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 Ma├»te 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.