Monday, December 31, 2012

Book Review: Holiness for Everyone

Well, today is the last day of the year. It is a time when people reflect on the past year, and come up with resolutions to do better in the coming year. I would like to say that I perfectly planned this book review to line up with the new year, but I am not that organized. This Monday's book review is brought to you by Our Sunday Visitor, and I am reviewing Holiness for Everyone: The Practical Spirituality of St. Josemaria Escriva by Eric Sammons.

I was very intrigued by this book before I ever opened it. For starters, Scott Hahn wrote the foreword to this book, and I automatically assume anything he puts his name on has to be good. I was also intrigued by the spirituality members of Opus Dei (the order St. Josemaria Escriva founded) practiced. I knew it wasn't the exaggerated tales Dan Brown concocted in his book The Da Vinci Code, but I didn't know what all it entailed.

There are two main parts to this book. The first part is called "Laying the Foundations" and deals primarily with our relationship with God and free will. These three chapters were nice, but I didn't find it overly helpful. It was well-written, but it didn't satisfy what I was looking for and thought I was getting from the title of this book. Don't get me wrong, I understood the purpose of this section, it just didn't hit the spot.

The second part of the book is called "Building a Saintly Life." Let me just say that everything I wanted in the first part of the book, I got in this part. Drawing on the writings of St. Escriva, we get practical advice on prayer, sanctifying our daily work, and honoring the saints, particularly Sts. Mary and Joseph. I loved this part of the book and hope to be able to take these pointers and apply them to my everyday life.

Overall, I would have to give this book a 4 out of 5 stars. It was a very good, particularly the chapters in "Building a Saintly Life," but the first part was disappointing and progressed slowly. I would recommend this book to others though, as it is a book for the average person, and I don't know about the rest of you, but I can use all the help I can get.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Children's Corner: Where is God?

Welcome back to the Children's Corner. Today, I have another fabulous board book to review courtesy of Pauline Books and Media. Today, it is Where is God? written and illustrated by Joni Oeltjenbruns. Don't let the last name of the author scare you off. The book is a delightful and simple read and is intended for children  5 and under.

In this sweet little book, you go on a journey with a young baby in search of God. Joined by the faithful family dog, the baby looks in common and uncommon places people often look for God, including a book and underneath the bed. What makes this book special is that there are flaps for you and your child to lift up under each of these places the baby looks. Ultimately your child will discover that Jesus is within all of us.

This book gets 5 out 5 stars from me. This is a useful book for your child beginning their relationship with God, as they will ultimately ask and wonder "Where is God?" This is another book from Pauline Books and Media that Christian parents of all denominations will enjoy as there is nothing in it that only a Catholic family would enjoy. I look forward to reading it to my little boy many times over.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Review: My Sisters the Saints

Today I am reviewing My Sisters the Saints by Colleen Carroll Campbell. You might recognize the author's name as she is the host of EWTN's show Faith and Culture. She also writes for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and blogs for the New York Times and Washington Post. In a nutshell, this is Mrs. Campbell's autobiography of her spiritual journey so far.

In addition to being an autobiography, we also get a glimpse at key female saints in the Catholic Church. Drawing on these saints, such as Mary, Teresa of Avila, and Dorothy Day, Mrs. Campbell tells how each one's life helped shape various points in her life. This was not only informative about the author, but also about the saints as I had never known much about the lives of some of these saints.

Although this is a book whose target audience is women, I felt that I could relate to some of Mrs. Campbell's life. Perhaps the stage in her life I relate to most is her college years. This is where the book starts off, in fact. Mrs. Campbell described her days in college as a party girl who put religion on the back burner. While I was never a party guy myself, I can relate to losing my religion to some degree in college. I think more people than not can relate to this as that seems to be a time we "adults" go through where we think we know more than we really do.

This was a very well written book, and I would expect nothing less from a journalist and presidential speechwriter. However, my biggest gripe with the book is chapter length. The chapters do have subheadings thankfully. However, with only six chapters in a 200+ page book, it made them a bit hard to get through each chapter in one sitting, so I always had a hard time finding a good stopping point. Overall, I would give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. Some useful links for this book are listed below.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Book Review: How to Defend the Faith

Welcome back to Stuart's Study. It's Christmas Eve here and while I have some last minute preparations to make for the coming day, I wouldn't feel right not keeping to my review schedule. Today I am reviewing How to Defend the Faith Without Raising your Voice by Austen Ivereigh. This book was provided to me by Our Sunday Visitor in exchange for an honest review.

This book is a brief study in Apologetics. Although, there are many subtopics under the umbrella of Apologetics, this book focuses on civil issues including politics, homosexuality, euthanasia, and abortion to name a few. Each of these topics and the many more in this book are all considered hot-button political topics, but the Catholic Church remains steadfast in her views.

Each chapter starts off with common questions or objections people have, such as "Why does the Church oppose allowing people to choose the time of their own death?" or "Why should the Church be allowed to discriminate against gay people when the law forbids it?" The author then takes the emotion out of this argument and explains why the Church teaches what it teaches. While Mr. Ivereigh is very thorough in his explanations, the summaries at the end of each chapter are my favorite parts of the book. Perhaps, that is just my preference for succinct answers though.

Overall, this book is an invaluable resource that deserves a spot on your shelf. You might still raise your voice, as these topics always can cause an emotional response, but this book will provide you better ammunition. Therefore, I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. And might I also add that I think this book is an essential gift for the high school graduate. Your new "adult" will encounter a lot of liberal professors and peers in college and will need to know how to defend themselves against others and even self-doubt that could creep into their minds. Make sure to get a copy for them and yourselves.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Children's Corner: The First Noel

Welcome back to the Children's Corner, sponsored by Pauline Books and Media. Advent is quickly winding down, and I just realized the Fourth Week of Advent only has TWO days, and one of those is Christmas Eve! With all that in mind, it seemed only right that I review a Christmas book on the last Saturday before Christmas, so today I will be reviewing The First Noel by Maïte Roche. The intended age range for this book is 3-6 years old, but I could see grade school children enjoying it up until 10 years old.

The first thing that stands out about this book is the beautiful imagery. When I opened this book, the first words out of my wife's mouth was that it was gorgeous, and she's a tough critic! Since the book is approximately 9" x 10", each page looks like its own painting. I'm mot sure whether to frame the book or read it. The artwork is so captivating that it helps make the story come alive for young and old readers alike.

When reading this book, one will notice that the author mixes elements of the Nativity story from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. This gives your little one a full story from the Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary through the Visit of the Magi. The observant parent will notice that Ms. Roche omitted the parts about Joseph's doubt and secretly wanting to divorce Mary to not cause her shame. However, this is a part of the Biblical story that could be a stumbling block for younger readers, so by omitting it, the young reader loses nothing from the overall story.

I am giving this book 5 out of 5 stars. The book may be seasonal, but lucky for us, Advent and Christmas add up to about 40 days. Therefore, you can read this book to your child throughout the seasons and help them remember the true reason we celebrate Christmas. Another great thing about this book is that although it published by a Catholic publisher, an Orthodox or Protestant person would find nothing distinctly Catholic in it. Christians from any "denomination" would enjoy this book. I recommend picking up one for you and one for a friend with little kids.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Book Review: A Grace Given

As someone who is expecting his first child soon, reading and writing a review on A Grace Given: A Father's Love for a Dying Child was a very tough undertaking. Written by Kent Gilges, this is both an autobiography of Mr. Gilges as well as a biography of his sweet daughter Elie. I must admit that I feel ill-equipped to review a book of this nature, but I will try my best.

Although this is a very sad and heart-wrenching book to read, because one ultimately knows how it is going to end, it is also meant to be heartwarming and a book of hope. I can't think of many books that are able to accomplish all of these things, but A Grace Given does and then some. While reading this book you will run the entire gamut of emotions, and I must admit that I am getting choked up trying to write this review. You will laugh, cry, hope, and fear with Mr. Gilges, his wife, and their family as you read about their daughter Elie and her brain tumor.

