Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chosen: Your Journey Toward Confirmation Blog Tour

As a convert who married a cradle Catholic, my Confirmation experience was much different than my wife's experience. She was confirmed with a group of her classmates, people she knew, in 8th Grade. I was confirmed on an Easter Vigil in my 20s, with a group of people I didn't know. What's more is our children have the potential to have a different experience than both of us. Our archdiocese has bumped the age of Confirmation back to 11th Grade to encourage children to have a more active part in their salvation. There is also the hope that we won't have a high disappearance rate from adolescence to adulthood. Unfortunately, the change happened before guidelines and teaching materials were developed. FORTUNATELY, Ascension Press has developed just such a program for Confirmation called Chosen!

As someone who reluctantly taught 7th Grade Religious Education before (and lived to tell about it), I know first hand how tough it can be to reach teens. It takes knowledge of the Faith, love of the Faith, and a dynamic personality to keep them engaged and interested. Therefore, I knew that in order for Chosen to succeed, it would need an amazing line up of young, dynamic Catholic speakers. Well, how do the names Jason Evert, Chris Stefanick, and Leah Darrow (just to name a few) strike you? Can you say JACKPOT?! Ascension Press did a marvellous job selecting a veritable Who's Who of awesome Catholic speakers for this project!

I also love that this series is filmed both in the U.S. and internationally. It reminds me a bit of Fr. Barron's Catholicism series in this regard. Your teens will be transported to places like Rome and New Orleans (Sorry Brian Butler, but New Orleans didn't invent Mardi Gras, Mobile, AL did!) all while learning the tenets of the Catholic Faith. But what will they be learning you ask? With 2000 years of history, there is an unending wealth of knowledge they could learn. Chosen, however, focuses on topics that matter both to teens and in the grand scheme of life. They'll learn about God, Jesus, Mary, Salvation History, the Sacraments, and even Chastity!

Each lesson (24 in all) is only 15-25 minutes long. At first, I was like, "This isn't enough time to teach all the beauty that Catholicism has to offer." After having some time to think about it, I now see that when I was their age 15-25 minutes can feel like an eternity. So it makes total sense to keep the videos, brief, powerful, engaging, and lively! I tried to put myself in a teenager's shoes and figure out which video would have spoke the most to the teenage version of me, but then I realized that was foolish. Teenagers, like all people, have different interests and different tastes. So I just decided to pick what spoke the most to me now and that was the last two videos, "How do I build the kingdom?" and "Where do I go from here?" The answers to these questions were pertinent for both teenagers and adults. We all need to become great; become more like Jesus, and do our job to bring people to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith!

Apart from the great videos, there are also great workbooks and guides. I've used Ascension Press' study programs before, and they always deliver high quality resources. They went the extra step this time though. Normally, you get a Leader's Guide and a Student Workbook. However, with Chosen, there is also a Parent's Guide AND a Sponsor's Guide. With this all-encompassing approach, everyone in the process is involved and educated, not just the child being confirmed. This program is not a one-size fits all magic pill that will fix all your Confirmation woes, but let's be honest...no program is. This is definitely a valuable tool that can be utilized by all, and your parish would do well to invest in it. I know I will be recommending this to our Director of Religious Education (DRE) and all DREs I know in my Archdiocese.

If you'd like to see a trailer for Chosen, check out the video below:

In case you missed any of the previous blog tour days, here you go. There's interviews, giveaways, and great perspectives from some of the world's best Catholic bloggers.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Behold the Mystery (Word Among Us Press)

Each season that passes I get dozens upon dozens of books to review. Some are requested by me. Others are sent in the hope that I will review them. I generally like to request the books I review, because I know and trust the author's. Occasionally though, I am pointed toward an author I have never heard of and wish I had heard of them sooner. Mark Hart is one of those authors. Those of you who already know him, know what I am talking about. Those who don't...well, let's just say,  he's not called the Bible Geek for nothing. Today, I am pleased to be reviewing his latest book, Behold the Mystery.

Behold the Mystery is a ten chapter, 200 page book on the Mass. Using the Bible as the backbone for this work, Hart explains the significance of topics such as tradition, priesthood, and community, to name a few. At the end of each chapter are four questions for both reflection and discussion. These can be used privately or in a group study, but each question really makes you stop and think. At the end of the book are two useful appendices. One appendix contains Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), which are good for answering common questions of objections people have related to the Mass. The other appendix, "Ten Ways to Get More out of Mass," is solid gold advice, which  I hope to take to heart and apply each time I go to Mass.

