Monday, December 30, 2013

Treasury of Egyptian Mythology (National Geographic Kids)

With my last review of 2013, I am going to stick with my theme of reviewing one homeschooling product per month. This month I am reviewing Treasury of Egyptian Mythology. I know this is a Catholic and Orthodox book review blog, and some people aren't pro-mythology. I, however, think that if your children are grounded in their Faith, there is a place for mythology, fairy tales, and a little bit of magic. This isn't a place for a lecture, so I will get on with the review.

Treasury of Egyptian Mythology is the second volume in National Geographic Kids mythology series, with the first being the Treasury of Greek Mythology. Mixing mythology with culture and history, you and your children will learn about gods and goddesses; pharaohs and queens; and actual history of the Egyptian dynasties. As someone who is only versed in Greek and Roman mythology, it was fascinating to learn the Egyptian origin story. Instead of Titans giving birth to the chief deity, like in Greek mythology, "The god Ra sprang to life with a word already in his mouth."

I have no favorite section in this book as all were fascinating in their own respect. The way the story was told illustrations were well done, and the insert boxes contained facts that made learning fun. Some examples of these facts include information about the process of mummification and how pyramids were built. I personally would have preferred more details on the facts. For example, there could have been a whole page teaching your child hieroglyphics.That complaint aside, this was a very informative book and would be perfect in the school or homeschool setting. I hope they continue this series and make one on Norse mythology yet.

This book was provided to me for free by National Geographic Kids. If you found this review helpful, click the link and hit Yes!

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Gift of Saint John Paul II (Word Among Us Press)

It's amazing to think that it's been less than ten years since Pope John Paul II died. Though I was just a recent convert at the time, he had a great impact on my life in the way that he lived his. It wouldn't be until years later that I discovered his writings. I am not bold enough to think that they made sense to me when reading them, but thankfully great men of the Church have helped spell them out. For example, Cardinal Wuerl shares his wisdom in his book The Gift of Saint John Paul II.

The Gift of Saint John Paul II is a 24 chapter tome, which covers key writings of Pope John Paul II. Among these key writings are fourteen encyclicals and ten apostolic exhortations. Unlike other books, which try to summarize and explain these types of writings, Cardinal Wuerl highlights key points and applies them to our everyday lives in the present. Before embarking on this task, Cardinal Wuerl provides an introduction which briefly talks about Pope John Paul II's papacy, explains the history of the papacy, and defines what an encyclical and apostolic exhortation are.

After this excellent introduction, Cardinal Wuerl takes us to the heart of this book with a chronological guide of John Paul II's papal writings. As expected, one of the longer chapters is on Evangelium Vitae or The Gospel of Life. This is one of the most important documents not only of his papacy, but in Church history. Despite what some people think, this encyclical did not teach anything new, but reaffirmed the Church's teachings on the human person. Such points reiterated deal with man being made in God's image, the value of all human life, and abortion as a mortal sin. Cardinal Wuerl also points out that both we as individuals and as the whole Church must speak out for life.

My favorite chapter covered was Rosarium Virginis Mariae (On the Most Holy Rosary). I picked this one because what Pope John Paul II did in this apostolic exhortation was monumental. The rosary had not changed in centuries, but in order to breathe new life into this prayer, he introduced a new set of mysteries called the Luminous Mysteries. These mysteries, based on the Scripture, filled in a "gap" that was missing between the Joyful Mysteries and Sorrowful Mysteries. Pope John Paul II also explained that the Rosary was a Christocentric prayer. As a convert the faith who always felt this prayer to be very Marian, this viewpoint was both enlightening and edifying.

With John Paul II's upcoming canonization, I believe The Gift of Saint John Paul II will be one of the must-read Catholic books of 2014. This great man not only had a big heart, full of love for God and His Church, but he also had a brilliant mind. Therefore, I encourage you to take your time and familiarize yourself with his works. Go to the John Paul II section of the Vatican's website. Read an encyclical or apostolic exhortation and keep your copy of this book by your side for commentary from one of our wonderful cardinals, Cardinal Wuerl.

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

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Mass (Image Books)

Back in May, I had the pleasure of reviewing Cardinal Wuerl's and Mike Aquilina's book The Church. (Click here if you're interested in reading the review.) In my reading of this work, I learned that it was actually a follow-up to the book The Mass. I desperately wanted to read this book, and I told myself that if the book became available to review again, I would jump at the chance. Luckily for me, Image Books recently re-released The Mass in a more affordable trade paperback format, so I saw my chance to review this book and seized the opportunity!

The Mass is the first in a series of books by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina which highlight key aspects of what make Catholics, well, Catholic. The book begins with a brief introduction on the Mass as being something we do. It is not merely some event we show up to observe but an active prayer we participate in fully. The book is divided into two parts. Part One highlights origins, history, and items used at Mass. Part Two walks us through the entire Mass part by part from the Procession to the Dismissal.

What I found the most fascinating in Part One was the history of the Mass. We all know that this Eucharistic celebration has its origins at the Last Supper. Historical aspects the normal Catholic doesn't know, e.g., the standardization during the Middle Ages, are BRIEFLY covered in this chapter. I wish there had been more pages devoted to the history of the Mass. However, I appreciate the authors acknowledging that it is impossible to cover the history in a few pages, let alone a few volumes, but I wish they would have suggested some further reading on this matter.

As opposed to picking a favorite chapter in Part Two, I picked a slew of them. To b e more specific, I really enjoyed the chapters that focused on the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which starts with the Offertory and ends with Holy Communion. This part of the Mass was one that I always wanted to understand and appreciate more, and this book definitely helped me grow in understanding. I got to read some of the prayers the priest says quietly over the chalice and when washing his hands. It was also interesting to note that when priest mixes the wine and water, it used to serve a purpose but now has several symbolic meanings, including the union of divine and human and the water and blood pouring forth from Christ's wounds.

This book is the perfect introduction to learning about the Mass and would make the perfect gift for people in RCIA or reverts looking to rediscover their Catholic faith. It is also a good read for faithful cradle Catholics just looking to deepen their love and understanding for the Mass. I believe it would also make a great gift for seminarians or new priests, though I'm sure veteran priests would enjoy it too. Basically, what I'm saying is that this book is a benefit to everyone. Once you get done reading this one, you should check out the sequel The Church. Hopefully, there will be a third book in this series in the near future.

This book was provided to me for free by Image Books. If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes!

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Holy Land: An Armchair Pilgrimage (Servant Books)

The idea of traveling to the Holy Land has always been something of an interest of mine. To walk where Jesus walked, pray where He prayed, and see the sites of the Crucifixion and Resurrection are my biggest motivators. Unfortunately, I have not made it over there yet. Hopefully one day I will, but until then I have Fr. Mitch Pacwa's The Holy Land: An Armchair Pilgrimage.

The Holy Land: An Armchair Pilgrimage is a gorgeous coffee table book, which highlights significant Biblical places (e.g., Gethsemane and Cana) and churches of importance (e.g., Ascension Chapel). The book is divided into the following eight geographical sections:
  1. Bethlehem and Ein Karem
  2. Jerusalem Old City
  3. Mount of Olives
  4. East of Jerusalem
  5. Mount Zion
  6. North of Jerusalem
  7. Western Galilee
  8. The Sea of Galilee
When I first opened this book, I went through it and only looked at the pictures. I must confess that if this book included nothing but those pictures, it would be worth the price for the pictures alone. After my surface investigation of this book, I decided to get serious and take the time to actually read the accompanying text. His descriptions and attention to detail make you feel like you are on an actual pilgrimage with Fr. Pacwa. It also makes you wish for even more pictures in the book or perhaps for an accompanying DVD tour. Each chapter then ends with a prayer, which can be used for guided meditation. So far I have only had time to quietly reflect on a couple of these places. I plan to re-visit the book many times in the future though, especially when the places tie in with major feast days in the Church.