I am trying to be objective and fair when writing this review, so I will say that there a few typos in the book, and the timeline jumps a little bit, which can make it a bit hard to follow from time to time. However, I am truly impressed that Mr. Gilges was even able to put pen to paper to write this story, so these minor issues can be ignored. I hope to never experience what he went through, but if I do, I pray I can go through it with half the composure that he did.

I am easily giving this book 5 out of 5 stars, because it is a must-read book. Even though, I have never met the Gilges family, I feel like I know them and went through their painful journey with them. I also feel blessed now, because it reminded me just how beautiful a life with love can be and appreciative of all the blessings in my life. His daughter Elie was a beautiful soul, and her story has touched my life like she did with so many others. This review was written in exchange for a free copy of the book from Scepter Publishers.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review: Mothers of the Church

Welcome back to Stuart's Study. As I stated last week, Mondays are currently being brought to you by Our Sunday Visitor. This week's book from OSV is Mothers of the Church by Mike Aquilina and Christopher Bailey. This book is a follow-up to Mike Aquilina's bestseller The Fathers of the Church, and I for one am pleased it was written. Women have played and continue to play a large role in the Church, and it's nice to see some of them highlighted in their own book.

The first mother of the Church mentioned is THE Mother of the Church, Mary. You can't have a book discussing the mothers of the Church without having Mary in it. Other holy women from the New Testament that were discussed include Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the Apostles; Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus; and Lydia, a helper of Paul.

There are about another dozen women discussed in this book. Some have stories you will recognize, like St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine who prayed for his conversion until it finally happened. Another great saint in this book is St. Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine. She was also known for discovering Jesus' Cross, which we celebrate on September 14th as the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Other saints included in this book include names that you might recognize from the Eucharistic Prayer in Mass, i.e., Sts. Perpetua, Felicity, and Agnes. It was definitely interesting to learn the stories and legends of these saints that I hear so often during Mass. I think the part I enjoyed the most was reading about the saints I had never heard of like Sts. Thecla and Blandina. These chapters served as good exposure for them, and I feel I would have never heard of them apart from this book.

Overall, I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It was solid, but I felt it could have been a little bit better. I know you can't include every saint in a book like this, but I would have liked to see a chapter on female monastics or Desert Mothers. Mike Aquilina has been through three revisions on his book The Fathers of the Church, so I'm sure this book will see some revisions as well and improve every time.

This is still a good book though, and I think it would be the perfect gift for the special women in your life. That's not to say it wouldn't benefit a man to read this. However, I'm sure women would appreciate a book with nothing but female saints in it to look to for inspiration and models of sainthood.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Children's Corner: Baby, Come to Church!

Welcome back to Stuart's Study. Today, I am going to launch a new segment, slated to run at least six weeks, called Children's Corner. In this segment, I will review books geared towards children. This includes newborns to teenagers. Pauline Books and Media was generous enough to supply me with six books to review. They are easily the go-to publisher for children's books as their selection dwarfs all other publishers combined! Pauline Books and Media also has a program called JClub, which teachers, school librarians, or religious education coordinators might find interesting as you can host a book fair at your school and offer children the opportunity to buy some of their amazing books. Click here for more details.

The first book I am reviewing from Pauline Books and Media is entitled Baby, Come to Church! written and illustrated by Virginia Esquinaldo and intended for children aged 0-5. The first thing I love about this book is that it's a board book. At this age, board books are where you will get the best bang for your buck. They are just the right length to keep your child's attention, and just the right material to survive more than one reading.

The next thing I love about this book is the illustrations in it. For starters, it has a variety of races for the children and families in this book. This makes it a book that would work for any family, as the children would at least be able to see one picture in there that looks like him/her and his/her family. We also see beautiful pictures of a stained glass window, crucifix, priest, and choir. All of these are images your child will recognize from attending Mass already, or help your child pay more attention to their surroundings in the future.

Lastly, the prayer at the end is very beautiful. While the rest of the book is intended for children, this "Parents' Prayer" puts things in perspective and reminds us that our children are always watching us, and we are supposed to be the ones setting a good example for them. This book gets 5 out of 5 stars, and belongs in your child's library. I recommend using it as a special book that they only get to read during Mass, so that they don't grow bored with it and can use it to help keep them engaged and reverent during Mass. Tune in next Saturday for another selection from the Children's Corner.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Book Review: The Legacy of Pope John Paul II

As a convert to Catholicism from the Southern Baptist denomination in 2003, I felt like I missed out on some of the Catholic experience that peers my age had. With Blessed John Paul II's death in 2005, I only really got two years to experience his life and teachings. I vaguely recall an encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharista, being released shortly after I was confirmed into the Church. I didn't realize it at the time, but this would be the last of his fourteen encyclicals.

The reason I bring this up is because the book I am reviewing today, The Legacy of Pope John Paul II, deals exactly with his teachings as presented in the fourteen encyclicals he wrote. You would expect a book with this title to be thick and intimidating, but it is quite the opposite. At approximately 160 pages, the author, Alan Schreck, made this book a very manageable read by devoting roughly 10 pages per encyclical to all of them but one, Evangelium Vitae "The Gospel of Life." This is understandable as this particular encyclical addresses the importance and value of all human life.

Midway through reading this book, I realized that there are two ways one could and should read. The first way to this book is the way I initially read it, and that is straight through. As I said above, it is a very thin book, and I had a hard time putting it down. I was able to it read in two days, and that's just because work got in the way. One should read the book straight through so that you get a basic overview of what exactly Blessed John Paul II's teachings entailed. Spoiler Alert: It has a lot to do with the Jubilee he declared in 2000 and the teachings of Vatican II.

The second way one should read this book is with the encyclicals. This will take you much longer, and that's why it should be done second. If you try and read it this way initially, you might not make it through this book for years, if ever. I have plans, which I hope to follow through with, to take each of the fourteen encyclicals and use this book as a guide to work my way through them. Dr. Schreck's "Questions for Reflection" and "Further Reading" at the end of each chapter are exactly the tools needed to accomplish this task.

My favorite chapter, definitely a hard choice to make, is Slavorum Apostoli "On Sts. Cyril and Methodius." I think I like this one best because of my love for Eastern Christianity. One might look at the title of this encyclical and think it, doesn't belong with the other fourteen, but they would miss out on a gem, as these two saints were great missionaries and Blessed John Paul II uses their lives as teaching tools for all of us.

This book easily deserves a 5 out of 5. Any author that can make high theology accessible without watering down the message deserves five stars. This book should be in your library and I am happy it is part of mine.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Legacy of Pope John Paul II. The Catholic Company has great gift ideas for all seasons of the liturgical year, be sure to check out their Advent selection and Catholic Christmas Gifts.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Book Review: The Heart of Catholic Prayer

Welcome back to Stuart's Study. Our Sunday Visitor has been very generous to me with the amount of books they have given me to review since my blog started. I am very grateful to them as they have been an integral part of the success of my blog. For that reason, I am dedicating Monday reviews strictly to them as long as I have books published by them to review. The book for this week is The Heart of Catholic Prayer: Rediscovering the Our Father and the Hail Mary by: Mark Shea, a famous Catholic author and blogger at Patheos.

As one could probably infer from the title, this book is broken into two parts, one on the Our Father and the other on the Hail Mary. Referred to as the "two anchors of our faith," this book breaks down both prayers line by line using a style of writing that blends theology, Shea's life story, and the occasional pop culture reference.

I really enjoyed how Shea explained that the Our Father is a community prayer. I had never thought of it that way, but it makes sense. As Shea points out, it is called the Our Father not the My Father. Every pronoun in the Our Father is a collective plural and not a selfish singular. This is why we pray the Our Father in the Mass, because we are all one body in Christ. There were some other good parts in Part One, such as when Shea explained that the line "Give us this day our daily bread" refers to the Eucharist, but overall I felt Part One was oversimplified.

