Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Handbook of Roman Catholic Moral Terms (Georgetown University Press)

The Handbook of Roman Catholic Moral Terms is 260 page volume containing over 800 moral terms and definitions. It is not comprehensive by any means, but it is current as it contains topics like Theology of the Body, Natural Family Planning, and Humanae Vitae. As another reviewer pointed out, there are some peculiarities in the book. For example, there is no clear definition on grace but just a referral to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran. There is also an entry for the Lambeth Conferences, a Anglican and Episcopalian conference. Yes, there were some controversial decisions made at these conferences, i.e., female ordination, but why reference it? These is a book for ROMAN CATHOLICS, not Protestants! The author/editor, James T. Bretzke, seems to view Natural Family Planning (NFP) as "Catholic birth control" and though he does include some pro side of NFP, he also includes several references to people who tried NFP.

I was a bit disappointed with this book. There are some good entries in here, but there are some confusing/troublesome entries as well. There also entries that you wish would have had their own section devoted to them, rather than just referencing another entry and the topic you wanted being a mere footnote. Perhaps, it is become I am not scholarly enough and I misunderstood some entries. However, Bretzke does seem to be a bit liberal in his theology. Overall, I'd give this book 3 stars. If you are studying moral theology, then this book might be of interest to you and you might get more out of it than I did. For the casual/average reader though, you're better off not bothering.

This book was provided to me for free by Georgetown Press University in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Remember Jesus Christ (The Word Among Us Press)

It's almost time for my favorite season of the Church Year...Advent! It's a time to start fresh, a time to make goals/resolutions for the coming year, a time to grow closer to God. For the past couple of years, I have made a book recommendation for the Advent season. Normally, I'll recommend something that provides you with short daily readings for the season to keep your mind and heart focused on the true purpose of preparing for the coming of our Lord. This Advent I decided to try a more difficult book, called Remember Jesus Christ.

I find myself collecting and reading a type of Catholic book I wasn't aware was available until recently. They are books which contain talks/retreats given to the papal household. My logic is that if these priests and their message is good enough for the Pope to hear, then they are good enough for me to read. I own several now, and my most recent one is Remember Jesus Christ by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa. Fr. Cantalamessa was appointed to the papal household in 1980 by Pope John Paul II, and the book Remember Jesus Christ contains meditations that were given in Advent 2005 and Lent 2006 in front of Pope Benedict. It's like getting two books in one!

The book has eight chapter, four for Advent and four for Lent, with the entirety of the book focusing on the question, "What place does Christ have in modern society?" The Advent section's message revolves around the "proclamation of Christ." While the section on Lent has a message of "imitation of Christ, especially Christ in His Passion." Each chapter is broken down into four to six subsections. I recommend using each of these subsections as a daily reflection through Advent and Lent. There aren't enough subsections to get you through every day of either season, but they are interesting and deep enough that you'll want extra days to re-visit deeper parts.

My favorite chapter was Chapter 4: "To You This Day is Born a Savior: How to Proclaim the Salvation of Christ Today." In this chapter, Fr. Cantalamessa discusses what type of savior humanity needs. Though we all need salvation, we all come from different walks of life and therefore need salvation presented to us differently so that we can more easily understand it and accept it. However, the Faith does not just respond to expectations of salvation but creates and expands these expectations as well. He also explains why we still need a savior today and how that Savior is Jesus Christ Himself. Lastly, he discusses how Christ saves us from both space and time. We are saved from space by being freed from living in the vast universe being envious and instead are content with who we are. We are freed from time by Christ defeating death.

This was a very enlightening book that I plan on reading through again at a slower pace during Advent. I will then pick it up again during Lent and visit that section anew as I will have had time to let things marinate in my head. If you are looking for a challenging, but fruitful read for Advent, then I recommend Remember Jesus Christ. I look forward to checking out Fr. Cantalamessa's other two books Contemplating the Trinity and The Fire of Christ's Love.

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!