My favorite place to read about was a toss-up between The Holy Sepulcher Church and the Church of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Holy Sepulcher Church is venerated as the site where Jesus was both crucified and buried. Underneath the altar is an actual rock from Calvary. How awesome this place must be in which to worship. There is a yearly miracle that occurs here, which Fr. Pacwa failed to mention, and that is the Miracle of Holy Fire. I chose the Church of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary as my second favorite chapter for Fr. Pacwa's inclusion of an excerpt from "The Book of the Passing of the Most Holy Virgin, the Mother of God." This was incredibly fascinating to read, and it sheds light on questions of "Did Mary die?" or "Why was Mary assumed into Heaven?"

If going to the Holy Land sounds awesome but you currently lack the funds or opportunity, then I would recommend this book instead. While it's not the same as an actual pilgrimage (Really, what is?) it will at least provide you an introduction, a sampling of what is in the Holy Land. When you finish the book, do not casually put it on your bookshelf only to forget about it. Instead, place it on your coffee table or another place where you will see it everyday. It is a book you can visit multiple times throughout the Church Year to meditate with, especially seasons like Advent or Lent, and grow closer to God.

This book was provided to me for free by Franciscan Media in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

GoBible Review and 20% Off Coupon

With Christmas a mere week away and New Year's right after that, people are starting to enter resolution mode. Many people consider giving up a vice like smoking or attempting to lose weight. Both are noble goals. Instead of giving up something this year, though, I'd like to issue a New Year's challenge -- start something this year instead. I challenge you to grow closer to God in the upcoming year by reading from His Word (the Bible) every day! Now, it wouldn't be a fair challenge if I wasn't willing to participate myself, so I promise to accept the challenge as well.  I will be using the GoBible to help accomplish this challenge! What's the GoBible you ask? Keep reading to find out.

The GoBible is a portable audio Bible that fits in the palm of your hand. I am reviewing the Original edition which, although a little pricier, comes with the following features:
  • Contains entire Bible for Catholics
  • Over 80 hours of audio, preloaded
  • Searchable by verse
  • Story index of 230 popular Bible stories
  • Topic index
  • Holiday/events index
  • Bookmarks
  • Narrated Rosary and common prayers
  • Daily readings by year and cycle
  • Voice menu for sight impaired
The first question you may be wondering is "What translation of the Bible does it use?" The GoBible does not use the NABRE (what you hear at Mass) or the RSV-CE (Ignatius Study Bible).  Instead, it features the NRSV-CE. I spoke with the people at GoBible, and they told me that the NABRE was not made available to them, but they also reassured me that the NRSV-CE has an imprimatur, which is a huge plus. For those unfamiliar with this version, it is a bit more literal than the NABRE and does include some gender-inclusive language. This means that in places where the word "men" is traditionally heard, this translation will instead say "people." Rest assured though, God is still referred to as He. There is no gender ambiguity when it comes to the Almighty!

The next question going through your head probably concerns the audio quality and how the Bible is read. In a word, it is AWESOME! GoBible tasked Emmy-Award winning narrator Stephen Johnson. He has what can be described as a smooth, deep voice. For those who don't know who he is (like myself before doing some research), "Stephen Johnston's work with all major Christian Publishers has provided a unique audio library of almost every major Bible version including, KJV, NKJV, NIV, ESV, NASB, Message, CEV and various Bible productions including Dramatized versions of the above. At 65, Stephen is deemed by his colleagues as a "master narrator", with worldwide sales of his many productions. No other person in history has narrated and produced the number of Bible products he has." I'd say he's definitely qualified, and they made a good selection.

So what are my favorite features? That's a tough call, as the more I use the product, the more I love about it. For starters, I love the daily Mass readings. Since my wife and I can't go to daily Mass at this point in our lives, we try to pray with daily Mass readings every night. This helps keep up focused on God, while staying within the rhythm of the Church calendar. Having these readings available in audio format, I can now listen to them several times throughout the day and reflect and meditate on them, or simply rest while listening to them. I also like the popular Bible stories feature. These stories are great for getting your children interested in reading the Bible. Lastly, I love the Rosary feature. I only wish there were more prayers on here, like maybe the Chaplet of Divine Mercy as well.

Lastly, I love that the GoBible also has accessories o expand how you listen to the Word of God. For example, if I want to listen to the Bible on my commute to and from work, it's not very safe to put earbuds in and drive. GoBible has a solution for that with the FM Audio Transmitter. Simply connect the transmitter to your GoBible, plug it into your car's power socket, and BAM Bible over your car's speakers! With Catholic Radio, Catholic CDs, and now the GoBible, my car can be a place of worship on wheels!

I cannot recommend this product enough! For a limited time (until January 3, 2014) GoBible and Carmel Communications have teamed up to offer my readers a 20% discount AND Free Shipping on all orders! Just enter the code SST20 at checkout. So if you are like me and love the Bible, you will want this product. If you are Catholic and wish you knew your Bible better, this is a product you need! So take me up on my New Year's challenge, pick up a GoBible, some rechargeable AAA batteries, and read your Bible everyday! You might love it so much that you read through the entire Bible in a year. What a feat that would be!

This product was provided to me for free by GoBible and Carmel Communications in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Only Love Can Save Us (Our Sunday Visitor)

As everyone should be aware by now, Pope Francis became the third pope to win Time's 2013 Person of the Year. I have mixed feelings over this. On the one hand, it's a great testament to him and the attention he has received for focusing on the poor and neglected of the world. On the other hand, liberal media likes to spin things their own way with sound bytes and quotes from his writings taken out of context. What is a Catholic to do if he wants to know what Pope Francis actually has to say on certain issues? There is only one solution, and that is to put down the newspaper, cut off the TV and read his actual words.

Only Love Can Save Us is the second published collection of letters, homilies, and talks that Pope Francis gave before he was elected Pope Francis. The first anthology was titled Encountering Christ and drew mainly on homilies for specific feasts, like Ash Wednesday, Easter Vigil, and Corpus Christi. This book, however, focuses its selections on Pope Francis' words on love and charity. As can be expected, there is some overlap between the two. After all, you can't encounter Christ without love and charity. Therefore, you will notice that Only Love Can Save Us talks # I, XV, and XVI are also found in Encountering Christ.

The most interesting of the chapters to me was "Chapter XI: Freely You Have Received, Freely Give." In this Lenten letter, which only spans three pages, Cardinal Bergoglio discusses complacency in life. I use the term discuss very loosely, as it is more of an exhortation against growing complacent. "We get used to waking up each day as though this is the only way things can be. We grow accustomed to violence as something that is never missing from the news. We get used to the habitual landscape of poverty and misery as we walk the streets of our cities. We get used to youngsters shedding their blood and women picking up what others have discarded and carting it off. We get used to living in a pagan society where kids no longer know how to pray or make the Sign of the Cross. This complacency numbs our hearts, destroying any capacity for that sense of wonder which renews our hope. We are unable to recognize evil and fight against it."

If you are looking for a clear representation of what Pope Francis believes, then look no further than this book. With topics such as marriage, children, the elderly, etc., all covered through the lens of love, you will be inspired to do more and be more for others. We can't just sit back and expect the world to get better on its own. We can't expect the hungry to be fed, the naked to be clothed, and the sick to be treated without Christian charity. Only Love Can Save Us is the wake-up call we all need to hear.