Part Two: The Hail Mary went deeper than Part One: The Our Father. In this section, Shea manages to tackle key points in the Hail Mary such as Mary being Theotokos (the Mother of God), Mary's Immaculate Conception (Being conceived without original sin), and common complains and concerns Protestants have with Mary. A very excellent point made is that Protestants have no problem putting Paul on a pedestal, but cringe and object when the Catholics or Orthodox put Mary on one. I really enjoyed Part Two of the book and feel it would be a benefit to all to read it.

Overall, I would give this book 4 out 5 stars. It was good, but not great. If you have never taken the time to go through each prayer line by line and meditate on them, you will get something from the book. Unfortunately, as I was reading through Part One, I was mostly thinking "nothing new under the sun," and wishing it would have been better. Part Two was what saved this book for me and kept me from giving this book 3 stars.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and Giveaway Winner

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in which the Church celebrates Mary being spared from the stain of Original Sin. It is also a Holy Day of Obligation. I'm not sure how they do it in other countries, but in the U.S. we have gotten lazy, and transfer Holy Days of Obligation to Sunday to make things easier for us. Needless, to say I was pleasantly surprised to see that we didn't transfer this one to Sunday.

Since I was giving away a book for moms, I thought it would be appropriate to pick the winner on one of the important Feast Days of Christ's Mother and ours. There were only 32 entries. Who knew giving away something free would be so hard? I also was going to go to the trouble of cutting up sheets of paper to draw the winner, but Rafflecopter does a random number generator to pick the winner. Isn't technology great? So without further ado, the results are below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congratulations to Mary! I have sent you an email to get your mailing address. Also I would like to give a special thanks once again to the people at Catholic Family Gifts for providing me not just a book to review, but one to giveaway as well. They have a great selection of books and other Catholic treasures for you and your whole family. I hope to be able to do more giveaways in the future, but I have no timetable on when or if that will happen.

Well, I'm off to church. Don't forget to go people! Have a blessed day.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book Review: The Catholic Guide to Depression

Sophia Institute Press sent me the book The Catholic Guide to Depression to review. The author, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty is a Catholic psychiatrist and the Founding Director of the Psychiatry and Spirituality Forum. In this book, Dr. Kheriaty takes on the problem of depression from both a psychological and a religious standpoint.

The intended audience for this book, I would say, is those suffering from depression. However, family and friends of those suffering from depression could gain a better understanding from this book. I believe it would also be beneficial for spiritual directors of people suffering from depression. This book is not light reading though, so unless you fall in one of the three categories I listed, or just have a general interest in psychology, this book is not for you as it reads like a textbook.

The first half of the book is designed to help one better understand exactly what depression is and is not. Symptoms, both physical and emotional, are listed and explained in detail in the first chapter. Also addressed in the first chapter are the different types of depression and some causes of depression. Chapter Two addresses "Depression and the Spiritual Life" and includes a very interesting take on how Jesus redeemed depression on the Cross. Dr. Kheriaty also makes it a point to convey that depression does not always have a spiritual cause or root. This is important, because Christians (I assume other religions do it too) have a"tendency to spiritualize a psychological or medical problem prematurely."

Skipping ahead to Part II, and the next four chapters, Dr. Kheriaty addresses methods of "Overcoming Depression." In these four chapters, he discusses everything from medication, "shock therapy" (not as awful as it used to be), psychotherapy, and spiritual help such as prayer and the mass. With each of these "treatments" he lists benefits and limits that each one can have and wants the reader to realize that it takes some combination of these treatments to help treat and cure depression. It also should be noted that the same treatment doesn't work for everyone.

This is a very thorough and well-written book. However, as I stated at the beginning of the review, this is not a book for the average person. This book is intended for a specific audience. If you are in this particular audience, this is a must-have book for you, and you will find it to be an invaluable tool. However, if you are not in this particular audience, this book will be tough for you to get through. For this reason, I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Book Review: The New Catholic Illustrated Bible

With the quickly approaching due date of our first child, my wife and I have been looking into all sorts of different baby products trying to figure out what to get for the little guy. Apart from the normal stuff, like strollers and car seats, I have been looking for good books to read to him. Call me crazy to be worrying about books at this early stage in the game, but when books are a big part of your life, you want them to be a big part of your kid's life.

Saint Benedict Press was kind enough to send me The New Catholic Illustrated Bible to review. While my unborn son is years away from reading this, it will be a great book when he comes to the age where we can read it to him, or he can read it himself. I would say the minimum age you could use this with your child would be 6, but some of you may start earlier. That is just my thoughts.

The translation for this Bible is the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is the same translation you hear in Mass and is definitely the best translation to use when reading aloud, especially to children. It is not the most literal translation, like the Revised Standard Version (RSV), but you don't need that unless you are going to do serious study. The NABRE is beautiful and liturgical, and if your kids pay attention in Mass, they might begin to see that they recognize some of the passages in their Bible that they hear on Sundays.

Illustrations also are a great tool when used properly in books for children, and these illustrations are masterfully done. With over 100 illustrations in this Bible, the stories will come alive for your children and even you. Lars Kofod-Fredriksen did an outstanding job with the artwork. Another thing I love about this Bible is that it's a lay-flat format. My wife can attest that nothing aggravates me more than when the spine cracks on a book. I have even gone so far as to accuse her of killing books when she cracks their spines. Well, you won't have to worry about this book "dying" on you.

At over 300 pages, this Bible has all the stories you'll want your kids to hear. The Old Testament covers Creation, Noah, the Patriarchs, Moses, and David, but also covers some stories I didn't expect to read about Gideon or Queen Esther. In the New Testament, your child will learn all about Jesus and his miracles and parables. I wish this Bible had separated out the story of John the Baptist's annunciation from the story of Jesus' annunciation, but that is a minor quibble.

My favorite section in this Bible is the one on Holy Week. At 19 pages, it is easily the longest section and rightly so. Starting at Palm Sunday and going through Good Friday this sets the stage for Jesus' impending Crucifixion and Resurrection, and I could see myself reading this to my son (and hopefully other kids) every Holy Week. These beautiful Bible easily gets 5 out of 5 stars for me, but if I could give it more, I would. It belongs on your kids' bookshelf, and is a gem your family will treasure for years.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What are you reading this Advent?

Well, my favorite time of the Liturgical Year is coming up. So many people get excited at the thought of Christmas or Easter, but I have always been partial to Advent. My wife actually loves Lent. We really are an odd match made in Heaven. Back to Advent though. I really look forward to Advent each year because I always see it as a time to start anew. All the past errors of the year and failed goals turn into new hopes and dreams of a better year.

With that being said, I wanted to find a truly great book this year for Advent to start my year right, and I think I found a pretty great one in Exploring Advent with Luke by Timothy Clayton. Ave Maria Press sent me this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

The first thing that drew me to this book was the title. This coming year in the Liturgical Calendar is Cycle C. In layman's terms, that means that we read Luke during the Gospel readings. So I thought this would be the perfect book for this coming Advent for this reason alone. I initially thought that the first four chapters would line up with Gospel readings for each of the four weeks of Advent. I was wrong, but definitely not disappointed.

In the first four chapters, Timothy Clayton tells the pre-Nativity stories that St. Luke wrote about in his Gospel - John the Baptist's birth foretold, the Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary, the Visitation of Mary, and the Nativity of John the Baptist. Each chapter then poses us with different questions that the people in the Gospel faced and which we can use for personal reflection and growth. I never though of studying Zechariah and Elizabeth's story during Advent, but now that is has been presented to me, it makes perfect sense. John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for Jesus, so it is only fitting his story during Advent prepare us to receive Jesus at Christmas.

Luckily, the book doesn't end with these four chapters. The final two chapters address Christmas Day and the Twelve Days of Christmas. The Twelve Days of Christmas is a very important chapter as it serves to remind us that Christmas isn't over December 26th. We spend so much time preparing for Christmas that when the big day finally arrives, we are ready for it to be over the next day, but it's not! We celebrate Christmas until Epiphany and would do well to remember that.