Chapter Five on priesthood was hands-down my favorite as it provided both Biblical background for the priesthood and an eye-opening reality of the current priestly vocation. He writes, "The priesthood of Jesus Christ is an exercise in self-mastery and is rooted in deep mystery. It is enigmatic and often misunderstood. It has both a practical and a mystical dimension – earthly in its demands and ethereal in its directives." In this chapter, he describes the priest as a servant, as the sacrifice, and as a sinner. We too often put our priests on pedestals, but we have to remember that they our human too. This ties into his last major point of helping our priests. He says that we not only need to pray for them daily, whether we like them or not, but also assist them with other parish duties. For example if you have a finance background, offer assistance in that way. "The best way for our priests (and religious) to keep their primary vocations primary is for them to be healthy spiritually, mentally, and physically."

Behold the Mystery is a book that reflects its title so eloquently. Though it contains a step-by-step walkthrough of the Mass, this book is so much more than that. Mark Hart has poured his love of Christ and the Mass He instituted on these pages. While he hopes that the reader will grow to understand the Mass more fully, he also hopes that he will grow to love the Mass more fully as well.This is a great read for young and old, alike. I would recommend it for RCIA candidates, especially, but there is so much truth in here that will benefit cradle Catholics as well.

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

Friday, April 11, 2014

Why John is Different (Scepter Publishers)

Over the past several years, I have belonged to a Bible Study group that studied the Gospel of John and immediately followed that with the Book of Revelation. We primarily used the Agape Bible Study, which was hit or miss for me. I was looking for a Catholic book on John and/or Revelation that I could read and reference. Fortunately, I finally found the book I was looking for in Why John is Different. Unfortunately, the Bible Study is almost over. Nevertheless, I am still pleased to own this book.

When I requested to review a copy of Why John is Different, I thought I would be getting a book that explains how and why the Gospel of John is different from the three Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. However, what I actually got was that and so much more. The author, Fr. Juan Chapa, not only covers John's Gospel in this book; he also addresses John's three Epistles and the Book of Revelation. For those unfamiliar with Fr. Chapa, he is the current director of the Navarre Bible project. The Navarre Bible project is a great Bible series that includes the RSV text, commentaries, and explanations of the text. If you are a serious Catholic Bible student, you'll want that series. That's another review, though.

Why John is Different begins by putting the works of John in their historical context. Fr. Chapa examines the Johannine community; Christianity in the First Century; and the background for John's writings, like conflict with Judaism and the emergence of Gnostic thought. He then dives into the meat of the book, which is broken into three parts - The Fourth Gospel, The Letters, and Revelation. As to be expected, the Gospel receives the most attention in this book with 7 of the 10 chapters devoted to it. The first three chapters discuss authorship and apostolic testimony; similarities and differences between John and the Synoptics; and the overall content and structure of the Gospel.

We then jump into the meaty parts of the book with chapters 4-6. These chapters cover the signs Jesus performed, Jesus' famous discourses, and Jesus' Passion. I particularly enjoyed reading about the Bread of Life discourse. This passage in John 6:26-59 is a hotly debated passage. Oddly enough proponents of Sola Scriptura try and pass this off as Jesus speaking metaphorically. For those of us blessed enough to belong to a rich Tradition of the Catholic Church, it is clear that Jesus is speaking of the Eucharist. Fr. Juan Chapa says, "Jesus shows that he now is food not only as the Word of the Father (the teaching of God) but insofar as his flesh and blood are food for mankind. After recapitulating the previous ideas of the discourse (see 6:48-50); he affirms that he is the Bread and gives himself as Bread to be eaten."

This book is the perfect text for those looking to dive deeper into the writings of St. John. Represented symbolically as the eagle, St. John's writings "soar to the heights of the divinity, just as the eagle soars upward to the sun." With this book, you will understand not only how John's Gospel (and other writings) differ from the Synoptics, but why they have the insight and theology they do. It should be noted, however, that this is not a verse-by-verse explanation of these writings. You will therefore want to pair this book with a trusted Bible commentary, like the Navarre Bible to get the full effect. So if the writings of John have ever puzzled or intimidated you, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of this book and be intimidated no more!

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