This book was provided to me free by Our Sunday Visitor. If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Yes, God! (Ave Maria Press)

I must confess something to you all. One of my deepest desires is to have a son become a priest. In fact, I'd love to have a whole bunch of children who find vocations as priests, sisters or nuns. However, I know there is a fine line between encouraging vocations and causing children to flee from the faith, because you "shove it down their throats." But with my wonderful wife by my side, I have faith that I will be able to stay on the right side of this fine line. That brings me to the book I am reviewing today called Yes, God!

Yes, God! is a book I have been anxious to read. I can't describe my excitement when it finally arrived in the mail. In this book, author Susie Lloyd interviews ten people who said yes to their vocation to the religious life. Doing her best to get a sampling of people, she interviews priests, sisters, and nuns from both Western and Eastern rites within the Catholic Church. The families these ten men and women came from are also varied, which was perhaps the biggest surprise for me. I, like most people, assumed that if you want to foster vocations in the home, then that home should smell of incense and have a holy aura that you could see from space. This isn't the case though, as demonstrated in this book.

The book as a whole focuses on fostering different traits to encourage vocations, such as affection, generosity, spiritual poverty, etc. Each chapter of this book is divided into two parts. Part one gives a brief biography of one of the clergy or religious members who are featured, a description of their family life, and what led them to accepting their vocational call. Part two is the author's reflection on what she told you in the first part and how it relates to her and her family. I had a hard time picking which chapter I enjoyed the most as each one was beautiful in its own way. There's Fr. Mark Fesniak of the Ukrainian Archdiocese of Philadelphia, who grew up altar-serving at both Western and Eastern Rite Catholic Churches every Sunday. (No wonder he became a priest!) And there's Sr. Brigid Mary Rock who grew up on a farm, where she learned toughness mixed with affection from her father. Like I said, all of the stories are beautiful in their own right.

This book is not some magic formula on how to raise future priests and religious; nor is it a blueprint which provides step-by-step instructions for fostering vocations. Such a book does not and will not ever exist. Instead, this book provides a glimpse into the home lives growing up of our religious and gives some practical guidance that, while not guaranteed to make your sons priests, will help you become a better parent. I would recommend this book for all Catholic parents. In addition, I would recommend that parents (together with their children) pray for an increase in vocations. Also, do not shy away from discussing vocations with your children. You don't have to push them into it, but let them know it is an equally valid choice, alongside doctor, engineer, etc.

This book was provided to me for free by Ave Maria Press. If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Brother Francis Presents The King is Born (Herald Entertainment)

Christmas season is quickly approaching! Have you got all your shopping done, or are you still looking for that one perfect gift? Perhaps, you could get the child (or children) in your life some Brother Francis DVDs. They have a 20% off special going through December 20th for all six DVDs and coloring books located here. Just remember to order by December 13th if you want to guarantee your packages arrives before Christmas. Today, I will be reviewing one of their latest releases on Christmas, called The King is Born.

The King is Born begins by talking about all the traditions and activities people associate with Christmas, including decorating a tree, baking cookies, and exchanging presents. He then explains that with all the hustle and bustle of the season, it's easy to forget the true reason for the season, Christ's birthday. He follows this up with the example of how you would feel if you had a birthday party and everyone ignored you and just focused on themselves instead. We have birthday parties to show appreciation and thankfulness for the person's birth. This leads us to how thankful we should be that Jesus came to earth to be born and ultimately die and save us from our sins.

Brother Francis then tells us the Biblical account of the Christmas story. I appreciate the fact that this DVD told the WHOLE story, too! We begin with Gabriel appearing to Zechariah and telling him that his wife Elizabeth will bear him a son and that he should name his son John. Then comes the Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary, Mary's Visitation to Elizabeth, the birth of John the Baptist and the Nativity of Jesus. It wraps up with Jesus' Presentation in the Temple, and Simeon prophesying to Mary about the sorrow she will experience. I wish there would have been mention of Herod, the Magi, and the Holy Innocents, but I am impressed with all the aspects of the Christmas story it did cover. Lastly, after the Christmas story is over, Brother Francis offers a succinct summary of how Christmas is just the beginning of the story of God's love.

This is the perfect Christmas gift for your little ones, but I'd honestly recommend opening it up early and watching it during Advent. Your kids are bound to get distracted by all the lights and presents and talk of Santa, and that's fine. They are just kids. However, it is our job to make sure that they know the real "reason for the season" and not let the other distractions envelop the whole season of Advent and Christmas. I very much recommend this DVD for parents of little ones, catechists, and teachers in Catholic or Christian schools.

I received this DVD for free from Herald Entertainment in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, click here and hit Yes!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Pope Awesome and Other Stories

One of the oldest adages in the reading world is "Never judge a book by its cover." I would add to that, "Never judge a book by its title." I'm guilty of being a book snob; with the recent boom in Catholic publishing, there are now hundreds of books published every year to assist us in deepening our faith. Therefore, I try to CAREFULLY scrutinize every book I request to review, because I don't want to waste my time reading something heretical or a unfulfilling. I make exceptions to that rule if you are a Pope, or a Cardinal or your name is Scott Hahn, Mike Aquilina, or Edward Sri. When Pope Awesome and Other Stories showed up on my desk, I was skeptical.  This book, on the surface, didn't seem to meet the criteria of the books I usually review, but I decided to grudgingly give it a try, but ONLY because I trusted the book's publisher, Sophia Institute Press.

Pope Awesome and Other Stories is Cari Donaldson's spiritual memoir that tracks her life from an apathetic Presbyterian teen to a Catholic homeschooling mom of six, with a whole lot of New Age atheism and soul-searching in between. How does one get from her Point A to Point B, with that much darkness in between? In a word, God. As Mrs. Donaldson points out, despite all the plans we make and the running we do from God, if God wants us, He will ultimately get us. God's plan for our lives always reigns supreme.

So what makes Cari's life story different from other converts out there? Is it unique, different, and extraordinary? No. However, she weaves her conversion seamlessly into these stories of family life that will have you laughing one minute and choking up near tears the next. How the book got its name is particularly funny, but you'll have to read the book to learn the story. I also found it refreshing that she didn't try and hide anything from the reader. Her life is an open book...this book. It's something I could never do, but she doesn't mind sharing her story with you..."warts and all."

If you're looking for a heart-warming and side-splitting read this coming year, this is the book for you. Even though I knew the eventual outcome (her conversion to Catholicism), I was broken up by her spiritual wandering and kept hoping that she would figure it out quickly and come home to the Catholic Church. Her successes became my successes. Her failures were my failures. Reading this book was like catching up with an old friend you haven't talked to in years. Hopefully, she will write a sequel and we'll get to hear more about Pope Awesome and his siblings. I enthusiastically recommend this book.

I received this book for free from Sophia Institute Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Journey to the Kingdom (Paraclete Press)

For someone who reviews A LOT of books, I rarely speak with the authors of those books. This is due in part to the fact that time is very limited in my schedule. (This blog is not my job, but a side-project of love.) This can also be attributed to the fact that I know authors have busy schedules too, and I don't want to impose on them. This being said, I'll drop them an occasional line to let them know I appreciated their book and to encourage them to keep writing. Every so often, I am blessed to have them respond to my email or, in the case of Fr. Papavassiliou. Fr. Papavassiliou emailed me after I reviewed his book Meditations for Advent and asked me to review his first book Journey to the Kingdom. I, of course, jumped at the chance, and I am VERY glad I did.