I really enjoyed this book and think it deserves 5 out of 5 stars. It is definitely a book worth owning and reading this Advent or any Advent. I plan to go through it again in this Advent and future ones as well. I also can see this book becoming a favorite on my bookshelf. The back cover says that it can be used as a reflective guide individually or in small groups, but unless you have an effective past leading small groups, I'd keep this primarily for individual use. Not that it lessens the book for me, but I didn't feel it lent itself well to group study.

So this is what I am reading this Advent. What are you reading? Feel free to leave me a comment. Also, don't forget to enter my contest for another  Ave Maria Press book,  A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms: 52 Companions for Your Heart, Mind, Body, and Soul. You can find the giveaway at the bottom of my review. Have a Blessed Advent!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Blog changes for the coming year

These first three months blogging for me have been a struggle. When you first start a blog, or any task for that matter, you experience highs and lows. With this blog, I have been trying to establish my place in the blogging world and figure out exactly what I want to say with my voice. When I began this endeavor, I believe I bit off a little more than I can chew. I tried posting on Book Reviews, Bible Studies, and Catechist Lessons. While all are in the Catholic theme, I believe I would do better to focus my efforts on one of these topics at the time.

So I have decided I will be focusing primarily on book reviews for the time being. There are plenty of great blogs and websites out there that have Bible Studies, like Agape Bible Study, and Catechist lessons, like Catechist's Journey. That is not to say that there aren't great Catholic Book Review blogs and sites out there, but I am going to double my efforts to become one of, if not THE, best Catholic Book Reviewer. So that is where I am putting the focus of this blog for the time being.

With these changes comes a change in my posting schedule. I used to post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For the near future, I will now be posting on Monday and Thursday instead. I had hopes of posting reviews for both Catholic and Orthodox books, but until I find an Orthodox publisher willing to send me books to review, I will be posting primarily Catholic book reviews. To my Orthodox readers, I apologize for not having more books to review for you. Do not fret though. I might occasionally sprinkle in an Orthodox one from my own collection.

If you are a Catholic or Orthodox publisher and would like me to review your books, there is a contact me link on the top left side of the home page. To my readers, if you find my reviews helpful, then please visit my Amazon page, hit the comment button for the specific review, and then hit the Yes button if you found the review helpful. Also, If you have a book you would like reviewed, you may also contact me the same way mentioned above. If I have the book in my collection, I will read it and review it for you. There's a good chance I might have the book. My library is huge and ever growing.

Lastly, I would like to say thanks to all the people who have helped me with this site. I would first like to thank my wife for supporting me in this endeavor and putting up with the seemingly never ending packages of books that show up on our porch. Next, I would like to thank the publishers who have sent me and keep sending me books to review. Last, but not least, I would like to thank my readers, be they one-timers or faithful ones who read everyday. You are a big reason this blog has been a success so far, and will continue to be the reason this blog is successful. So thank you one and all. I'll see you tomorrow for my review of Exploring Advent with Luke.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Book Review and Giveaway: A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms: 52 Companions for Your Heart, Mind, Body, and Soul

Welcome back to Stuart's Study. Today I am reviewing the book A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms: 52 Companions for Your Heart, Mind, Body, and Soul  by Lisa Hendey. Catholic Family Gifts was kind enough to send me a free copy to review, and agreed to let me give away one copy to one of my readers. I picked this book to review and give away, because my wife and I recently found out that we are having our first child, a boy. The giveaway will run through December 7th, with the winner being announce on December 8th to tie in with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Also, the winner must live in the continental United States.

Lisa Hendey is the creator of the website Catholic Mom, a go to source for moms (and even dads) looking for great advice on parenting, Catholic family life, and Catholic cultural topics. She also wrote perhaps one of the greatest book for Catholic moms, The Handbook for Catholic Moms: Nurturing Your Heart, Mind, Body, and Soul.

As you can probably guess from the title, there are 52 chapters, one saint for each week of the year. Each chapter begins with a brief blurb telling you the specific saint's feast day(s) and what (s)he is the patron saint of, i.e., St. Mary is the patron saint of mothers. The chapter then gives a few pages of biography, lessons we can learn from each saint, and traditions associated with the saint.

This book is chock full of positives. I loved the saint inspired activities for moms and to do with children. They are not only activities that are each beautiful, but they are practical and easy to accomplish, like visiting someone in a nursing home or parishioner who is confined to their home and bringing them a warm meal. I also liked that there is a prayer in each chapter for the saint of the week. The icing on the cake is that all the saints in here aren't just female. There are male saints too, which means dads can read this book as well as moms.

The only negative I could find in this book was the daily reading. Each reading is only one to two verses, with a very brief prayer. I understand that you can spend a lot of time meditating on a brief reading, but I wish the readings were at least a little bit longer. In spite of this one negative, I still give this book 5 out of 5 stars. It is a beautiful book for moms or dads.

So, I encourage you to enter my contest to win this awesome book. Husbands, it would make a great Christmas gift for your wife. Wives, it would also make a great gift to yourself for Christmas. Also, stop by Catholic Family Gifts for other faith-filled items for you and your whole family!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, November 23, 2012

I'm having a baby boy and a Giveaway Preview

Well, I can finally announce that I am having a baby boy!! I have been holding this in for a little while, but I wanted to make sure all my family and friends knew first before I told the rest of the world. But in case you didn't hear me the first time...I'M HAVING A BABY BOY!!

To celebrate this joyous news, I am going to have a giveaway of the book A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms: 52 Companions for Your Heart, Mind, Body, and Soul by Lisa Hendey of Catholic Mom. This giveaway is courtesy of Catholic Family Gifts. So tune in Monday for my review of this book and the giveaway. I will draw the winner on December 8th to coincide with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. See you Monday!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review: Letter & Spirit Volume 7

In America, we celebrate the fourth Thursday of November as Thanksgiving. For the most part, it is just an excuse to gorge on turkey and sides, watch football, and then fall into a food coma. Some of us make the effort to think back on the past year and give thanks for all the good things in our life. Some even go so far as to tell some version of the first Thanksgiving and think back on the people who sailed to America and helped shape the country early on. Well, why don't we do that with the people who shaped Christianity early on? These people are the Apostles, Disciples, and Church Fathers, and today I am reviewing the book Letter & Spirit Volume 7: The Bible and the Church Fathers.

For those of you not familiar with this series of books, it is an annually released Catholic academic journal, with Scott Hahn as the editor. That fact alone almost guarantees that you are getting a quality book as Scott Hahn always puts out good books, and I will say that until proven otherwise. I own the previous six volumes in this series, and they are all great. However, they are not light reading at all.

I stared at this book for days before I built up the courage to open it up. I have a great love for Patristics (writings of Early Christian Fathers and Mothers), but this book was intimidating. The book was only about 200 pages, but the article contributors included some big names, including Joseph Ratzinger (Now, Pope Benedict XVI). This is a book, if you dare read it, that you read slowly as you will find yourself drowning in its depths if you don't approach it with respect. I won't pretend to say that I understood even half of what I read, but I hope to one day be able to come back to this book with greater wisdom, and be able to grasp more.

My two favorite articles in this book were "Patristic Interpretation of Scripture within God's Story of Creation and Redemption" and "Psalm 22 in Syriac Tradition." I liked the "Patristic Interpretation" article because it reinforced and better explained how and why the Church Fathers were important for helping people, in their day and in ours, understand Scripture. I liked the "Psalm 22" article mainly because it's neat to see the Eastern take on Biblical passages. In the West, we tend to ignore anyone who isn't St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas.

