan, knowing that you can only wrestle with him with God's help.
  4. When you fall into sin, recognize your weakness and know that God allowed this fall so that you will recognize your weaknesses and rely on Him.
Overall, this was a very fascinating read. It was written in a clear and easily understood manner, but the content required you to read and re-read it, so that you could absorb the message. There was one confusing part in the book, which dealt with the trichotomy of man. I always understood man to be a dichotomy of body and soul, but this book touched on body, soul, and spirit. Perhaps one of these parts is meant to be mind, so that it would be mind, body, and soul. If that is the case, it makes a bit more sense to me. If you are a lay person in the Orthodox Church looking for practical advice on asceticism, this book is for you. Catholics and Protestant denominations could find value in this book as well.

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Hope of the Family and The Gospel of the Family

The Hope of the Family is a brief (70 pages not counting Introduction and Preface) dialogue between Gerhard Cardinal Müller and Carlos Granados Garcia, the editor-in-chief of Biblioteca de Autores (BAC). The purpose of this book is to "address the question that the Holy Father posed by convoking an Extraordinary Synod on the Family scheduled for October 2014, the question of the 'pastoral challenges of the family.'" The format of this book is question and answer, but instead of looking at problems, it looks at the family or domestic church as a source of hope and a solution, not a problem.

The book starts off by addressing contemporary challenges the world poses to the family. For example young people have a hard time believing in the permanence of love and therefore delay or forego marriage completely. There is also the modern idea that the family is something that should be private and therefore is not relevant among the general public. Cardinal Müller, however, sees marriage as the "original cell of the social organism." Other topics addressed include the sexual revolution, what marriage is, and divorced and re-married persons. Cardinal Müller is astute in pointing out that while civilly remarried Catholics are a problem, they are a minor percentage of the problem, and a bigger percentage problem is Catholics who live together before marriage or just choose to marry civilly as opposed to sacramentally. In this book, Cardinal Müller shows mercy and compassion, but he never veers from Church doctrine and authority. For that I am eternally grateful, and I can only hope that more bishops and Cardinals stick to the Church's teachings. 5 stars.

With the media frenzy surrounding the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family, it is easy for non-Catholics and possibly even Catholics to be confused on issues such as divorce and re-marriage and homosexuality. Cardinal Kasper's book did not help matters any, but thankfully, Ignatius Press has released a new book entitled The Gospel of the Family. This book is both an explanation and rebuttal to Cardinal Kasper's liberal and controversial book, with a similar name.

The book begins by discussing the cultural challenge of understanding the role of the family, both in the Catholic Church and in the world, of which the latter has become over-exposed to sex. One must start at this point to avoid confusion and misunderstandings. Chapters Two focuses on what makes up a real, sacramental marriage, and Chapter Three explains how the Early Church defined marriage, given the context of their culture and lack of tradition to fall back on for definition. The last two chapters then conclude by explaining the modern moral perspective and approaches for pastoral care regarding homosexuality and divorce and remarriage. There is also an appendix, which I found to be extremely helpful as it contained thirty questions for the synod. However, you could also use them to better understand, answer, and defend the Church's teachings. Such questions include, "How is marriage indissoluble?" and, "Why is it not possible to give absolution to those divorced and re-married?"

I admit I had a bit of curiosity regarding Cardinal Kasper's book. Part of me wanted to read it just to see what all the hubbub was about. However, this book squashed that curiosity. There were ample quotes and references to Kasper's writings, and they really did a nice job showing how he twisted Patristics and Church teaching to push his agenda. This book, however, shows that it is possible to be merciful without violating Truth and Church teachings. If you are looking to be more informed on two of the hot-button debates in the Church today, then you not only want this book but need this book. The material was presented in a way that was easy to understand, and I walked away from this book feeling more informed and more intelligent.

These books were provided to me for free by Carmel Communications in exchange for an honest review. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here hit Yes.