Journey to the Kingdom is an introductory guide to the worship service of the Orthodox Church, known as the Divine Liturgy. I hesitate to use the term "introductory" here, because I think it undervalues the book. Just because the text simple to read does not take away from its depth or beauty. Beginning with the opening Blessing and ending with the Dismissal, the reader possesses a step-by-step guide, or walkthrough, of what each part of the Divine Liturgy is and means. As Fr. Papavassiliou points out, though, this book is no substitute for actually attending, experiencing, and participating in the Divine Liturgy.

With all the beauty in this book, it was tough to pick a favorite chapter. It is for that very reason that I picked SIX chapters. The six chapters in this book which talk about the Creed are as good a reason as any to buy this book. In them, Fr. Papavassiliou masterfully explains key tenets of the Creed including Trinity, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Church, Baptism, and Resurrection. The chapters also explain interesting pieces of Tradition associated with the Creed. For example, the proclamation, "The doors! The doors!" is still declared before the recitation of the Creed, though it is more symbolic than anything today. In ancient days, this proclamation was given to doorkeepers to shut the doors and keep "spectators" from entering the Church. The Divine Liturgy is not a spectator sport, and only Orthodox Christians are allowed to receive Jesus in Communion.

I have had a great love for Orthodoxy for the past five years, and I am always trying to learn more about my Eastern brethren. I had the great joy of attending Divine Liturgy once, and I admit I was a little lost at points. I wish I had Journey to the Kingdom prior to attending. This is a must-read book for both cradle Orthodox Christians looking to deepen their faith and potential converts who are in the inquiry stage. It's also wonderful for people like me who just want to know more about Orthodoxy, how they celebrate, and what they believe. I love everything about this book, except for the presentation of the illustrations. They are black and white, and I wish they were in color instead.

If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Bambinelli Sunday: A Christmas Blessing (Franciscan Media)

Welcome back to the Children's Corner here at Stuart's Study. I told myself I was only going to review two products a week, but that's not going to happen this month. I have some season-specific products that I need to review, so for at least the next two weeks I'll be back to 3 posts a week. I received this latest book, Bambinelli Sunday: A Christmas Blessing, from Catholic Company's reviewer program. Unfortunately, it seems the program has been suspended at the moment, so that's a bit depressing, but hopefully it will be back in the future!

Bambinelli Sunday: A Christmas Blessing takes places in the month of December in Naples, Italy.  The story centers around a boy named Alessandro who is living with his grandparents temporarily since his parents are away in another country for work. His grandfather has a pretty awesome job (in my opinion). He is a craftsman who makes Nativity figurines. December is an especially busy time for the grandfather both because of his job and because Bambinelli Sunday is quickly approaching. What is Bambinelli Sunday? Bambinelli Sunday occurs on the Third Sunday of Advent, and it involves children bringing their baby Jesus figurines to the Pope (or parish priest) to be blessed before placing them in the manger for Christmas. In this story, Alessandro learns about faith, generosity, love, and the true meaning of Christmas.

This is another wonderful hardcover children's book from Amy Welborn, with beautiful illustrations to boot. The main character, Alessandro, had a very real feel to him. It's easy for Catholic children's authors to portray Catholic children as perfect, angelic beings, but Amy Welborn gives us a character with depth who we see mature and grow in love as the story progresses. She also introduces the tradition of Bambinelli Sunday, which many Americans are unfamiliar with. I spoke with our Director of Religious Education to see if we could get the priests to start doing it in our Church. I recommend you ask your priests as well! I also encourage you to pick up a copy of this book in time to prepare for Bambinelli Sunday with your little ones!

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 Bambinelli Sunday: A Christmas Blessing. The Catholic Company is the best resource for all your seasonal needs such as First Communion gifts as well as ideas and gifts for the special papal Year of Faith.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Relevance and Future of the Second Vatican Council (Ignatius Press)

The Church Calendar has just rolled over into a new year, which means a new season of waiting and anticipation for many Christians. For me, Advent also means a fresh start and a time for reflection on the previous year. While this year was an amazing year for my family, as it brought the birth of our first child, it was also an amazing year for the Church. We had a pope retire, a new pope elected, and we even got to have the first pope's bones on display to end the Year of Faith. This Year of Faith, which Pope Benedict XVI declared on the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II, actually encouraged me to learn more about Vatican II, and the book The Relevance and Future of the Second Vatican Council helped accomplish this task.

The Relevance and Future of the Second Vatican Council is a series of interviews conducted by Fr. Geoffroy de la Tousche with Cardinal Marc Ouellet. The book starts off with a brief biography of Cardinal Ouellet. It discusses very little of his childhood, which I would have been very interested in reading, but instead focuses on his adult life. For example, he entered the major seminary at age 19, which is very young and impressive to say the very least. It then discusses his time as a professor, a bishop, and his relationship and interaction with both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

The rest of the book is the meaty part of the text. Cardinal Ouellet discusses both generalities and specifics of Vatican II. Such topics covered include the Church, vocations, marriage, evangelization, and council constitutions like Dei Verbum and Gaudium et spes. I'm not really sure what to classify as my favorite part as it felt like each discussion was more interesting than the last. For example, when discussing vocations, Cardinal Ouellet focuses on both priests and the laity. He refers to Vatican II as a new Pentecost. Laity now have a defined role in the Church, and a great deal have accepted that role with great zeal and enthusiasm.

Vatican II is a council that still upsets some of the more conservative people today. Perhaps it is due to poor explanation following the council; perhaps it is due to the changes that followed it. I have learned in my time as a convert, though, that there is no middle ground on your feelings toward it. So if you lean negative towards Vatican II, I encourage you to read this book. It might just change your mind. However, this book isn't just for the negative crowd. This book is for ALL Catholics - young or old, single or married, laity or religious. The format is also very inviting. Since it is laid out in interview format, you can read as many sections as you want; in any order. I cannot recommend this book enough.

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

Equate Board Game (Conceptual Math Media)

In sticking with my one homeschool product a month, I would like to introduce you to the board game Equate. If you are a fan of math, then this is the game for you. As you can see by the image, the layout of the board game is similar to that of a Scrabble board. However, instead of letters, the game features numbers and mathematical symbols. This means the object of the game is to build equations instead of words.

Each board game comes with the original tile set, which is comprised of 190 tiles. Tiles are integers from 0-9, fractions like 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, etc. and the standard mathematical symbols: +, -, x, /, and =. You then take those tiles and form equations like 2 + 2 = 4, or something more complicated like 20 / 1/2 = 40. The game is designed for children 8 and up. However, if you have younger ones who would like to play, you can purchase a Junior Tile Set with more 1s and fractions with a denominator of 2; if you have older kids who need an extra challenge, there is also an Advanced Tile Set with more complex fractions and negative integers.

I love the concept of this game. I was always a child who loved math, but the only real math game out there was Monopoly. I grew to appreciate word games like Scrabble or Boggle, but I am thrilled that there is finally a math equivalent to Scrabble. However, no game is perfect, and if I had to name a flaw with this game it would be the quality of the tiles. The board is standard chipboard; unfortunately so are the tiles, so keep them away from water. I personally would prefer the tiles to be made of plastic as that would make them more durable. That gripe aside, it is still a wonderful game. The beauty of Equate is that if you don't have time for a full game, you could always use the tiles as classroom manipulatives to reinforce what your children already know.

If your child loves math, then this will be a fun game and a delight to play. If they don't, then they might grow to appreciate math more. I'm not guaranteeing it will turn them into a math-ophile, but they will at least see that math can be fun and not just a chore. With the glut of word games out there, it is refreshing to see that there are companies out there like Conceptual Math Media who make games for the number people. If you are a number person like me, then be sure to support them by purchasing this game or other games they produce like PrimePak or Conceptual Bingo.

