Thursday, January 31, 2013

Orthodox Thursday: The Rest of the Bible

Welcome back to another installment of Orthodox Thursday. Today, I am reviewing The Rest of the Bible: A Guide to the Old Testament of the Early Church by Theron Mathis available at Conciliar Press. I grew up Southern Baptist, and always prided myself on my knowledge of the Bible. I can still list all 66 books of the Protestant Bible in order to this day. It wasn't until I had to go to Catholic School that I discovered there were extra books in their Bible. It wouldn't be until years later when I converted that I learned that Protestants had removed the books and they weren't added by Catholics or Orthodox at all.

In fact, I often get asked by family members who are still Baptist, "What do you call those extra books in your Bible?" And, I must admit, sometimes I answer half-seriously and half-sarcastically, "The Bible," because they aren't extra to Catholics or Orthodox. They are simply a normal part of our Bible. However, as Mr. Mathis points out in his Introduction, in the early part of the Church, these were referred to as "The Readables." This is a much better response than I was giving, and the term gives a truer sense of what these books are, as opposed to terms such as "Apocrypha" or "Deuterocanonical." These truly are books that are beneficial for all Christians to read.

Each chapter is approximately ten pages long and provides you with a background/summary of the Scripture, how it is used in the Church liturgically (if it is so used), and/or what the Church Fathers had to say about it, also known as Patristics. The chapter sections on what the Church Fathers had to say was the most interesting and helpful to me. I have a great love for Patristics, and I believe that they understand the Scriptures better than anyone as they were alive close to the time when it was written.

This book is a very easy and understandable read. If you have read these books/sections in your Bible, then you will recognize many familiar passages and gain a better appreciation of them. If you have never read these selections in your Bible or these selections aren't in your Bible, then this book is a must-read for you. Tobit and the Wisdom of Sirach are two of my favorite of "The Readables," but you will find something beneficial for your spiritual life in all of them. So pick up this 5 star book to serve as a reading companion for you while reading the Bible.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Catholic Monday: Walking Toward Eternity

Welcome back to Catholic Monday here at Stuart's Study. I have a product to recommend to you today that I have been working through and enjoying for the past two months. I know y'all are thinking, "Two months?!" Don't worry. This isn't some 1,000 page tome I've been working through. (Though, I do have one of those I am slogging through.) This is a wonderful eight part Bible Study series entitled Walking Toward Eternity: Daring to Walk the Walk. Written by Jeff and Emily Cavins and sold at the BEST place to purchase Catholic Bible Studies - Ascension Press.

After reading the book Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina (also published by Ascension Press), I felt that I had a great beginners understanding of what Lectio Divina was but longed for a way to actually start practicing it. I know that you can find a Gospel passage on your own and go through the steps, but I didn't feel brave enough to start without more direction. The series "Walking Toward Eternity" provided just the tools and help I needed to get started.

This is an eight part series, with the first part prepping you on what exactly Lectio Divina is and how to hear the voice of God through reading and meditating on the Scripture. After you make it through the introductory lesson, it starts to pick up and you learn about seven key virtues (Love, Forgiveness, Humility, Prayerfulness, Faithfulness, Sacrifice, and Thanksgiving) and how to live them in your practical life. I know I could stand to have more of all seven of these virtues (and others) in my life.

For three days you do Scripture readings and journal entries that help you understand the meaning, importance, and practice of each virtue. On the fourth day is when you really put the Lectio Divina in practice with the Scripture passage that had the most meaning to you from one of the previous three days. All of this is done on your own (or with your spouse like I chose to do). On the Meeting Day, you join up with the other members of your group to share insights and watch the DVD (or listen to the CD) lesson for that virtue.

