Monday, July 27, 2015

Navigating the Interior Life Series (Emmaus Road Publishing)

I've been in the book review game, since September of 2012. During that time I have reviewed hundreds of books. Some have been good; some have been duds; and others still stick with me today. At the end of 2012, Daniel Burke published a book entitled Navigating the Interior Life. In February 2015, he published two more books, which I have the pleasure to share with you today. They are entitled 30 Days with Teresa of Avila and Finding God Through Meditation. Both of these books are part of the Navigating the Interior Life Series, and I'm excited to see the future books that will come from this series. But before I get ahead of myself, let me tell you about these two books!

30 Days with Teresa of Avila is a 140 page book that takes us through thirty of St. Teresa's 400+ letters. The topics covered in her letters include subjects like humility, mental prayer, spiritual warfare, and detachment (repeatedly), to name a few. I put repeatedly in parentheses, because three of the letters chosen deal specifically with this subject. On the subject of detachment, St. Teresa tells us the following, "the so-called goods of this miserable life are impediments," and "I wish to have no choice in it and shall be contented wherever I may be sent." In this brief lines, we can see a detachment to possessions and a detachment to personal choice, which is ultimately surrender to God.

The two brief quotes above are just a small sampling of what is in this book. In addition to letters from St. Teresa, we also receive reflections from Daniel Burke and Anthony Lilles, the co-founders of Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation. With 30 letters, it is clear this book is designed to be read over the course of a month, and with short chapters, you can read each one over a cup of coffee in the morning or before you close your eyes at night. Most of us know who St. Teresa is but very few of us have taken the time to read anything by her, let alone her letters. This book not only provided a daily boost, but also encouraged me to find the time to read her other works "Way of Perfection" and "Interior Castle." I know that wasn't the goal of this book, but I am excited to learn more from this great Saint and Doctor of the Church!

When I first received the book, Finding God Through Meditation, I wondered who this St. Peter of Alcantara was listed on the cover. He was apparently the author of this book and spiritual director of St. Teresa of Avila. That is a bit intimidating to think about, but I trust Daniel Burke and I know he wouldn't put hit name on something he didn't believe in, so that encouraged me to read on. There are eight chapters in this short book, but there is enough material to chew on for years, The chapters are as follows:

1. Perspective on Meditation and Devotion
2. The Way of Meditation
3. Counsels of Meditation
4. Deepening Devotion
5. Common Temptations in Meditation and Their Remedies
6. Other Certain Admonitions Necessary for Spiritual Persons
7. Subject Matter of Prayer and Daily Meditations
8. Seven Other Meditations on the Passion of Our Lord

The daily meditations found in the last two chapters prove to be some of the most useful in the book as they provide the reader with two different sets of meditations for each day of the week that guide the reader into a deeper prayer life. However, the chapter which really spoke to me at this moment in my life was Chapter Five. I assume that like me you have trouble praying and growing in your relationship with God. In this chapter, St. Peter of Alcantara outlines nine common problems we all face and some remedies for them. The eighth temptation - "An Inordinate Draw to Study" really hit home for me. In this section, he tells us, "In the day of judgment, we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done; not how eloquently we have spoken, but how well we have lived." These few lines reminded me to put down the books more often and not focus solely on the acquisition of knowledge. We can all benefit from reading the words of the saints, especially this saint's. If you want to read what St. Teresa read, then I highly recommend this book. Five stars!

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

Friday, July 24, 2015

Letters to the Romans and Galatians and Letters to the Corinthians (Liguori Publications)

Today, I am reviewing another two volumes from the Liguori Catholic Bible Study series. There are 21 volumes in this series (if I counted correctly), and all of the books are written by Fr. William A. Anderson. Fr. Anderson, like many Bible study leaders, places a great emphasis on Lectio Divina. The two volumes, which I am reviewing today are Letters to the Romans and Galatians and Letters to the Corinthians.

If you are going to do a study of Pauline Epistles, I'd recommend starting with Letters to the Romans and Galatians. The reasoning for this is because Romans is arguably one of St. Paul's most important works and Galatians is one of his earliest works. Both these epistles also share a common theme of "assimilating the Old and New Covenants." What this means is that the Church was no longer completely made up of former Jews, but instead was now a mixture of Jews and Gentiles. Because of their different backgrounds, there were conflicts and arguments that had to be resolved. Thus, Paul and his epistles helped to mediate these clashes, so that the communities would not be divided.

The book begins with an introduction on Paul and the two Biblical books. Fr. Anderson clarifies authorship on the Pauline Epistles, and he also tells us which ones it is accepted that Paul wrote and which ones that Paul's disciples probably wrote. After this. there are seven lessons total in this book, with five devoted to Romans and the remaining two devoted to Galatians. They are as follows:

1. The Righteousness of God
2. Justification Through Faith
3. Justification and Christian Life
4. Jews and Gentiles in God's Plan
5. The Duties of Christians
6. Loyalty to the Gospel
7. Freedom for God's Children

Each chapter includes study questions, guided Lectio Divina, and of course commentary on the passages you are reading. The lessons on justification are vitally important for understanding our Christianity and our Catholicism, but Lesson 5: The Duties of Christians is important for everyone to read. Fr. Martin tells us that we must be living sacrifices, practice love for all, and live and die for Christ. There are certainly other duties of Christians, but the ones in Romans are essential. If you are looking for a beginning guide to St. Paul's Epistles, in small group or alone, then I recommend starting here.