This book easily gets 5 out of 5 stars from me. Generally, when I give a book 5 stars though, I recommend buying it. This time however, I am going to say caveat emptor (buyer beware). If you own the previous six volumes and found them a simple read or have a degree in Theology, then buy all means, buy this book. You will enjoy it and get more out of it than I did. If you are, however, still new in the faith or don't read a lot of Theology books, then this book will frustrate you and discourage you to no end.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Letter & Spirit, Vol. 7: The Bible and the Church Fathers. The Catholic Company is the best resource for all your family Advent activities and supplies this year, such as Advent wreaths and calendars for kids, as well as Christmas decorations such as nativity scene sets and religious Christmas gifts for the whole family.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Review: Angels All Around Us

Today, I am reviewing the book Angels All Around Us: A Sightseeing Guide to the Invisible World by Anthony DeStefano.  I received this book as part of the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

I was somewhat excited to receive this book, because of the title. I know that's a little shallow, but I think most Christians have a fascination with angels and the "Invisible World." In fact, the book was originally titled "The Invisible World," and in my opinion that's what the book should have remained titled, as there was only one chapter that dealt with angels.

The book starts off with a chapter called Haunt Detector, a phrase attributed to Fr. Frank Pavone. I'm not a big fan of referring to feelings of other worldly happenings as a haunt detector. It just seems to put a ghostly spin on angels, demon, and spiritual matters. So I was one chapter into this book, and already had a bad taste in my mouth.

The third chapter, aka the only chapter that really mentions angels, did a fair to good job, at best, of covering the subject of angels. If you know the slightest thing about angels, this chapter does nothing to add to your knowledge of angels. You receive a brief description of what angels are and their purpose, surrounded by several sweet stories of possible angel encounters people had.

The book wasn't a total disappointment. It does a good job on other topics it discusses, such as spiritual warfare, grace, and suffering, but opinions are too often inserted when backed up facts would have been more appreciated. I just feel that the title was misleading and should have remained "The Invisible World." I am someone who when he picks up a book, he goes into it with a certain expectation, and if those expectations are not met or exceeded, I am usually disappointed. So part of my disappointment might stem from going against the adage of judging a book by its cover.

So for these complaints, I give the book 3 out of 5 stars. It was a good book, which I felt could have and should have been better. If you are looking for a book that truly deals more in-depth with angels, check out the book Lifted By Angels and my review of it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Catholic Religious Education - God's Plan for Salvation

One more week before a two-week break. One more week before a two-week break. I have to tell myself this to get through this last week before Thanksgiving break. The 7th Graders are starting to try my patience, and my aide basically told me she screwed up assisting with 7th Grade, and she wishes she would have taken a younger grade. She's only a Junior or Senior in High School, so this was a "Duh" moment, but I bit my tongue, and just smiled. This week we're going to be learning about God's plan for salvation, which is something that you learn heavily, when you are young, in Protestant churches, but not so much in Catholic churches.
  • Preparation for the Lesson
    • Bring the Annunciation Icon 
    • Write the following questions on the board:
      • Who or what helps me in difficult times?
      • What does Salvation mean to you?
    • Then have the students read page 73 and do the activity.
  • Introduction
    • Good morning. Today we are going to talk about The Promise of Salvation. Before we discuss what is written on the the board, I would like you to turn to page 75 and begin with the opening prayer.
      • I need two Readers and the rest of you will respond to All.
    • Okay! While waiting for class to start, I had y’all answer the questions on the board. 
    • So let’s talk about it. Who or what helps you in difficult times?
      • What does Salvation mean to you?
  • Chapter 7
  • Now I would like you to turn into your books to page 78 and we will begin reading.
    • We have three big terms here: Free Will, Sin, and Original Sin.
      • What is Free Will?
      • Why do we have it as opposed to God just not letting us choose and us doing everything right?
      • What is Sin?
      • What are the two types of sin? Mortal and Venial
      • What is it and who is responsible for us being born in Original Sin?
      • What removes Original Sin?
  • Let’s continue reading on page 79.
    • Have them do the activity:
      • Exodus = Food and Drink
      • Canaan = Sent them judges and rulers
      • King = Gave them Saul, David, and Solomon
      • Turn away = Gave them Prophets
    • We can see time and time again that the people kept complaining, turning away from God, and then when things got tough running back to God.
      • And God kept listening to them, forgiving them, and giving them help.
  • Now let’s read page 80.
    • As we talked about before, the Jewish people were expecting a Messiah, which God promised them. And with over 300 references in the Old Testament to the coming Messiah
      • Some expected a Warrior to overthrow Rome.
      • Some expected a Politician.
      • Others were looking for a King to rule like David.
  • Now let’s get back to the text on page 81.
    • Let’s start with the Immaculate Conception.
      • What does it mean?
      • What day do we celebrate that in the Church?
      • This feast day is a Holy Day of Obligation.
      • What does that mean?
    • Then, we have the term angel.
      • What is an angel?
      • Who was the angel who told Mary she was going to give birth to the Messiah?
      • What is the name of the feast day where we celebrate Gabriel telling Mary she was going to give birth to the Messiah?
      • The Annunciation
      • Mary was scared and overjoyed at this news. She said the prayer in the green box called The Magnificat.
    • I want someone to read this aloud for us, starting with, “My soul proclaims…”
  • Practical Application
    • What are ways you can show God your thanks for sending Jesus, the Messiah?
  • Closing Activity
    • Now I want y’all to each write a prayer telling God that you accept the salvation that he offers you.
    • You do not have to read it aloud, but I want you to spend the rest of the class working on it.
      • When you are done, you can drop it on our prayer box for God’s eyes only.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Year of Faith Bible Study

Welcome back to Stuart's Study. As you recall, last Wednesday, I posted some book reviews and recommendations for deepening your faith in this Year of Faith. I recommended you a method of prayer known as Lectio Divina. I would like to say that I succeeded beautifully at it and am now a master of it, but I have not. In fact, I have barely had time to devote serious effort to it. I know that is a poor excuse, and that if something is important to you, you make it a priority, but I have not. Unfortunately, I am only human. So I fall, and I get back up. Perhaps, I aimed a bit too high, and need to start smaller. With that in mind, I picked up a new book that Our Sunday Visitor sent me, called The Year of Faith: A Bible Study Guide for Catholics and started again.

Fr. Pacwa is one of the priests on EWTN who hosts two shows, Threshold of Hope and EWTN Live. He has also written several books and Bible studies, in the same fashion as this book. One of these was a Bible Study on Paul for the Year of Paul, which I personally found very enlightening.

In this short book (less than 100 pages), Fr. Pacwa walks us through Pope Benedict's document Porta Fidei, which established and serves as a guideline for the Year of Faith. There are six sessions in this Bible Study, which you can study solo or in a small group. Each session is 10-15 pages long, so you can take each session and do one a week, or if you read quickly like me, do one a week, and be done in less than a week.

The questions Fr. Pacwa asks at the end of each session provide good discussion, if you read this study in a group, or reflection, if read by yourself. I also liked that he took the Nicene Creed and listed the Scriptural references that backed up each line of the Creed. However, I found "Session 6 - Faith and the New Evangelization" the most helpful session. It helped wrap this book up nicely, while also putting into perspective that we are not only supposed to be building our faith but the faith of others. I have never been good at that, even when I was Baptist, which has always bugged me, because Protestants are usually good at that kind of thing.

This book is an invaluable tool and resource, not just for the Year of Faith, but for anytime. It is a practical study guide that I am glad to have received, and I'm sure it is one I will reference during the Year of Faith. That is why I give this book 5 out of 5 stars, and recommend it to you all.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Happy Veterans' Day with St. John of the Cross

Happy Veterans' Day! Before I post my weekly book review on Monday, I would like to say thank you to all our Veterans and military for their faithful service to our country. I personally have no desire to ever be part of the military, but I applaud those who willing choose to be. It takes a special person to live that life, and I am not it.

As you can probably guess from the title of this blog post, I am going to be reviewing a book about St. John of the Cross. The Institute of Carmelite Studies agreed to send me the book The Contemporary Challenge of John of the Cross: An Introduction to his Life and Teaching in exchange for an honest review. This is a great little publishing house that specializes in works by and about St. Teresa of Avila, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Edith Stein, St. John of the Cross, and several other prominent Carmelite figures.

