Wednesday, July 30, 2014

St. George and the Dragon

Every month I get a few emails from authors asking me to review their newly published book. Most of the books are self-published, and it's a pretty even mix of fiction and non-fiction. I have a busy review schedule, so unfortunately I have to turn 99% of them away. Every now and then, a slot appears in my schedule that I can take the time to squeeze one in. Today, I am reviewing Michael Lotti's first novel Saint George and the Dragon.

The icon of St. George slaying the dragon is one of the most recognizable images in iconography. However, apart from legends, very little is known about this saint. Mr. Lotti recognizes this and weaves a story based on the facts and guesses people know about St. George. Therefore, this is a story about St. George, and not the story about St. George. The setting is 300 A.D. in the Roman Empire, and the main character is a soldier named Marcellus, who will eventually become St. George. The audience for this book would be tween to teenage years, though younger adults might find it enjoyable as well.

Throughout the early part of the book, Mr. Lotti paints us a wonderful picture of Marcellus. He is the son of Titus, a former officer in the army of the Roman Empire. Marcellus is also a brilliant soldier, because he has been trained to be a soldier from his youth. He loves and values the Empire above all else, and wants the best for it. He is also engaged to a woman named Regina with a wedding to take place very shortly. In order to get married, he has to take time off from the army and return to his father's estate. It is on this leave that his world is turned upside down. He learns his father is a Christian sympathizer. Titus isn't a Christian, but he allows his slaves to be, and his most loyal slave, Pasikrates, is a big Christian. This was bold for this day and age, because Christians were heavily persecuted by the Emperor Diocletian. Another startling discovery he learns is about a religion that worships a dragon. To make matters worse, Regina is a devout follower, and wants Marcellus to be as well. I won't give away further plot details. You'll have to buy the book and read it to find out.

There are several recurring themes in this book. One major theme is good vs. evil, or God vs. the dragon. The Christians, the local bishop, and the thought of God always seem to put Marcellus at ease. However, the dragon and dragon-worshippers make Marcellus sick to his stomach and feel completely powerless, but not in a good way. The first encounter/conversation Marcellus had with the dragon made me uncomfortable for Marcellus and my stomach tighten up a bit. That's good writing! The other major theme in this book is slavery. Slavery is a common practice in 300 A.D., but Marcellus has a hard time understanding/agreeing with the concept that just because a man is a slave on earth, doesn't make him any less of a person. It is for this reason that he also has a hard time understanding that being a slave for God is one of the best things you can be.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this book in all honesty. You never know how an author's first novel is going to turn out. To say the very least, I was pleasantly surprised! It is a great story and a wonderful fleshing out of a legend we know so little about. Additionally, it presents a solid teaching of both Bible and tradition. I also love the fact that it has appeal to both Catholics and Orthodox alike. I hope that this is not the last novel he writes, and I would gladly read another of his books if it's the same quality as this one.

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

Monday, July 28, 2014

Thirsting for Prayer (Scepter Publishers)

If you look at the religious section of any bookstore, you will find hundreds of books on prayer. Some are very short, and some rival Moby Dick in terms of length. With all these books on prayer, why would we need anymore? Fr. Jacques Philippe asks this very question at the beginning of his latest book Thirsting for Prayer. His answer was that he "recently felt impelled to write this present book, in the hope that it could help certain people to persevere along the path of personal prayer or to start out on it." I'm not sure about you, but I certainly am the intended audience for this book. The book is divided into five parts:
  • What is at Stake in Prayer?
  • Conditions for Prayer to be Fruitful
  • The Presence of God
  • Practical Advice for Personal Prayer
  • Prayer of Intercession
Though all of the parts were interesting in their own regard, the one that I enjoyed the most was "Practical Advice for Personal Prayer." It starts out by explaining that "we cannot unite ourselves to God in times of prayer if we are not seeking to be united to him in all our other activities." Fr. Philippe next instructs to pray at a particular time of the day to establish a rhythm. Other helpful advice is given including properly starting and ending of prayer, the body of prayer, meditating on Scripture, the Rosary, and the Jesus Prayer. This was a very useful section, but I just wish more information had been given on both the Jesus Prayer and the Rosary as these can both be useful "tools" in our prayer life, when prayed correctly.

Overall, this was a very good book on prayer. If you have never read Fr. Philippe's books before, this is a good one to start with. Why? It is brief, but powerful.. There are not a lot of chapters, and to make reading even easier, the chapters are sub-divided into smaller manageable bites of information. I wouldn't say that this is the only book that you ever need to read on prayer, but I would definitely say it deserves to be on your shelf of books on prayer and would definitely recommend it. Be sure to check out other books by Fr. Philippe (also available from Scepter Publishers), like Interior Freedom or The Way of Trust and Love.

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

Friday, July 25, 2014

Sacred Liturgy (Ignatius Press)

Sacra Liturgia 2013 was an international conference to study, promote and renew appreciation for the liturgical formation and celebration took place in Rome at the Pontifical University, Santa Croce. The proceedings of that conference are recorded in the book Sacred Liturgy: The Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church. The speakers included monks, abbots, priests, bishops, and cardinals. There were approximately twenty topics discussed including the Defence of Human Life, the New Evangelization, and Sacred Liturgy as the Foundation of Religious Life, to name a few.

The book begins by saying, "The Sacred Liturgy is not a hobby for specialists. It is central to all our endeavors as disciples of Jesus Christ. This profound reality cannot be overemphasized. We must recognize the primacy of grace in our Christian life and work, and we must respect the reality that in this life the optimal encounter with Christ is in the Sacred Liturgy." This is a very true statement, but looking at the book, the amount of topics, and the depth with which they dive, it is easy for the laity to be intimidated. I won't dive into all the topics, but briefly touch on a few that spoke to me.

Chapter 3 on ars celebrandi or the art of celebrating was an interesting read. In addition to talking about celebrating the Mass, Bishop Elliott also gave suggestions for both forms of the Roman Rites and some problems in the Mass. He also discusses what we can learn from the Eastern Churches, including some ways their Divine Liturgy is better than the Mass, i.e., the flow of continuity that makes their Liturgy feel like one action and not a series of separate and unlike actions. Chapter 4 talked about the early Christian altar and it's impact on today. I'm not really sure why, but I just found this chapter fascinating. Msgr. Heid talks about the idea and reform of Norma Patrum or the standard of the Church Fathers. I love the Church Fathers, but Msgr. Heid explains how it is problematic to rely on them solely as altars were different from region to region.

This book is no easy read. Though the opening words says that the Sacred Liturgy is for everyone, this book is more aimed at the scholar than the average layperson. There were times I wondered if I could hold my breath long enough to get to their level of depth. What I really appreciated was that they included the homilies that were given over this weekend. I believe they were equally as important to this conference as were the actual lectures given. Though some of this material went over my head, I walked away from this book feeling more educated on the topic of the Liturgy. If you have an interest in the Liturgy, then this is a book you'll want to read.

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