With the first lesson, I felt like I was just spinning my wheels and that this was going to be just like every other Bible Study I had ever done. However, when I got to Day 4 and actually begin to truly do Lectio Divina, I truly started appreciating the series. It tied the first three days together and made me realize that you can't just dive head first into something new. You have to take baby steps and crawl before you can start to walk or run. The DVDs are also great and Jeff Cavins is masterful as usual. It feels like he is there in your living room to teach you personally.

This is by far a 5 star Bible Study series. If you approach it with a sincere heart and put a lot into it, you will get even more out of it If this sounds like a series that would be good for you and your circle of friends, pool your resources to buy the DVDs or CDs. You could also see if your Pastor or Director of Religious Education would consider purchasing them for the parish. I would recommend using this series for a group of 10-12 people. It can be done with fewer, but the conversation might start to lull on meeting days. On the flip side, with more than a dozen and it could start to get a bit loud and unruly with all the voices trying to chime in with their personal reflections.

I also think that the perfect time for embarking on this series is Ordinary Time, though it would be great at anytime. I just find that for myself, and perhaps others feel this way too, Ordinary Time can feel like a particularly long period with no major fasting like Advent or Lent to humble us or major feast like Christmas or Easter for us to celebrate. There is also a second series called Walking Toward Eternity: Engaging the Struggles of Your Heart that focuses on obstacles in our lives for us to overcome such as Envy, Anger, and Greed to name a few. I hope to get a chance to review that series in the future.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Children's Corner: Saints for Kids (DVD)

Welcome back to the Children's Corner at Stuart's Study. Today, instead of reviewing a book, I am reviewing a DVD called Saints for Kids instead. This product like, past Children's Corner product was sent to me courtesy of Pauline Books and Media. I was a bit conflicted when I received this product in the mail to review. Call me radical, but I don't want my children sitting in front of the TV all the time, glued to it like zombies. However, there are a few programs and stations out there that I would be okay with, and this would be one of them.

Intended for children ages 3-8, though you could start it with younger children, this 2-set DVD pack highlights 32 different saints with an approximate four minute segment for each one. I really like that the DVDs are arranged according to the Saint's Feast Day on the Church Calendar. It is also refreshing that the DVDs aren't filled with all the typical saints, you'd expect to see. Sure, your kids will recognize some of the saints, like St. Mary or St. Nicholas, but be surprised with some other saints like St. Anthony of Egypt, one of the founders of monasticism.

Overall, I would give this DVD set 4 out of 5 stars. The content is super, but the animation style is a little low quality. If your kids are used to Disney or DreamWorks, they might find this to be a bit lackluster. I would have also liked the segments to be longer than four minutes. I think ten minutes would be a good length. Perhaps, they are this short because they know kids have a short attention span, and know that kids minds move on to different things quickly. Despite these two gripes, I would still recommend it for your children or your Catholic Religious Education class.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Orthodox Thursday: Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas

Welcome to my first post with the label "Orthodox Thursday." This isn't my first Eastern Orthodox book to review, but it definitely has been a few months. Today's book is entitled Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas: A Family Devotional in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition by AmandaEve Wigglesworth. Conciliar Press sent me this book to review, and I meant to review it during the Christmas season, but it got lost in the shuffle of other books.

In this book, one will find a plethora of information and ideas. This provides you a few different ways to read the book and approach it with your family. You could start by simply reading and discussing the Liturgical aspect of each day with your family. Perhaps my favorite part of this book is that it contains the Troparion and Kontakion for each day. For those of you unfamiliar with these terms, they are the two most important hymns for the day in the Orthodox Church.

Another way you can teach your family (or Sunday School) from this book is by using the song The Twelve Days of Christmas and explaining the religious significance for each day. This is a clever catechesis method and lets your kids know about the real significance of what many people view as a silly secular song. Also included in this book are craft or recipe ideas for each day, such as a stained glass project or making a St. Basil cake.