This game was provided to me for free by Conceptual Math Media in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, click here and hit Yes!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Dangers to the Faith (Our Sunday Visitor)

I don't get to listen to Catholic Radio as much as I would like. Generally, I am able to catch about 15 minutes each morning and afternoon on the way to and from work. I only get to hear a bit of our local live show in the morning, and either the beginning of Catholic Answers Live or the tail-end of Kresta in the Afternoon. Al Kresta's show has always interested me, so I considered it a real treat to have the opportunity to review his book Dangers to the Faith.

Ever since its inception, the Catholic Church has had many opponents. People fear what they do not understand, and that fear can lead to hostility and attacks. Throughout the centuries, some of these opponents have vanished while others persistently remain. Dangers to the Faithidentifies fifteen such opponents to Catholicism. However, Mr. Kresta does more than point out these opponents; he also explains what they believe, why they are a threat, and why they are wrong in light of the Catholic Church. The opponents are divided into four categories - Abusers of Spirituality and Revelation, Abusers of Science and Reason, Abusers of the Past and the Future, and Abusers of Power and Wealth. No one abuser is any less dangerous than another. Each are equally dangerous and pose a challenge to the Church. Specific opponents include the New Age movement, Islam, Evolutionism, and Secularism to name a few.

Part Three - Abusers of the Past and the Future was definitely the most interesting section for me. I believe that was because the others abusers are more obvious, but these are more subtle and therefore require greater attention. For example, in "Redefining Orthodoxy," Mr. Kresta discussed gnostic texts such as The Gospel of Judas and Dan Brown's works. He explained that people try to use these texts to distort Christianity and make it seem like Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene or Judas was actually a saint and doing God's will by betraying Jesus. These are all heretical thoughts, but sadly some Christians are led astray into believing these to be true.

This book is a valuable tool to not only withstand the enemy, but combat him as well. It provides us with details on how the enemy is attacking us, and it arms us with tools for the battle. Sun Tzu was correct in saying, "Know the enemy." However, we must also pray for our enemy. Lastly, we must not get discouraged at being attacked from all sides. The gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. I would recommend this book to every Catholic I know, but especially to college students. Why college students? If they go to a non-Catholic college like I do, students will be exposed to nearly all of these opponents to the faith from professors and peers. Therefore, they DESPERATELY need to know how to defend and keep their faith. Pair it with How to Defend the Faith, and they will make the perfect gift for your new adult going to college!

I received this book for free from Our Sunday Visitor in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes.

Monday, November 18, 2013

101 Tips for a Happier Marriage and Six Sacred Rules for Families (Ave Maria Press)

This is the second post in a row that I am doing a double review. Sorry to my readers if I am overwhelming you with books. Welcome to my day-to-day world! I finish a book, write a review, and see progress in my review stack. The mail arrives the next day and there are three new books to review. Don't get me wrong; it can be an overwhelming juggling act, but I wouldn't have it any other way. It really is a GREAT problem to have if you love books like I do. Today's post includes two books from Ave Maria Press - 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage and Six Sacred Rules for Families.

101 Tips for a Happier Marriage is a brief, but efficient book that provides the reader with 101 practical tips on a happy marriage. The tips are arranged thematically under headings such as "Adjust Your Attitude" or "Get It Done Without Drama." I appreciate that as it makes for an easier and more systematic read. You might need a specific section of the book at a certain time, and you don't want to spend an hour thumbing through the book to find the tip you are looking for.

Generally, I try and find a favorite section or chapter in a book to recommend. However, each tip fits on one page, so I have to take a different approach. What I like best about this book is that the book is addressed to the reader. The authors don't give tips on how to improve your spouse so your marriage will be happy. They give you tips on how to improve YOU! There were definitely some tips in here that opened my eyes and made me say, "I do that and I need to stop." Even though I have been married for just under two years and we are still in the honeymoon phase, I want to always have a happy marriage. This book isn't the magic bullet to accomplish that, but it is a no-nonsense practical guide to help along the journey. It would make a perfect wedding gift or a 50th anniversary gift. Five stars!

Six Sacred Rules for Families is a practical manual for the Catholic family on how to integrate faith into every aspect of life. Starting with "Section One: A New Vision for Family Life," Tim and Sue Muldoon invite you to change the way you look at your family life, and decide what ultimately and what eternally matters. By doing this, you will see family life as a vocation. This shouldn't be a novel concept, because we see priesthood and marriage as vocations. However, parenthood is an equally important vocation!

Part Two is the meat of the book and the basis of the title - the six rules. I won't give you all the rules listed. (You'll have to buy the book for that!) Instead, I will address the one which spoke most loudly to me - "The Third Rule: Our Family Doesn't Care About Success!" Life is more than lots of money, big houses, and fancy cars. As the Muldoons say in this chapter, "The third rule invites us to question what we think is good, to ask whether our vision of what's good is ultimately in service to an expansive and generous love. If it is not, then it is also an invitation to let go of that vision, so a newer one might grow in its place." Part Three wraps up the book nicely by providing real world advice on how to follow all the rules.

As someone with a new family, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a realistic and straightforward approach on how to build a domestic church. If we want our children to love God and the Church and not fall away, then we must be vigilant! We must not compartmentalize our faith to just Sundays. We must let our Catholic faith permeate every part of your life. A large fire ignites from a single spark. Are you willing to be that spark that sets ablaze the love of God in your family? In the world?

Both of these books were given to me for free by Ave Maria Press in exchange for honest reviews. If you found the reviews helpful, click here or here!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Jorge from Argentia and Blessed James Alberione (Pauline Books and Media)

Welcome back to the Children's Corner. Unfortunately, this segment doesn't appear as often as it used to at Stuart's Study. The Catholic publishing industry does print hundreds of books a year, but I'd say about only a dozen or so of those books are geared towards kids. Luckily, we have companies like Pauline Books and Media who keep printing faithful children's books, while everyone else is focused mainly on adults. Today, therefore, I am reviewing two of their books - Jorge from Argentina and Blessed James Alberione: Media Apostle.

Jorge from Argentina is a biography of Pope Francis told at a level that children can understand. This book begins with the wedding of Jorge's parents and his subsequent birth.  It ends with his election as Pope and the most recent World Youth Day in Brazil. Interspersed throughout the biography are interesting facts about his life that show us what made him the man he is today. For example, as a young boy, he spent days with his grandparents where they spoke Italian to him. This exposure to a second language explains why he is fluent in both Italian and Spanish. One chapter even talks about where he first discovered his call to priesthood at the age of 17. This was a beautiful chapter that teaches children to always be open and listening to God. In doing so, God will reveal His will for their lives to them.

This is the third book published from Pauline Books and Media that tells the life story of the current pope with the previous two books in the "series" being Karol from Poland and Joseph from Germany. While my son (and future children) were not alive for the reigns of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, I still bought these books so they can know about the popes who helped shape my faith. Like the first two books in this "series," Jorge from Argentina's  story and pictures will captivate your young readers. You might learn something too from reading it with/to them. My only gripe with the book is that it is a different size than Karol from Poland and Joseph from Germany.I'm a big fan of books in series looking uniform. That minor gripe aside, I still recommend this book to you all. As an added bonus, it is also available in Spanish under the title Jorge de Argentina!

Blessed James Alberione: Media Apostleis the 32nd book in the Encounter the Saints Series. For those of you unfamiliar with the books in this series, they are pocket-sized biographies of saints or near-saints. I'm ashamed to admit that I have never heard of Fr. James Alberione until today, not because I think I know every saint in Heaven but because he was the founder of both the Society of St. Paul and the Daughters of St. Paul. The Daughters of St. Paul is the group that published this and many other books I have reviewed. The book is approximately 130 pages long and is recommended for children ages 9-13. However, I believe your high schooler could benefit from reading it as well.