This book starts off with a brief biography of St. John of the Cross. I have always known implicitly that St. John of the Cross had a hard life. You don't write Dark Night of the Soul without experiencing anguish in your life. However, the amount of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual anguish he suffered was mind-boggling to me. I think one of the greatest tragedies he suffered was people in the Church turning against him and his leadership and instruction. The book then moves on to listing the works that St. John wrote and providing background and excerpts from some of them.

Chapters Three and Four are my favorite chapters. In these chapters we see St. John's Sketch of Mount Carmel, which shows the three paths to climb the Mount and "find the Lord we seek." We also are presented with the different stages of this journey we are making towards God including periods of lows, highs, and even plateaus. These two chapters shed a lot of light on the Ascent of Mount Carmel and the Dark Night of the Soul, and prove a very useful source to read them alongside these two great works.

This is an excellent starter book for anyone who wants to read St. John of the Cross but is intimidated, or someone like me, who tried to read St. John but got overwhelmed and lost in his brilliance of words. I give it five out of five stars. It got me excited to try and re-read St. John's works again and left me feeling a bit better equipped to tackle his writings. I'm also glad to have discovered this gem of a publisher in The Institute of Carmelite Studies. Thank you for taking the time to read this review. I'll see y'all on Wednesday!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Catholic Religious Education (CRE) Week #5

Welcome back to my blog, and my weekly 7th Grade Lesson Plan. Is it Thanksgiving yet? I need a break! Last week was both a lesson and prayer time. I'm not sure the kids appreciated it at all, but when they I asked how many of them prayed the Rosary and only one of them raised their hand (my priest in training, of course), I knew we needed to pray the Rosary with them.

On a sadder note, my teacher's aide had a fire at her house while she was teaching, and she had to run off before class was over. No one was seriously harmed, but there was significant property damage, so please say a prayer for her and her family.

  • Preparation for the Lesson
    • Write the following on the board:
      • Omnipotent = All powerful
      • Omnipresent = Present everywhere at the same time
      • Omniscient = All knowing
    • Ask the students to reflect on these three attributes of God and to write in their notebook how it makes them feel knowing God is all of these things.
  • Introduction
    • Good morning. Today we are going to talk about God, Our Loving Father. Before we get to the words on the board, I would like you to turn to page 41 and begin with the opening prayer.
      • I need 1 reader and the rest of you will respond to All.
    • Okay! While waiting for class to start, I had y’all reflect on these three words of God.
      • Let’s go around the class and say how it makes us feel knowing God is all of these things.
      • Address any fears or uneasiness students may have
      • Explain that God is also:
        • All Loving = Loves us forever, despite hating our sin
        • All Merciful = Wants to forgive us of our sins
  • Chapter 4
    • Now I would like you to turn into your books and I want someone to read the first two paragraphs on page 44.
      • All of you know the Creation stories. However, what we are to take away from them is that God not only made everything and everybody but he loves us and has a plan for us.
    • Now I need a reader to begin on page 45.
      • Write the word Covenant on the board
        • What is a covenant?
        • Explain that the entire Bible is about God’s covenants with his people.
          • Adam – husband and marriage
          • Noah – father and family
          • Abraham – chief and tribe
          • Moses – judge and nation
          • David – king and kingdom
          • Jesus - Messiah
    • Let’s continue on Page 46.
      • Write the word mercy on the board.
        • Have the students define it.
        • Ask the students to think back to last year and the Old Testament.
        • Have them recall how the Israelites kept turning away from God.
        • Explain that God kept forgiving them and was merciful toward them.
        • Ask them what God’s ultimate form of mercy and love was.
          • Sending Jesus to die for our sins.
    • Now on to page 47.
      • Providence
        • What does it mean?
        • What is God’s ultimate plan for us?
          • To love Him and go to Heaven
    • Activity
      • Pass out sheets of paper and colored pencils
        • Have the kids draw a card for someone they know who seems sad or down.
        • In the card, have them explain how God loves them
    • Real-world application
      • Pass out Our Father 2 person skit.
      • Ask the kids how many of them know the Lord’s Prayer?
      • How many of them know what they are saying when they say it? And how many just say it without thinking?
      • Read through prayer-skit.
      • How can we show God that we are thankful for His mercy and love?
        • Praying
        • Asking forgiveness for our sins
        • Forgiving others
      • What are ways you can show mercy and/or love to the following people this week?
        • Parents
        • Siblings
        • Teachers
        • Classmates
  • This month we have the Saint Museum so start thinking early about who you want to dress up as and get your parents to help you if you need it.
For those of my readers wondering, our Catholic Religious Education Coordinator has the older children dress up as Saints on the Sunday closest to All Saints Day, and the little kids get to walk around and see them in their costumes and learn facts about each saint. It really is an awesome idea!

Catholic Religious Education - The Holy Spirit

Well, I'm behind in teaching this year, because of that week I missed. Last week wasn't that great having my aide teach. She didn't prepare at all, and isn't a very good aide at all. She also told me she regrets assisting 7th Grade and wishes she had taken a younger grade, so looks like I am stuck with a less than eager aide. This Sunday we are going to learn about the Holy Spirit. To me Joseph and the Holy Spirit have a lot in common as they are the most overlooked member of their trios, the Holy Family and the Holy Trinity respectively.

  • Preparation for the Lesson
    • Bring the Annunciation, Baptism, and Pentecost Icons 
    • Write the question on page 62 on the board.
    • Have the students write their responses on a scrap of paper, fold it, and turn it in up front.
    • Then have the students read page 63 and do the activity.
  • Introduction
    • Good morning. Today we are going to talk about the Third Person of the Trinity – The Holy Spirit. Before we discuss what is written on the the board, I would like you to turn to page 61 and begin with the opening prayer.
      • You will respond to All.
    • Okay! While waiting for class to start, I had y'all answer the question on the board and write a response to the question on page 63.
    • While I add up your responses, I want someone to tell me what you would tell All Quizzed Out to do.
      • Let students discuss it and say if they agree or disagree.
      • If disagree, explain what they would say.
      • Write % to answers on the board.
      • Review results
  • Chapter 6
    • Now I would like you to turn into your books to page 64 and we will begin reading.
      • Let's talk about the word prophet.
      • What does it mean?
      • Who were some of the OT prophets?
    • What about the word Messiah?
      • Who is that referring to?
      • In the Old Testament, there are 300 references or prophecies referring to the Coming of Jesus and he fulfilled all of them.
    • Like Christianity today has many denominations and many different beliefs, there were many types of Jews in Jesus' day and each of them were expecting a different kind of Messiah.
      • Some expected a Warrior to overthrow Rome.
      • Some expected a Politician.
      • Others were looking for a King to rule like David.
      • It's no wonder that so many Jews back then rejected Jesus because what they wanted in a Messiah and what they got were two different things.
    • Now let's get back to the text on page 65.
      • Hold up the icons of the Annunciation and the Baptism and pass them around.
      • Explain how each of them show the Holy Spirit coming down from Heaven.
    • Let's read page 66 now.
      • Pass around the Pentecost Icon and point out the tongues of fire.
      • Ask when we celebrate Pentecost in the Church?
      • 50 days after Easter. It marks the close of the Easter Season.
    • Ask what two Sacraments are associated with us receiving the Holy Spirit?
      • Baptism
      • Confirmation
    • Also point out the confidence the Apostles now have.
      • Say Peter got up and started preaching the Gospel to all. This was the same Apostle that denied Jesus three times.
      • Explain that with the Holy Spirit, we are capable of doing anything for God.
    • Let's finish by reading page 67.
      • The Holy Spirit is still present today in the Church.
      • People try and criticize the Catholic Church or say that we are responsible for bad things that happened for 2000 years.
      • Some of that is true, but people forget that the Church is made up of human people, and all humans are sinners.
      • However, we rely on a higher power than man. And even though bad people come into the Church and do bad things, we're still here and going strong 2000 years later.
      • The Church is a Hospital for Sinners and not a Hotel for Saints.
    • I want you to take your remaining time and work on making a pamphlet for younger kids.
      • In it you will explain the following:
      • Who is the Holy Spirit?
      • What are some symbols of the Holy Spirit?
      • What happened at Pentecost?
      • When do we receive the Holy Spirit?
    • If any of you have younger siblings, share it with them. If you don't have younger siblings, share it with older ones, parents, or classmates.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What are you doing for the Year of Faith? Two Book Recommendations

Welcome back to Stuart's Study. It is a sad day for Catholics in our country today, but despite how the election turned out, we can't bury our heads in the sand. We are still called to change our culture. That change doesn't come dramatically all at once. It comes gradually and incrementally. If you start with individual changes build to family changes then church changes, community changes, and keep it growing. Start small and it will snowball. So in this post I am going to review/recommend two books to you that I hope to implement in my Year of Faith, and you can too.