This was a cute and useful book at the same time. Orthodox families would benefit from it greatly next Christmas if they are looking for some fresh ways to keep their children focused on Christmas for the whole season and not just think it ends on December 25. As a Catholic, this book was interesting to me to see how different the Eastern calendar is from the Western one and the two hymns for each day, mentioned above, deepened my appreciation of the Christmas Season.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Catholic Monday: The Blessing Cup

Welcome back to Stuart's Study. You may notice that this post has a different heading in front of it called "Catholic Monday." Starting this week book reviews will be segregated by days. We now have Catholic Mondays, Orthodox Thursdays, and the Children's Corner on Saturdays. I understand a lot of my followers are Catholics, but I believe we can learn a lot from our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters and vice versa. So I hope my faithful readers will still continue to check out reviews on Thursday as they might find a book that piques their interest and causes them to explore the other lung of Christianity.

Today I am reviewing The Blessing Cup: Prayer Rituals for Families and Groups an by Fr. Rock Tranikar. Within the pages of this book you will find prayer rituals you can pray with your family or friends for almost every possible occasion, i.e., buying a home, safe travel, and a wedding anniversary, just to name a few. Holy Days and Holidays are also included in this book, so if your family is looking for a new family tradition, this book could be a starting point.

Each ritual includes an Opening Prayer, a Scripture passage, Petitions, a Collect, and a Sharing of the Blessing Cup. If you use this book as a family, I would recommend your family purchasing a beautiful cup/chalice or making your own to make these rituals more meaningful to you and yours. If you make your own, you can have the names of all your family members written on the cup to add even more meaning.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading through this book and hope to adopt a couple of these rituals. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars and think it belongs on the shelf of every Catholic family. I also believe it would make an excellent gift for a wedding, bridal shower, or baby shower. We could all stand to pray more, and this book is just the resource you need to get you and your family praying together.

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 Blessing Cup. The Catholic Company is the best resource for gifts for every Sacrament celebration, such as First Communion gifts and Baptism gifts, as well as a great selection of limited-time Year of Faith gifts and resources.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Children's Corner: God Made Wonderful Me!

I recently took a class for catechists called "Creative Catechesis" to help you learn how to make your classes more interesting for the students. In this class, we learned about Gardener's Theory of Multiple Intelligences. You can see a graphical representation of it here. By trying to incorporate as many of these intelligences as possible in each lesson, you can reach all or at least a greater number of children than by only focusing on one form of intelligence. Why do I bring this up in a children's book review? Keep reading to find out.

God Made Wonderful Me! written by Genny Monchamp and illustrated by Karol Kaminski is inspired on the the Biblical passage Psalm 139:13-14. "You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! My very self you know." (Copyright  2013 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)

This is the perfect book for your Kinesthetic Learners (those who learn by physical activity). Intended for children ages 1-3, your child will learn basic body parts from their hair down to their toes. With each body part, they are then asked to locate where the body part is on their own body and point it out.

This cute board book however not only helps children learn basic body parts, it reinforces on every page that God made them and loves them. This message is important for children to learn at an early age. However, I also think adults need to be reminded of this truth frequently as our faith isn't as childlike and completely trusting as it could be. So pick up this 5 star book from Pauline Books and Media and teach your children early on that God took the time to make each one of them individually and loves them very much.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book Review: Simple English Propers

Welcome back to Stuart's Study. Today's review of Simple English Propers composed and edited by Adam Bartlett is geared toward all the music lovers out there, but it might also strike the fancy of those not so musically inclined, like myself. Have you ever been sitting in Mass when you are told to turn your hymnal to a hymn without having any idea why this title was chosen for a particular Feast Day? Or are you sick of hearing the same hymns sung every single week of Ordinary Time? Do you just like the sound of Gregorian Chant? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this book is for you.

Simple English Propers contains the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion Antiphon for every Sunday in the Church Calendar as well as Major Feasts including Christmas, the Annunciation, the Assumption, and many others. It is very thorough and includes options with some of the days for Year A, B, or C if there is a difference from year to year. Perhaps the most helpful part of this book is the detailed introduction that explains how to sing these antiphons properly. I wish an audio CD had been included with this book, but there is a website on the back cover of the book that has some helpful audio.