Apart from the interesting details of Fr. James Alberione's early life, I found the most fascinating parts of the book were his life after he was ordained. From all accounts, it seems like he should be fulfilled in his vocation. He had a doctorate in theology (something I would love to have), and he was working as a teacher, a spiritual director, and an associate pastor. However, there was still a yearning inside of him to do more. I think we all feel that call, but we don't always act on it. Fr. James did not make this mistake of ignoring the call. Instead, he responded with gusto and used media such as radio, film, and, my favorite, printed works to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If it wasn't for him, there would be A LOT less Catholic children's books in the U.S today. This was such a well-written book that I now want to read the rest of the series. I guess I better start saving up, because I am 31 behind! Your children will love to read this, and you will probably want to borrow it when they are done. I can't wait to see what Volume 33 will be.

I received both of these books for free from Pauline Books and Media, in exchange for honest reviews. If you found the reviews helpful click here and here, and hit Yes!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Advent of Christ (Servant Books)

We're quickly approaching my favorite Church Season, Advent. I know I'm unusual, as most people prefer Christmas, but I'm okay with that. Last Friday, I reviewed a wonderful Orthodox book for Advent. Click here in case you missed it. I figured it was only appropriate to review a Catholic book for Advent too, and boy, do I have a good one for you! This book is written by my favorite Catholic author, Dr. Edward Sri, and is entitled The Advent of Christ.

The Advent of Christ is laid out like your standard daily devotional. It spans from the First Sunday of Advent to the Feast of the Epiphany. Each day includes a Scripture reading, a meditation on the Scripture, a reflection question to apply to your daily life, and a closing prayer. The commentary is mostly drawn from one of Dr. Sri's other books, Dawn of the Messiah. If you have never read this book, then you will be in for a treat. Dr. Sri breaks down the story leading up to Jesus' birth into manageable daily bites.

I particularly enjoyed the readings in the First Week of Advent. People always focus solely on Jesus and Mary, and OCCASIONALLY Joseph during Advent, which is very appropriate for the season. However, in focusing on only the Holy Family, one misses out on the story of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist. Apart from just being an interesting story about an aged wife becoming pregnant and a husband who can't speak throughout the whole pregnancy, these people are all key players in Salvation History! It was also interesting to read about Gabriel's appearance in the Old Testament, particularly Daniel 9, compared to Gabriel's appearance to Zechariah.

If all the hustle and bustle in the month leading up to Christmas is making it hard for you to focus on the real reason for the season, then you will want to pick up this book. Each meditation is approximately two pages and takes at most five minutes to read. Surely, we can all give God five minutes a day. In addition to being a short read, it is easily understood and can be read aloud to the whole family. Lastly, the closing questions and prayer put a nice bow on the package and serve a two-fold purpose of preparing us for Christmas and improving our spiritual health. It's a 5-star book that I plan on reading not only this Advent, but future ones as well.

I received this book for free from Franciscan Media in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here, and hit Yes!

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Faith Understood (Emmaus Road Publishing)

Today, I am going to start my blog post with a confession. I am an avid book collector. I come home at least once a week to a new book in the mail. Gift requests for Christmas or my birthday are always for more books. I even look forward to Catholic lawn parties for the sole purpose of buying more books which I might never actually get to read. Because of this affinity, occasionally a book sent to me by a publisher will fall through the cracks, and I fail to review it in a timely manner. Today is one such occasion. So I would like to offer a sincere apology to Emmaus Road Publishing for letting The Faith Understood sit on my shelf so long before I finally read it.

The Faith Understood is the quintessential introduction to Catholic Theology. Dr. Zia begins the book by defining what theology is exactly. Next, he provides a brief blurb on eight Western and Eastern Doctors of the Church who we still look to today in matters of theology. He then dives headfirst into important topics that fall under the umbrella of theology, including Scripture, faith and reason, sin, Mariology, and eschatology. If all this seems overwhelming, do not despair. Each chapter is broken into manageable bites of knowledge that make it easy to grasp and retain.

Even though I have a deep love for Scripture and all things related to it, the chapter I found most enlightening was the one which discussed Mariology. Subtopics in this chapter are Mary's Immaculate Conception, her Perpetual Virginity, and her Assumption. Even though I have been a convert for over ten years, I still struggle with fully understanding parts of Mariology. I accepted them on faith before my conversion, but I just wanted a better explanation. This chapter definitely shed a bit more light on Mary for me. For example, the issue of Mary's death has always been difficult for me.  whenever I ask anyone whether Mary died or not, the response is almost always "no." However, my studies point in a different direction.  Many of the sources I read state that Mary died prior to her Assumption into Heaven. Dr. Zia explains that both positions are acceptable as long as you don't believe that she either died because she sinned or didn't die because she is a goddess.

If you are considering converting to Catholicism, this book is for you. If you are a cradle Catholic who doesn't really know what they believe, but have always wanted to, this book is for you. If you just wish you could explain your beliefs better to people who question you on matters of Catholic theology, this book is for you too. This book easily gets a 5-star rating and should be on the bookshelf of every Catholic.

This book was provided to me for free by Emmaus Road Publishing in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes!

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Layperson's Distinctive Role (Ignatius Press)

As humans, there are a variety of needs that we must fulfill to sustain our existence. Abraham Maslow developed a pyramid called a "hierarchy of needs," which categorized those needs and ranked them in order that people would pursue them. For example, looking at the pyramid to your left, one would not seek to fulfill needs of safety like security or property, without first meeting the physiological needs. What does all of this have to do with the book I'm reviewing today? I believe a large portion of the laity in the Church have climbed to the third tier of the pyramid and are seeking a sense of belonging and purpose in the Catholic Church. Cardinal Arinze addresses these needs in his latest book The Layperson's Distinctive Role.

The Layperson's Distinctive Role is more than just an explanation of the laity's role in the Church. It is a call to embrace that role. But what exactly is the role of the layperson? For the longest time, laity in the Catholic Church served three purposes - to pray, to pay, and to obey. That means they were asked to go to Mass, pay their tithes, and obey what the clergy said no questions asked. Priests and other religious were in charge of everything else. Pope John XXIII, in his infinite wisdom, helped change that with Vatican II. In this council, specifically in the two documents Lumen Gentium and Apostolicam Actuositatem, the role of the laity was defined and a charge was given to them to accept their lay vocation and become co-participants in the mission of evangelization.

The first chapter of this book starts off with a charge to all baptized Christians to participate in evangelization. The author then explains what constitutes the laity and provides a bit of history on the nature of lay evangelization in the New Testament, with examples such as Mary Magdalene or the Samaritan woman at the well. We then learn about various forms of lay apostolate, primarily Catholic Action. Then, we get to the meat of the book with Chapter 5 - "The Specific Role of the Laity." This chapter explains the contents of important Church documents (including the two listed above). However, Cardinal Arinze simplifies the call of the laity by saying that our role is to let God fill every aspect of our life. We can't compartmentalize our faith and only take it seriously on Sunday. We must be witnesses to our faith in our job, our everyday life, and in everything we do. The rest of the book then goes on to discuss how laity and clergy can work in unison and how the lay ecclesiastical movement is present today, like the charismatic renewal.

The days are gone where we as laity can make excuses or say things like, "I wish my Church had this activity." If you feel like your Church would benefit from something like a Bible Study or Young Adult Group, ask your priest's permission to start one. Don't ask them to start one for you. I can almost guarantee that they will welcome the opportunity for more parishioner involvement. So if you are a layperson trying to find your place in the Church, then The Layperson's Distinctive Role is the book for you. If you are part of the clergy and are looking for ways directions to steer your flock or ways to encourage your flock to get involved, you too will benefit from this book. What I'm saying is that any Catholic would benefit greatly from reading this book. I hope that I can apply its lessons more to my daily life at my job and let my life be a witness in my work.

