Friday, August 29, 2014

Prayers to the Holy Spirit (Word Among Us Press)

Prayers to the Holy Spirit is a pocket-sized book that is near 200 pages, but doesn't feel like it. It spans 75 chapters and contains both reflections and prayers to help you grow closer to the most neglected member of the Trinity - the Holy Spirit. In the Introduction, he explains to us who the Holy Spirit is, when we received Him, and what He does in our life. The subsequent chapters then contain a brief Scripture passage; a reflection (meditation, Church teaching, or personal experience); an application on what you read; a "May you" blessing, which asks for graces; and a prayer starter. Each chapter is approximately two pages, and if you read one a day, it can get you through two-and-a-half months.

The book was a very good introduction to the Holy Spirit. I really appreciated the reflections from Church Fathers, Saints, and Popes. The personal reflections also give you some insight into the author, Bert Ghezzi, and his life. The book, however, was not what I was expecting. I don't know why, but I was expecting a big list of prayers to the Holy Spirit that Mr. Ghezzi gathered throughout the centuries. There is a brief section at the end that does contain actual prayers to the Holy Spirit, but unfortunately it is very brief and only contains four prayers. Overall, I'd give this book four stars.

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Into the Unknown and The Story of Buildings (Candlewick Press)

I find myself scouring Amazon at least weekly, sometimes daily for quality hardcover children's books. At times, it feels like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Sure, there are a lot of older books that fit the bill. However, the newer releases are mostly shallow and not worth reading. It feels like we're setting up the next generation to be dumber, or at the very least be less interested in books. I have recently found two books that are both graphically appealing and educational, both are illustrated by Stephen Biesty and both are published by Candlewick Press.

Into the Unknown is an elaborately illustrated children's book, which chronicles fourteen famous journeys in history. The book begins in 340 B.C. with Pytheas the Greek sailing to the Arctic Circle and concludes with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon in 1969. Several other famous journeys detailed in this book are Leif Eriksson's, Marco Polo's, Christopher Columbus', and Edmund Hilary's. In addition to receiving a summary of the journey and illustrations on every page, one feature of this book sets it apart from all others. FOLDOUTS!

Each of the fourteen journeys has a unique foldout section that details something significant related to the journey. Pytheas' foldout shows how to build a curragh (the ship he sailed on) as well as what went into travelling on this type of ship. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's foldout was the most awesome. It shows all the parts of the Apollo module, the journey to and from the moon, and what happened to the Apollo module at every stage of the journey. Even the cover expands and folds out into a world map to show the path of all fourteen journeys. The only negative of the book is the sturdiness of the book. The inside of my copy split at the front seam, and will have to have paper glued over it to repair it. For that reason, I am taking away 1 star. I still think this was an awesome book worth buying. It would make a great supplement to a history class or homeschool curriculum.

The Story of Buildings is a gorgeous hardcover book that measures approximately 12" x 10". Picking it up for the first time, it looked a bit like a coffee table book for kids, which I guess it could be used as such. The book begins with a chapter on building a house. The author, Patrick Dillon, describes how people used to live in caves because it was the most logical shelter choice available, but eventually developed tools and learned how to make homes. According to him, this is the story of buildings. He then goes on to show how dwelling places have changed both over the years and depending on where one lived. After this other types of structures came into being, like barns, factories, places of worship, etc. He stresses that "Every building has a story to tell." We then dive into the heart of the book.

The remaining chapters focus on a particular building, starting with the Pyramid of Djoser and ending with the Straw Bale House in London, England. Each chapter tells background information on the place the building is located, the culture/people, and the building itself. A large foldout 2 page illustration is then provided to show finer details of the building itself. The book has a nice flow to it, because it's like reading a linear evolution of buildings. He starts with Egypt, moves to Greece, then Rome, etc. and manages to paint a beautiful picture with words to accompany the many beautiful illustrations by Stephen Biesty. This is a great book for children and adults alike and reminds me of David Macaulay's books. This is a great book for getting kids interested in architecture and engineering.