How do you go about getting more chant in Mass though? You could buy the book for your priest and/or music minister and ask if they would consider using the music at one Mass per Sunday (if you go to a big church) or one Mass per month (if you go to a small church). This book could also be used simply for a deepening of your faith and understanding of the Liturgical Seasons.  It would be helpful to read before Mass each Sunday/Feast Day to use as background for the Liturgy of the Word. Overall, I would give this book 4 out 5 stars, because it is hard to appreciate music by just reading it off a page. You need to be able to hear it as well. Some people can read notes, and hear the music in their head. Unfortunately, I am not one of them.

I wrote this review of Simple English Propers for the free Catholic Book review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book Review: Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves

Welcome back to Stuart's Study. Christmas is now over officially. It lasted longer than normal with Epiphany falling on a Sunday this year, but we are finally in the first stretch of Ordinary Time. This patch of Ordinary Time will be extremely short, only five weeks, with the fifth week only having three days of Ordinary Time. What do you plan on reading for this four-and-a-half weeks? My new readers might want to browse some of my past book reviews to see if any of those books appeal to them. I personally haven't decided yet, but I am adding one more book to the list for your consideration. It is called Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves and is edited by Helen M. Alvare.

Upon receiving this book, I was confused as to why Our Sunday Visitor asked me to review this book, but God must have wanted me to learn a little bit more about the fairer sex, and I certainly did reading this book. There are ten chapters in this book, with two written by the editor Helen M. Alvare and eight by other notable Catholic women. Topics include contraception, dating, careers, single motherhood, and many others.

The most interesting chapter to me was Chapter 3: Sex, Mating, and the Marriage "Market" by Elise Italiano. This chapter is aimed at the single Catholic woman, and though I am no longer on the "market," I remember what it was like to be looking for the one and wondering if she even existed. She does by the way. From my own personal experience, I have seen that there are many more single Catholic women who care about their faith than single Catholic men. I say that because most Catholic men who truly care about their faith are probably on the path to priesthood. I can only imagine how helpless some of these women must feel looking for Mr. Right. A blog that might be of some benefit to all you single Catholic girls out there is appropriately called Single Catholic Girl.

This was a tough book for me to rate as a man as I am definitely not the intended audience. Some of the essays/stories to read even a man could relate to on some level. Other essays, I just found myself wanting to get through them. I can see the merit in a book of this nature, as these are women who are true Catholics and who follow the Church's teachings. I believe any Catholic woman will get something from at least one essay in this book but all might not necessarily apply to her. For this reason, I give it somewhere between 3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars. I'd probably borrow it from a friend or the library.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Children's Corner: My Baptism Bible

Today, I am reviewing My Baptism Bible Catholic Edition that was sent to me by Pauline Books and Media. I figured this would be a fitting time to review it as tomorrow is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This Bible's stories and prayers are by Jan Godfrey with illustrations by Paola Bertolini Grudina.

This Bible is intended for children up to the age of 4, but it is one that you will want to hold and read to them as the pages could be ripped. I understand that pages get ripped in children's books, but this Bible is something you want them to have when they are adults as it also contains pages in it that you typically find in a baby book, including baby stats such as DOB, length, and weight; a family tree; and baby milestones like first tooth or first word.

There are over 60 stories in this Bible with about 1/3 being Old Testament and the other 2/3 being New Testament. The fact that there are this many stories in the Bible means you have enough choices to read to your child that they will not hear the same story in a 2 month span. You will find old faithful stories, such as Creation, Noah's Ark, and Jonah and the whale, but also be surprised at some of the stories that you wouldn't think to include in a children's Bible like Ruth or Gideon.