Both of these books were sent to me by Ascension Press, the people who bring you The Great Adventure Series, in exchange for an honest review. The first book I am going to review is The Bible Compass: A Catholic's Guide to Navigating the Scripture by Edward Sri. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect with this book, but I know that I like Edward Sri's works so I was looking forward to reading this. This book is an excellent source for understanding the Bible and answering basic to intermediate questions about the Bible that Catholics should know but most don't.

The first few chapters address Scripture as being divinely inspired and the three pillars of the Catholic faith - Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium. We then move on to what I consider the most important section of this book, how to read Scripture correctly. So many of us just read random bits of Scripture, if any, and never get anything out of it, but that is not the proper way to read it. We have to know the author's intention with which he wrote as well as reading within the Living Tradition of the Church. Reading within the Living Tradition of the Church is important because the Church has been around 2,000 years so we should trust that the Church knows better than us and we shouldn't trust modern or personal interpretations that don't jive with the 2,000 year history of interpretations.

The book then goes on to address questions Catholics might have or be asked like why Catholics have more books than Protestants? (Short answer is we use the Septuagint Old Testament and the Protestants use the Masoretic text.) The book then concludes with a very short chapter on Lectio Divina, using the Scriptures to pray, which is something I am going to try and do in this Year of Faith, and you can read more about in my next review.

This was an excellent book, as I expected it to be. The chapters were short but packed with straight forward information and answers. I give this book 5 out of 5 just because I can't give it a higher rating. This book is just the right length where it doesn't bog you down with information, but makes you want to get a thicker book and dig deeper on the subject. I recommend you buy this book, if you feel like you don't know enough about the Bible and want to learn more.

The second book I am recommending to you today is Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina by Dr. Tim Gray. I read another one of Tim Gray's books this year, Walking With God: A Journey Through the Bible, so I knew I was going to get another gem, and I was not disappointed. Hopefully, you're not like me and you have a great prayer life. If you are like me though, then you need all the help you can get! Like others before me, and probably after me, I felt that I always talk to God, but never hear Him answer. Sure I can see answers to prayers (be they yes or no), but I never felt like I was getting a one-on-one response. Arrogant to expect that, I know. Well, this book changed my whole way of thinking about prayer!

Lectio Divina is a ladder traditionally involving four steps, but a fifth step was added in this book. The steps are Lectio (Reading), Meditatio (Meditation), Oratio (Prayer), Contemplatio (Contemplation), and in this book Operatio (Operation or Application in real life). Dr. Gray uses the example of a vineyard and making wine (like ancient monks used to do) as a comparison for Lectio Divina. Like winemaking, prayer requires many steps to produce a beautiful end result. He also repeatedly says in the book, "When you pray, you speak with God; when you read, God speaks to you." This was a game-changer for me. It seems so obvious, but we expect to hear the voice of God, like the voice of a person. In reality, we always hear the voice of God when we read the Bible.

Reading this book has left me thirsting for more (fitting analogy since he compares Lectio Divina to making wine). I know I will have to take baby steps in this beautiful practice, but I am eager to try it in this Year of Faith. I'm debating ordering the workbook that goes along with this book or finding other books that offer specifics passages and exercises in Lectio Divina. Despite not having a chapter at the end to get you started with, I still give this book 5 out of 5 stars as it explained a powerful prayer practice in language anyone can understand. So if you want a deeper prayer life and not just a one-sided monologue with God, go out and buy this book and you too can be on the path to a deeper prayer life.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Book Review: Seek First the Kingdom

Welcome back to my study. I know I said I would do an Orthodox book review at the beginning of each month, but I'm still waiting for an Orthodox publisher to send me the two books I requested, and I felt this book was fitting to review with the Presidential election tomorrow. So the book I chose to review today is called Seek First the Kingdom: Challenging the Culture by: Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

This book was sent to me by the wonderful people at Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) in exchange for an honest review. Most of us Christians view the Kingdom as some lofty ideal that we will never see until we die and reach the pearly gates. While this is the Kingdom of God, Cardinal Wuerl points out that the Kingdom of God is the presence of God. Since God is omnipresent, that means the Kingdom is also here on Earth. Thus, the Kingdom is more than something in our head, the Kingdom is something tangible, we have to embrace and work to bring to other people. This is especially true in the public square and political arena, but it is also true in our own daily lives.

In this book, Cardinal Wuerl draws upon Scripture, tradition, and the teaching of the Magisterium to point out the major issues in our time (abortion, human dignity, etc.) and what we must do to address these issues. While each chapter is brief (generally 10 pages or less), each one is broken down in tiny segments that make each point easier to follow and understand.

My favorite chapter was Chapter 8: Ambassadors for the Kingdom. It underscored the truth that while we are currently living in this land, we are not of this land. Our ultimate and true home is Heaven, but while we are here on Earth, we need to be ambassadors to those who are not Heaven-bound. We are also called to correct those who are in error in love. I personally have no problem correcting others, but don't always do it in love. So that is something I definitely need to work on.

This book for me gets 5 out of 5 stars. While it is certainly a book that is timely given the upcoming election and liberties our country has given up, it is also a timeless book that presents a message that rings true at any point in history. It is also a book I recommend all of you to read, no matter who wins the election.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Catholic Religious Education and a Book Review

Well, here we are again at Stuart's Study. The lesson plan for this week can be found at this link. If you recall, a few weeks ago both myself and my aide were no shows, so my kids never received this lesson. So this week, they will be learning about Jesus. In fact, I am going to let my aide teach the lesson herself this week. I will be there as backup, moral support, and making sure she doesn't say anything heretical. But it will be good practice for her, and will give the kids another voice to hear besides mine.

Saints Museum was last week. Five of my nine saints showed up including St. John the Baptist, St. Anne the mother of the Virgin Mary, St. Luke, and two others who I am ashamed to admit I forgot. While, all of them didn't appreciate having to do it, it was definitely a creative way to get them to learn about their faith. The little kids also enjoyed walking around hearing about saints they had never heard of, and I played teacher and asked the saints facts they should know about their saints to test them. As for my four no-show saints, they will have a report they have to turn into our Parish Catechetical Leader.

Now for the book review. Surrender! The Life Changing Power of Doing God's Will is another book that Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) sent me in exchange for a review. I was super excited to read this book, as Fr. Larry Richards gave a men's retreat in Mobile, I was unable to attend due to Catechist training. My friend talked for months about how great the retreat is, and got this very book from his conference. When, OSV I opened my box and saw this book in there, I was super excited to dive in this book.

Unfortunately, the book did not meet my expectations. For starters this book had tons of typos in it. I understand one or two, but there are several in each chapter, including spelling errors and typing two verbs in a row where it seemed like the editor (if there was one) forgot to remove one of the verbs. Another thing, I didn't like about the book was the style it was written. Each chapter was roughly twenty pages, but it was written like a stream of consciousness, where Fr. Larry just started a thought and rambled in ink for twenty pages. Chapter breaks would have been immensely helpful. Those were my two biggest gripes with the book, and it definitely made the book harder to read than it should have been.