These books were provided to me for free by Candlewick Press. If you found these reviews helpful, click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Papal Documentaries from Ignatius Press

On April 27, 2014, Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis canonized two of his predecessors - Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. There was great rejoicing in the Church on this day, and many publishers released various books on the two newest saints. Pauline Books and Media, for example, released a book on each that contained excerpts from their writings. Pope John Paul II's was called Be Not Afraid and Pope John XXIII's was called Secret to Happiness. Ignatius Press, however, raised the stakes and released DVDs on these two great men, called The Revolution of John XXIII: The Second Vatican Council and John Paul II: I Kept Looking for You. Today, I have the pleasure of sharing with you my thoughts on both of them.

Pope John XXIII was never meant to be a game-changer. He was elected to the Papal throne on October 28, 1958. This was shortly before his 77th birthday. Many thought of him as a placeholder or caretaker pope. They had hopes he would have a short reign and would just keep the Catholic Church afloat during a tumultuous time in the world. Much to everyone's surprise, he called for an ecumenical council, known as The Second Vatican Council, that would transform the Catholic Church into what we know it as today. The Revolution of John XXIII is a 55 minute documentary that covers this man and the Council he called. The main aim of Vatican II was to improve the relationship between the Church and the modern world. He wanted to "throw open the windows of the church and let the fresh air of the spirit blow through." During this Council, he grew ill and died, so a new pope, Paul VI, had to be elected, and he is the one who saw the Council through to the end.

The format of this DVD documentary is primarily interviews and commentary. The interviews consist mainly of Cardinals who were present for some or all of the Vatican II councils. The four Cardinals featured most prominently are Julian Herranz, Georges Marie Cottier, Paul Poupard, and the only name I recognized, Frances Arinze. The Cardinals speak in their native tongue, so there is a voice-over that translates what they are saying, which might or might not distract you. It is fascinating to hear first hand insights from people who were actually there at the last Council the Catholic Church held. The commentary focused on key figures during the Council, most notably Joseph Ratzinger (future Pope Benedict XVI), and the documents that were unanimously declared, like Lumen Gentium. What was even more remarkable was all the old footage that was presented on this DVD. The Vatican Library is truly a treasure whose depth knows no end.

For someone who wasn't alive for Vatican II, I found this documentary to be a good introduction. I have always been somewhat intrigued by Vatican II, but have never taken the time to read through the official constitutions. I now feel a bit more inspired to seek out information on it and learn more about a Council whose consequences we are still seeing today. The only thing I wish would have been different about this DVD is that it would have been longer and that they could have had Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI interviewed. However, the latter is an unrealistic pipe dream of an avid Pope Benedict supporter.

John Paul II: I Kept Looking for You is a documentary which examines the late John Paul II's legacy. Surprisingly, the DVD begins with his death. It then takes us back to Vatican II to discuss Karol Wojtyla's role there. It then takes us to the election of John Paul I. The tradition supposedly goes that Pope John Paul I told Cardinal Wojtyla that it should have been him who became pope. One month later Pope John Paul I died and Pope John Paul II was elected pope. The documentary says that John Paul II's legacy can be expressed in one sentence. "Love thy fellow man."

The film then discusses the personality of Pope John Paul II. It talks about his outgoing nature, welcoming attitude to the youth, and the way he went off the cuff with a lot of events. It sounds a lot like many of the things we read daily about Pope Francis, so it was nice that this documentary pointed out that Pope Francis, while awesome, isn't the first pope to show such a love for his flock. We then see a great deal of focus on Our Lady of Guadalupe. The reason for this is because John Paul II beatified Juan Diego in 1990 and canonized him in 2002. He also visited the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on his first journey outside Italy.

I think the most fascinating part of this documentary was the wide array of people that they interviewed for this film. In addition to Cardinals Frances Arinze and Stanislaw Dziwisz (Pope John Paul II's longtime personal secretary and friend), there was a politician, journalist, the Dalai Lama, singer Placido Domingo, and the former Polish President Lech Walesa. This shows the broad reach and effect that John Paul II's papacy had on people from all faiths and walks of life. This was an amazing documentary that was shot in 14 different countries, and I'm amazed that it was only 92 minutes long, or short I should say. I plan to show it to my children when they are older, because even though they were not alive for this great man's reign, I want them to know about him.

I received these DVDs for free from Ignatius Press in exchange for honest reviews. If you found them helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!