I was pleased to find that My Baptism Bible didn't shy away from the Crucifixion. No, the story won't make complete sense to a 4 year old, but it is a part of our faith and a story that they should be familiar with even on the most basic level. At the end of this book, you will find prayers to teach your child(ren) including the Our Father and Hail Mary, but also bedtime prayers if you choose to use this Bible to read to your children before you go to sleep.

This is a 5 star Bible that, as the name indicates, makes a great Baptism gift. I intend to give it to my firstborn son for his Baptism and read it to him all the time. If godparents are looking for a gift for their godchild, this would be it. Catholics have a reputation, perhaps deservedly so, that we don't know the Bible well. Let's reverse this trend by starting with our kids and reading the Bible to them daily. It will be beneficial for both their soul and ours.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Book Review: Navigating the Interior Life

Greetings to my faithful readers and welcome to my new readers. It's time for another book review at Stuart's Study. It's hard coming up with creative ways to welcome people to my page, so forgive me if this one seems a little clunky. Today, I am reviewing the book Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God by Daniel Burke with Fr. John Bartunek, LC, STL. This book was provided to me by Emmaus Road in exchange for an honest review. I try to be fair and review books in the order I am sent them, but I have to admit that it was hard for me to wait for this book because the cover kept drawing me in. It was a real test of patience not moving this up in my queue.

For those of you unfamiliar with Daniel Burke, he runs a website entitled Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction and also writes and is the Executive Director of National Catholic Register. The primary aim of this book is a call to holiness and drawing closer to God through spiritual direction. I would attempt to explain to you what spiritual direction is, but I would not do Mr. Burke justice. One should just know that people find this spiritual direction under a spiritual director, generally a religious but sometimes a lay person. The book stresses repeatedly that one should not attempt to be their own spiritual director.

This book is intended to be read slowly, prayerfully, and if possible in front of the Blessed Sacrament. However, this is hard to do as a lot of the chapters are short and all of them leave you longing to read more. In this book, you will find advice on who to find as a spiritual director, questions to ask of your spiritual director, evaluation (to be done under spiritual guidance) of your root sin and where you are at in your spiritual journey. These last two can be done by yourself on a superficial level, and if you are honest with yourself, the answer will probably humble you at how far away you are from God and how much closer you could be.

Although this book is a Catholic book, it has a very Eastern Orthodox feel, not that that is a bad thing. Our Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ place more emphasis on spiritual direction than we do in the West. Hopefully, we will see more good Catholic spiritual directors emerge as we are all in need of guidance on how to draw closer to God. I give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars, and the 0.5 star deduction is because there were several typos in the book. It is still a great book though and worth reading, and as the book said, pray that you may find a spiritual director to guide you.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Book Review: Living the Mysteries

Welcome back to Stuart's Study and my Monday book review brought to you by Our Sunday Visitor. The Feast of Epiphany was yesterday, which means we are rapidly approaching Ordinary Time. After the Baptism of Jesus is celebrated, we will officially be there. Like I always tell my students in Catholic Religious Education, Ordinary Time's color is green because we are supposed to use this super long season as a time for spiritual growth.

How do you plan on growing this season? Are you sticking to your New Year's resolutions/goals, or have you already fallen off the wagon? Proverbs 24:16 tells us "Though the just fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble from only one mishap." So don't lose heart, if you have fallen. Pick yourself up, and try again. I offer these words, because the book I am reviewing today is called Living the Mysteries: A Guide for Unfinished Christians by Scott Hahn and Mike Aquilina. 

Scott Hahn and Mike Aquilina should need no introduction, especially if you have read any of my other reviews. Both have written thousands of pages on Catholic doctrine and devotion. This book is intended to be read after Easter as it is a series of reflections or devotions over 50 days. However, one would benefit from reading it at any point in the Church's calendar, as we are all unfinished Christians.