After reading through Letters to the Romans and Galatians, I recommend moving on to Letters to the Corinthians. In the introduction to this volume, Fr. Anderson provides a bit more information on the man who was Paul. He also clues us in on the Corinthian audience to whom Paul was writing, when and where Paul wrote the letters, and brief outlines of both letters to the Corinthians. This Bible Study volume also has seven lessons, which seems to be Fr. Anderson's preferred length for a study. It's long enough to educate you, but short enough that you won't feel like you have to dedicate the rest of your year to it. It also means you can knock out four a year with plenty of time for rest in between studies or a weekly postponement here or there when life happens. There are four lessons for 1 Corinthians and the remaining three are for 2 Corinthians, and the titles are as follows:

1. Condemnation of Disorders
2. Temples of the Holy Spirit
3. Offerings to Idols
4. Spiritual Gifts
5. Ministers of the New Covenant
6. An Acceptable Time
7. Boasting in the Lord

Chapters 12 through 14 of 1 Corinthians are some of the most well known verses in the two books to the Corinthians. St. Paul firstly talks about spiritual gifts, what the different kinds are, and how not everyone has the same gift. After talking about all these amazing gifts, St. Paul then goes on to explain how worthless they are if one is lacking in love. Fr. Anderson's commentary on these three chapters was spot on, as he made sure to emphasize at the end that we must not become overconfident with our gifts, lest we fall to ruin. The lesson I found most interesting was Lesson 7: Boasting in the Lord. This phrase sounds odd, because Christians are called to be humble, but St. Paul talks about boasting in the Lord. Paul boasted about the sufferings he encountered, the visions he had, etc. However, St. Paul kept things in perspective and acknowledged that God was responsible for everything and not Paul at all. I enjoyed this Bible study, primarily because it enlightened me on two of St. Paul's epistles that often get overlooked, except for the wedding reading of "Love is patient. Love is kind." If you would like to understand these epistles better, then I highly recommend this book by Fr. William A. Anderson.

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

John Milton (Naxos Audiobooks)

John Milton was a civil servant for England under Oliver Cromwell. He was a big proponent of free speech and freedom of the press. However, he is most known for his poetry, particularly Paradise Lost. His religion can best be described as that of a Puritan, with the subjects of sin and death reflected in his poetry. Other works of note of his include Paradise Regained, which is the sequel to Paradise Lost, and my personal favorite Samson Agonistes. His religion can best be described as that of a Puritan, with the subjects of sin and death reflected in his poetry. Naxos Audiobooks was kind enough to provide me with review copies of the above three audiobooks.

Paradise Lost is a work which is divided into twelve sections. There are two stories or arcs within this poem that overlap in content and order. In the fashion of epic tradition, the poem starts in the middle of the story. The first arc deals with Lucifer/Satan and the fall of him and the disobedient angels. The other arc follows Adam and Eve, their temptation, and their banishment from the Garden of Eden. Other characters include God the Father, God the Son, and the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. The most interesting scenes in this poem to me are the battle scenes between Satan's angels and God's angels. It takes place over three days with both sides looking like they have a shot at winning. On the third day, Jesus intervenes and defeats Satan's angels on his own. I found this section interesting because it was told from several different perspectives. Satan is the ultimate villain in this poem and this world, but at least in the poem, we see reluctance and hesitation on his part before destroying things. What I especially liked about this edition is that the Arguments are at the beginning of each section. These Arguments serve as an introduction for each section and help lessen confusion for most readers, myself included.

Paradise Regained is the follow-up work to Paradise Lost. It is much shorter in length, comprising only four books as opposed to twelve. Unlike Paradise Lost, which deals primarily with Satan's interaction with Adam and Eve, Paradise Regained chronicles the Temptation of Christ in the desert, which is found in the Gospel of Luke. The writing style is also much plainer than the first work, in that it lacks long similes and the gilding of the lily. Most people agree that this "brief" poem primarily deals with reversals. Everything that was lost in the first book is now regained. We see two key traits in Milton's Satan - hunger for power and foolishness. This is true in real life as well. Satan tempted Jesus because he wanted to be God and in his mind the only way to do that was to make Jesus submit to him. He is foolish to think this would work though. I found this book to be good, but not as good as Paradise Lost. The reader, Anton Lesser, did a wonderful job with both narrations though. His soothing British voice was the perfect fit, and instead of just reading both poems, he gave the characters voices and life!

Samson Agonistes is a short poem/drama that is usually tacked on in books after Paradise Lost. Its basis is the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah, primarily the latter part of the story where Samson is already blind and destroys all the Philistines. There is consensus among scholars that Milton related to Samson, due to Milton's blindness, and that was why he chose to compose this drama. The style of this drama is based on a Greek tragedy, complete with chorus. The Naxos edition of this book is a BBC recording, which contains an entire cast. Samson is played by Iain Glen. You might know him as the man Mary almost married in Downton Abbey before Matthew told her to call it off. Some would argue that this is a drama that should only read by one and not performed, but the cast did a wonderful job in portraying this epic. This isn't a big surprise though, as the BBC always does quality work. The drama has a dark feel, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless. If you are looking for a good introduction or first read of John Milton, this is the one I'd recommend before trying to take on the epic which is Paradise Lost.

These audiobooks were provided to me for free by Naxos Audiobooks in exchange for an honest review.