I received this book for free from Ignatius Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Meditations for Advent (Ancient Faith Publishing)

There are a few authors out there who have a special way of writing, a way that touches the reader's heart. They paint a picture with their words and shine new light onto subjects we have been statically observing our whole life. Vassilios Papavassiliou is such a writer. Earlier this year, I had the privilege of reviewing his book Meditations for Great Lent and it deepened my appreciation for the season of Lent. Today, I am again blessed with the opportunity to review one of his books, Meditations for Advent.

In Meditations for Advent, Fr. Papavassiliou begins by distinguishing Catholic Advent from Orthodox "Advent." I put Advent in quotations here because it is a Western term and not widely used in Orthodoxy. The three differences are start date (November 15th for Orthodox vs. 4th Sunday Before Christmas for Catholics), focus (Incarnation/First Coming for Orthodox vs. First and Second Comings of Jesus for Catholics), and the fact that it marks the beginning of the Church Year for Catholics, whereas September 1 is the start date for Orthodox Christians. After Fr. Papavassiliou makes these distinctions, we embark on a four part journey which focuses on Spiritual Preparation, the Scriptures, the Icon of the Nativity, and the Incarnation. The careful reader will notice that Fasting is missing, and that is because it was so thoroughly covered in Meditations for Great Lent that Fr. Papavassiliou didn't want to re-hash the same information in this book.

The first section of the book, Spiritual Preparation, is a quick stroll through the season and important feasts on the calendar. Each chapter in this section is chock full of hymns that will help expand your knowledge and deepen your appreciation of the beauty of Christmas. Section Two, which addresses the Scriptures, references Christological foreshadowing in Old Testament stories such as Jonah and the Three Youths in the Fiery Furnace. We FINALLY arrive at the section I was itching to read, a discussion of the Icon of the Nativity. I would have loved if Fr. Papavassiliou had addressed all aspects of the icon, but instead he focuses on the manger, the animals, and the star. The explanation from St. John Chrysostom on the star was mind-blowing to me and I will never view the star the same way again. The last section deals with Christ as the New Adam and coming into world as the Light that shines in the darkness of the world.

If you are an Orthodox Christian, then this is an essential book for your library. Even if you're not, reading this book will increase your understanding of Advent and, more importantly, increase your appreciation of what Christmas really is about. I would like to close with a quote from the book. "The Feast of the Nativity is a celebration of divine weakness overpowering human strength, of good conquering evil, of the light of divine knowledge dispelling the darkness of ignorance. This is not just a cause for an annual celebration, but is the strength of our Christian faith and the joy of divine Light which the darkness of evil can never extinguish."

I received this book for free from Ancient Faith Publishing in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline (Our Sunday Visitor)

In case you haven't noticed, at the end of each month I've been trying to highlight a book or product geared toward the homeschooling parent. It hasn't been an easy task, as this is a relatively new market. Luckily, good Catholic publishers like Our Sunday Visitor have some books that fit the bill and are ever-generous in allowing me to review their offerings. Today's review is for the book Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline, and while the target audience is not primarily homeschooling parents, I believe it contains some wisdom that can be applied in the home.

Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline is a book that advocates a different approach on behavior and discipline. As opposed to the tired methods of "carrot and/or stick," Lynne Lang introduces a different method - one based on teaching children virtue. The Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline (VBRD) model begins with helping children to grow spiritually by teaching them virtue. Then, when harm occurs (and it will occur), you look at the cause of harm or misbehavior and work on making amends. This is a completely different approach than "zero-tolerance," which simply advocates for suspension or expulsion of the bully without getting to the core of the bullying or working on repairing relationships between the children.

The VBRD model is ideal for Catholic schools for the following reason: "In public schools, if a child is marginalized, there are other places to go for acceptance: community-based extracurricular activities and church and neighborhood community events. In Catholic communities, however, if a child is marginalized or bullied at school, that same experience can spill over into sports teams and scout groups and even affect church attendance." Therefore, in order to make VBRD successful, you need community-wide cooperation, including parents, students, and staff, both at the school and at the church.

If you send your children to public school or choose to homeschool, this book is still a worthwhile read. It can also help with your parenting or even self-improvement. For example, I know I am guilty of gossip, negative humor, sarcasm, etc. However, I am trying to eliminate this so I don't pass it on to my son and his future siblings. This book gave practical actions to institute change, like being encouraging toward others, changing the subject when gossip arises, and paying people genuine compliments. I know it will be a struggle, but I know it will be worth it.

Though one could argue that the book is primarily directed at correcting bullying, the VBRD model is so much more. It has already shown great success in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. If given the chance it could work in your diocese as well. I plan on telling our Director of Religious Education about this book, and I would recommend this book to parents, teachers, principals, and school volunteers.

I received this book for free from Our Sunday Visitor in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Good Pope, Bad Pope (Servant Books)

In the history of the Catholic Church, there have been 266 popes serving as leader to the world's Catholics for nearly 2000 years. Throughout that illustrious history, there have been some truly great popes, some mediocre popes, and some downright awful popes. The one thing that remains constant is their position as head of the Catholic Church; even through very trying times, the Church that Christ established has not collapsed under a single pope.

In the book, Good Pope, Bad Pope Mike Aquilina highlights a selection of popes through the history of the Church - starting with St. Peter and ending with soon-to-be St. John Paul II. Ten other popes are also examined, including one of my favorites, St. Clement, and some lesser known ones like Liberius and Vigilus. As the title suggests, some of the popes are good, and some are bad. However, Mr. Aquilina selected these twelve to show how the papacy developed through the centuries.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Pope Pius XII. Pope Pius XII reigned during the time of Nazi Germany. His reign was very polarizing, and there is no real middle ground on people's view of him. They have either staunchly defended him or vilified him, saying he didn't do enough for Jewish people during his reign. Mr. Aquilina did a masterful job presenting all the facts regarding what Pope Pius XII did to help Jewish people. The most impressive action Pope Pius XII took was opening up monasteries, convents, and even Castel Gandolfo to Jewish people as a place to hide. Detractors of Pope Pius XII would do well to realize that if it wasn't for him, thousands more Jewish people would have died.

It is no surprise to me, or to anyone who has read Mr. Aquilina, that he delivers another solid work with Good Pope, Bad Pope. There were plenty of good and bad popes he could have chosen to highlight in this book, but his selections were thoughtful and made sense. Before you get scandalized that he would willingly air the Church's dirty laundry, you should realize that the main purpose of this book is to remind us that the Church is not a man-made institution, but one established by Jesus Christ. This means that, despite the bad popes, the Church still has not erred in doctrinal teaching. If you want to read a fascinating book about twelve remarkable men, pick up this 5-star book!

Note: The back of the book says that an Afterword is included, which discusses Pope Benedict XVI's retirement and Pope Francis' election. There was a glitch in printing somewhere, and it only appeared in the digital edition, not the print edition. If you own the print edition and would like to read the Afterword, you can click here.

I received this book for free from Franciscan Media in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here, and hit Yes!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Shakespeare's Catholicism (Catholic Courses)

William Shakespeare is considered history's greatest playwright for many reasons. His way with words has yet to be matched and the stories he told still capture the attention of audiences today. Hollywood, in fact, still likes to bring his plays to life on the big screen, as can be seen in the many adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Othello to name a few. Today, I have the privilege of reviewing another wonderful study program from Catholic Courses entitled Shakespeare's Catholicism by Joseph Pearce.