Those two gripes aside, the message in this book is solid. I like Fr. Larry's in your face attitude, and how he tells you things, like "Be a saint, or go to hell." Each chapter also builds on the previous chapter to provide a very clear road map for surrendering our entire life to God. And while surrender has such an ugly connotation in our society, surrender is exactly what we need to do to God, so that we can live a life pleasing to Him.

I also enjoyed the steps Fr. Larry gives at the end of each chapter to help us surrender our life. Though, the steps are simply written, they aren't simple to follow, which should be an obvious statement. If it was simple to follow God and surrender everything to Him, everyone would do it. One such step, Fr. Larry gave was to Write down the names of people we don't like, and pray that God will change our hearts toward them. This is extremely hard for me (and I'm sure most people), as certain people just rub me the wrong way.

My overall rating for this book is somewhere between 3.5 and 4 stars out of 5. The message was solid and spot on and something all of could stand to hear. However, the typos and stream of consciousness made it difficult to muddle through. This book would be better served as an audiobook, but only if Fr. Larry Richards agreed to read it, as he has a very distinct speaking style.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bible Study - 1st Peter 5

Today, we are wrapping up 1st Peter. I'm not sure what direction I want to head into next. I am getting a lot of books in the mail to review, so I foresee my blog becoming more of a blog about book reviews and less about lessons. I have shifted one of my major life goals from becoming an author to becoming one of the top Catholic book reviewers, and the only way to do that is by reading more books, and writing more reviews.

We could slowly walk through 2nd Peter, where I post a little on 2nd Peter and then post a good book to help you grow in your understanding and use of Scriptures. I don't really know. My blog is still in its infancy and is still a living and breathing organism. I would welcome some feedback. I haven't had any comments on my blog in a little while. I've had a lot of views, but not a lot of comments, so please let me know what you would like to see. Let's finish 1st Peter for now though.

Verses 1-4 is advice to presbyters, AKA priests. St. Peter gives this advice to them not as a Bishop giving an order, but as friendly advice from one priest to another. This is wise, because people are more likely to take advice than an order. His advice is straightforward in that he tells them to be good leaders, not leaders seeking a profit or glory. He tells them to be good examples for their flock, and reminds them that though they are shepherds of their church, Jesus is still THE SHEPHERD, and if you treat your flock rightly, you will be rewarded in Heaven.

The rest of the chapter (Verses 5-14) is advice to the community/congregation. We are first told to be humble and subject to the priests. The priests are the head of a church for a reason, and though we don't always agree with their every decision, we should respect them and listen to them, assuming they aren't doing  or saying stuff that is heretical.

Verse 7 reminds us that we can cast our cares on God because he cares about us. That is a truth we should already know, but is still reassuring to hear. I believe St. Peter tells us this because the next few verses can be scary. We are told that Satan is prowling around the earth like a lion and trying to eat us (take us to hell). That is terrifying imagery if you just read that verse on it's own, but we know God has already won. So we must resist the devil and know that just as we undergo these trials and sufferings, all other Christians do as well.

Last, like in all letters we have the closing. Silvanus is named as Peter's secretary. We see mention of Mark, writer of the Gospel. And finally, we receive a blessing of peace from St. Peter.

Monday, October 29, 2012

DOUBLE Book Review Monday

Greetings fellow readers! I am going to undertake an ambitious double review post today, because I feel that these books should be read together, not necessarily at the same time, but definitely in succession. Both of these books (as well as a box of others) were given to me by Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) in exchange for an honest review.

The first book I am going to review is called, Why Enough is Never Enough. In this book Gregory Jeffrey fills the pages with personal stories about "Making Peace with God and Money." There are chapters on trusting God, figuring out how much money it takes a person to truly be happy, giving to others in charity, and attitudes of greed vs. gratitude.

By design, this book will not give you advice on how to make money, budget your money, or what to do with your money. Instead, the whole premise is about helping the reader to become comfortable with the money they have and hopefully help them realize that they do have more than enough money to be happy.

I found this book to be good to very good, but lacking for me. I liked that each chapter included reflections and tasks/questions to complete/answer to make you think and grow in your understanding of your own personal and unhealthy want for more money. But I was disappointed with how many personal stories there were in the chapters and felt the entire book was a little too "fluffy" for me and could have been condensed. The message was solid, but you had to wade through a lot to get to the message I would give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars, because it was good, but not what I would want out of a finance book.

The second book I am reviewing is 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free. OSV was GENEROUS enough to send me not just the book, but an entire kit to lead a small group session. The kit included the book, DVDs, a leader's guide, a workbook, etc. I was blown away by not only OSV's generosity, but the quality of this product. I have a small group study that I help lead now, and I know they would enjoy this as much as I did.

I don't have enough space or time to say enough good things about this book/kit, but I will do my best. Each chapter is well-laid out and in a logical order. It starts with us realizing that everything we own belongs to God and progresses from there. Chapters include finances with marriage, with kids, charitable giving, buying a house, getting off debt, saving, investing, etc. etc.

The advice is straightforward and backed up with Scripture references. The tasks to do at the end of each chapter are practical. The workbook supplements the book nicely. And the leader's guide (if you choose to buy the whole kit and lead a group) is immensely helpful and gives you great advice, not only on how to lead each session, but how to be a better small group leader overall.

On a side note, I had ambitions of writing a book with exactly this purpose in mind of personal finances from a Catholic perspective. After reading through this book and watching the DVDs, I can see my time is better spent elsewhere. Phil Lenahan does a masterful job of providing just such a product for Catholics (or any flavor Christian).

I wish I could give this book more than 5 out of 5 stars, but that's the highest rating possible. If your finances are a complete mess and you need to get them in order, buy this book or see if your Parish is offering this class and take it. If your finances just need some tweaking, or you need some practical advice, buy this book. I think anyone and everyone can and will find something beneficial from this book. It should definitely be on the bookshelf of every newly married couple too!

Well, that's all I have for you today. Thank you for taking the time to read these two reviews. I don't anticipate making Double Review posts in the future, but these books had a common theme of personal finances, and I just felt like it worked. Thank you all for taking the time to read this review! I'll see you next time in Stuart's Study.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Saints Museum and a BONUS Book Review

Well, my fellow readers. I have no Sunday School lesson plan for you again this week. This week we are doing a Saints Museum with the kids! What is a Saints Museum you ask? Good question! Each year our Parish Catechetical Leader has the 6th, 7th, and 8th Graders dress up as Saints, and act like they are statues in a museum. It's fun for the little ones, but not so much the older ones cause they hate dressing up. But I definitely love the idea of it and think it is an awesome activity to show that there are saintly and religious things going on, and not just ole pagan Halloween!

Since, I don't have a lesson plan for you this week, I am going to recommend a resource I received in the mail from the great folks at Emmaus Road Publishing. This is a great Catholic publisher that is true to the teachings of the Church and prints many great books. The book I am recommending this week is Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: A Guide for Effective Dialogue.

As a note, I would only recommend this as a teaching aid for High School and older. This 70 page book is a quick read, but it packs a powerful message. In this book, we get a definition of what is going on in our current society with regards to marriage, and how society is trying to rid itself of traditional marriage. This is sad indeed, because as the book states, "Marriage unites a man and woman with each other and any children born from their union." No other societal institution does that, and if traditional marriage was compromised, an institution would need to be created to fill the requirements of the quote above.

What I like best about this book is the Question and Answer section in the back. Even after reading through documents and books such as this, I still find that I have a hard time answering frequent objections and questions that people of the opposing viewpoint have. I also like that this book tries to answer the question from more than a religious standpoint. Those who disagree with us will always disagree with us if all we have to argue them is our "faith." Overall, I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It is orthodox, authentic, helpful, and necessary, but it wouldn't be a book I would actively seek out to read.

Tune in Monday for my review of Why Enough is Never Enough. Thank you and have a blessed day!