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Chronicles of Xan Trilogy (OakTara)

Recent literature for children in the middle school range is a bit lackluster to say the least. We see vampires, werewolves, and dystopian futures, but no real substance. Recently, Antony Barone Kolenc sent me three books he had written entitled The Chronicles of Xan trilogy. I'm embarrassed to say it has taken me so long to read through them, but that is because I wanted to make sure to do the review justice, since I rarely review fictional works. Hopefully, I have.

Book I, Shadow in the Dark, begins with the sound of thundering hoofbeats. Our young protagonist sees a group of bandits riding and is in a hurry to go tell his father of the danger approaching. Unfortunately, he is too late. The village has been destroyed. Everyone he knows; everyone he loves has been killed. The bandits attempt to kill him as well, but somehow he manages to survive only without his memories. Inside an abbey, he awakes as a blank slate. He does not remember his family or where he is from. He doesn't even know his name. Brother Andrew, who eventually becomes the boy's spiritual guide and I'd say one of his closest friends, suggests the name Alexander (Xan for short). While trying to discover both his identity and his place in the world, Xan and some of the other orphan children at the abbey notice that there is an ominous figure roaming the grounds, and that wherever this figure appears, people die. In an effort of equal parts adventure and self-preservation, the youth attempt to solve the mystery of who this deadly shadow is.

This story is not only an adventure story, but also a mystery and a coming of age story. Kolenc combines these elements while painting an accurate picture of life in the 12th century. We see this in minor things like descriptions of everyday life and appropriate language, and he even helps the younger reader by explaining what unknown terms might be. I won't tell you the resolution to the story, but there's are very good Catholic messages running throughout this book, which include Christian love/charity and above all forgiveness of those who have wronged you. I'm always wary of younger kids books when mystery is involved, because they are sometimes a bit too simplistic. That was not the case, as there were some red herrings to keep you guessing. This was a very enjoyable book and is appropriate for ages 10 and up.

Book II, The Haunted Cathedral, picks up several  months after the conclusion of Shadow in the Dark. In this book we see a bit more displeasure and resentment in Xan. The memories of his former life and family haunt him. His relationship with his girlfriend is complicated and tumultuous. He also realizes what it means to be a serf and have no control over his own life. In fact, if his uncle so desired, he could send Xan off away from his friends and mentor, Brother Andrew, to live in a different city and become an apprentice.

Xan goes on a cart-ride from the abbey to the city of Lincoln. Accompanying him on the ride is Brother Andrew, two guards, and Carlo (the bandit leader from the first book who killed his parents). On this ride, Brother Andrew teaches Xan (and the others) about turning the other cheek and loving all people. We also see a different side of Carlo, a more humble and contrite side. When the cart over turns, he even goes so far as to save Brother Andrew's life in lieu of escaping. Within the city of Lincoln there is a cathedral that the children of the city believe to be haunted (hence the title of the book). Xan decides to solve the mystery and show them that it is not haunted. Kolenc does a masterful job of reinforcing the ideas of Christian love and forgiveness from the first book, while also mixing in adventure and mystery to keep your young reader interested.

Book III, The Fire of Eden, has two important events happening - Brother Andrew's ordination and Xan deciding his path in life. Xan can either decide to apprentice like his uncle wanted him to or he can join the abbey and become a brother. I won't tell you which one he picks, you'll have to make it to the end of this book to find that out. In this book, we get to meet a few more new characters, including Brother Andrew's mother. Another character we meet is a Magician. While awaiting Brother Andrew's ordination, a precious jewel, the Fire of Eden, is stolen and everyone expects the Magician. Once again it seems up to Xan to solve the mystery.

The themes of helping others, Christian love, and forgiveness are present again. But I found myself having a hard time getting into this final novel. I appreciated the surprise of who stole the pricey jewel and why it was stolen, but it felt a bit too much like the first two books in the series. It was nice that all the characters we met were given a resolution, but it left enough wonder to see if there will be a fourth book or if this series will end as a trilogy. Overall, I was very impressed with these three books. Antony Kolenc did a nice job of mixing mystery, adventure, and Catholic values into a story that middle-grade children, primarily boys, will find interesting and want to pick up.

These books were provided to my by the author in exchange for an honest review.