Mr. Pearce begins by discussing how to read and how to think. In both cases, he states that there is an objective way to read/think and a subjective way to read/think. The best way to read literature in his opinion is to read it through the eyes of the author. Why is all of this important? It is important because both lectures on Disc 1 are biographical in content. Mr. Pearce believes if you want to truly understand the plays of Shakespeare and their Catholicity then you have to understand the following:
  1. Who was Shakespeare?
  2. What do we know about his life?
  3. What were his beliefs?
  4. How do these beliefs inform his works, and do we see those beliefs in his works?
If you don't understand these things about Shakespeare, then your own subjective biases will creep in and color the way you read the plays. T.S. Eliot felt this way about Dante as well, and expressed it in the quote, "You cannot afford to ignore Dante's philosophical and theological beliefs, or to skip the passages which express them most clearly...You are not called upon to believe what Dante believed." Therefore, you don't have to be Catholic to see the Catholicism in Shakespeare's work; you just have to see the evidence for Shakespeare's Catholicism and expect to see the Catholicism reflected in the work. You also don't have to agree with it.

The remaining 3 discs (6 lectures) focus on the following Shakespeare plays:
  • Romeo and Juliet (2 lectures)
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • Hamlet
  • Macbeth
  • King Lear
I have recently read Joseph Pearce's book on Romeo and Juliet, so Disc 2 (Lectures 3 and 4) was a bit of a re-hash for me, but if you have not had the time to read this book, it will be fresh information to you. The most interesting lecture to me was on Hamlet, as this was my favorite play I read in high school. If you went to a secular high school like I did, you will notice a vast difference between your English teacher's interpretation and Mr. Pearce's. I vastly prefer Mr. Pearce's, but others may not. Having studied this Catholic Course, I have a new desire to re-read Hamlet or even tackle Macbeth since I never had the opportunity to study it previously. If you are a lover of Shakespeare, literature, and/or Catholicism, you will want to pick up a copy of Shakespeare's Catholicism. For a brief preview, check out the video below:

I received this course for free from Catholic Courses in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Politicizing the Bible (Crossroad Publishing)

There are lots of things I love about being Catholic. I've never formally composed a list, but if I did you would definitely find the Bible and Scott Hahn on that list. Therefore, you can only imagine my excitement when I found out that Crossroad Publishing was releasing the book Politicizing the BiblePoliticizing the Bible is the second joint effort between Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker, the first of which was Answering the New Atheism. I knew this book would be a challenge to read, but I also knew it would contain great wisdom.

Politicizing the Bible  is a meaty tome spanning over 500 pages, which examines the origins of the historical critical method as a means of interpreting the Bible and identifies famous people who utilized this method. For those unfamiliar with the historical critical method, it is a way of understanding the Bible through understanding the literal meaning of Biblical texts when placed in the original historical context. This means the researcher wants to know who wrote it, when it was written, where it was written, what influenced the writing of it, etc. Additionally, one can use this method and compare the Biblical text to other texts written during the same period. In a nutshell, this method focuses on the human origins of the Biblical text, which isn't wrong but doesn't give you the whole picture either.

In this book, Drs. Hahn and Wiker cover both the development of the historical critical method over time and the key people in history who utilized the historical critical method. These people used their interpretation of Biblical texts to further their own political purposes and agendas. Some such people include Martin Luther, Thomas Hobbes, Machiavelli, and even King Henry VIII. Another interesting fact that I learned from reading this book is that most people believe this method originated in the 17th or 18th Century. However, the two authors demonstrate that it in fact had its earliest origins in the 14th Century, well before the Reformation ever occurred.

Each person listed above (and the others not listed in this review) is the subject of a fascinating chapter in this book, which demonstrates how the historical critical method developed over time. Drs. Hahn and Wiker were able to show how each person's idea builds off the ideas of their predecessors to further secularize and politicize the Bible. This steady shift in thought ended up having a lasting effect on modern interpretation of Scripture. It is worth pointing out that Biblical critics often claim that the historical critical method of studying Scripture is unbiased and neutral. One only needs to skim this book to see that this is not the case. A deeper read will show you that whenever people are involved, bias is impossible to eliminate; people will manipulate even the Bible if it suits their agenda.

Politicizing the Bible is THE go-to guide for an explanation and critique of the historical critical method. Be forewarned though, this is not a book for the casual reader. When placed next to your Bible, the two books look nearly equally big and thick. In addition to the size and weight of this book, almost each page is half text and half footnotes. This is a book for the serious student of Scripture, and if you fall into that category you will want this 5 star book on your shelf.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Ignatius of Loyola (Pauline Books and Media)

Today is a double review day at Stuart's Study. I'm normally not a fan of doing that, but these books are similar in many ways that it just made sense to me. The books are entitled Saint Francis of Assisi: Messenger of Peace and Saint Ignatius of Loyola: Leading the Way. Both of them are written by Toni Matas and illustrated by Picanyol. You can find them available for purchase at Pauline Books and Media.

Saint Francis of Assisi: Messenger of Peace is the life story of St. Francis in a graphic novel format. The book starts off with St. Francis' most famous prayer, "The Canticle of the Sun." I must admit that I find myself struggling with this prayer. Sometimes I like it, and other times it puzzles me. However, it wouldn't be a book about St. Francis if it didn't incorporate this prayer in there. The book then proceeds to cover his entire life from birth to death, including two key events in his life - the vision with the San Damiano Cross and his receiving of the stigmata. Lastly in this book is the Prayer for Peace, which serves as a perfect close for this book.

I really like that this book presents the whole truth of St. Francis' life. St. Francis wasn't born a saint, and this was shown by the way he lived his life before his conversion experience. This book doesn't gloss over these truths about his life, which is greatly appreciated. It also covered in detail, without being too gory, how St. Francis received the stigmata and the unusual treatment he received near the end of his life for an eye disease which afflicted him. The story flows nicely and has little headings in red text to highlight major events for your child. The illustrations are of high quality and will make this saint's story come alive for your grade school or middle school child, though older kids might like it as well.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola: Leading the Way presents St. Ignatius' biography in the format of a graphic novel. It begins with the Suscipe prayer, which is a prayer asking God to receive us and everything we are. The story then starts with St. Ignatius' birth and quickly jumps to his military escapades. He was an able soldier and a skilled diplomat but was injured to the point of death. Fortunately for him, St. Peter appeared to him and healed him. However, in a gruesome turn of events, one of his leg was shorter than the other, but he ordered it to be re-broken and set to the length of his other leg. It was during this recovery that St. Ignatius began to turn away from the world and toward God.

Besides learning about St. Ignatius' life, your child will also get a brief introduction to the Spanish Inquisition, discernment of spirits, Ignatian spirituality, and the founding of the Jesuits. Like it's counterpart, Saint Francis of Assisi: Messenger of Peace, this book is well-illustrated and does a fine job of making the stories of saints interesting for your young readers. It also does a fine job of showing your kids how a person's life and attitude can be changed with God's help. With the action of fighting in battles to start the story off, it will surely capture the attention of young boys.

Both of these books are worthy of the 5-star rating. As someone who grew up reading comic books and still reads them occasionally, it's cool to see the faith presented graphically. I believe it is a sure-fire way to not only get young boys attention but also keep it. Don't fret parents of girls! There are also two girls' graphic novels, which are entitled Saint Joan of Arc: Quest for Peace and Saint Bernadette: The Miracle of Lourdes. They are by a different author, but I would bet they are of equal quality and depth. Thank you to Pauline Books and Media for continuing to publish great Catholic children's books. May these books be the stepping stones for a vocation boom in the coming generation!

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