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.