Upon reading the first few pages of this book, the reader is informed that the content of the book is taken from ancient Church Fathers. I will admit that I was a bit skeptical at first as I thought it would be a ton of St. Augustine, as he is THE Church Father for Western Catholicism. And while he is one of the eight Church Fathers that the authors drew from, they also did a magnificent job of using some Eastern Church Fathers as well, including St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa (St. Basil's brother), and the theological heavyweight in the East, St. John Chrysostom.

Each day ends with three steps to help make the lesson stick. You pray about it, try and commit one of the key lines in the sermon to heart, and then there is a practical application for your daily life. It is tough to say which one is my favorite week, as each proved useful and worth reading. However, if I had to pick one, I think I would pick St. Clement of Alexandria's week "On Illumination." Throughout this week, one learns about "The Power of Prayer" and "How to Live Like a Christian." The messages on both of these days were powerful and inspiring. 

This book gets 5 out of 5 stars, but I wish I could give it more. If you want to know more of what the early Church taught and would like to read more from the Church Fathers, this is a good starter book for you. I know Easter is still several months away, but this is my recommendation to you for Easter reading. I look forward to reading through it again during the Easter season at a slower pace and trying to gain more from this rich and beautiful book.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Children's Corner: Forever You: A Book About Your Soul and Body

Welcome back to the Children's Corner of Stuart's Study, brought to you by Pauline Books and Media, my #1 choice of publishers for Catholic children's books. Today, I am reviewing Forever You: A Book About Your Soul and Body, which was written by Nicole Lataif and illustrated by Mary Rojas. This book is intended for children ages 4 to 8.

The soul is a very hard to understand no matter what age you are. However, for kids, it is darn near impossible. For kids ages 4 to 8, if they can't see something, then it is hard for them to accept it as true. How then do you explain to them about a part of their being that they cannot and will not ever see? This book attempts to do just that.

Forever You starts off by differentiating people from animals and explaining plainly that we are God's only creatures with souls. It then explains about the different parts of our bodies, such as hands or feet, and what they are used for. These physical body parts are then contrasted with the soul so that your child learns what their soul is able to do. Lastly, the book explains the eternal nature of the soul and how it's ultimate and desired destination is Heaven and unity with God.

This book gets 5 out 5 stars from me. Ms. Lataif did a wonderful job explaining a difficult subject and putting it in terms that children can understand. It is definitely a book I am thankful to have in my library now as I know that I could not have explained the subject of the soul better if I tried. Ms. Rojas also did an excellent job illustrating this book. I especially like that it is multi-racial and has people of all ages in it.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book Review: Divine Love Made Flesh

It's a couple days late, but Happy New Year to all of you! I hope 2012 was a good year for you and that 2013 will be better than the last. Today at Stuart's Study, I am reviewing the book Divine Love Made Flesh by Raymond Cardinal Burke. Cardinal Burke is the Episcopal Advisor of the organization Catholic Action for Faith and Family. He is a man faithful to the Church's teachings and doesn't mind telling people they are not living correctly, such as telling "Catholic" pro-choice politicians that they should not receive the Eucharist. I bring up this example, because this book is about the Eucharist and the Church's teachings on it.

Divided into two parts, this book covers two important works on the Eucharist - Ecclesia de Eucharistia by Blessed Pope John Paul II and Sacramentum Caritatis by Pope Benedict XVI. Each chapter in the book is then devoted to a section of one of these two major Church documents by putting them in understandable language for us laymen. I don't know if you've ever tried to read an Encyclical or an Apostolic Exhortation, but you can find yourself drowning in a sea of words quickly if you dive in  without guidance.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am glad it was the first book I read for 2013. My favorite chapter was Chapter 20 "Becoming Whom We Receive in Holy Communion." In this chapter, I learned that by receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, we are called to become more like Jesus in our daily life. We are also truly called to change every aspect of our lives, not just show up on Sunday and be good for an hour, then live how we want to the rest of the week.

Overall, this book increased my appreciation of the Blessed Sacrament and created a longing in me to receive Jesus' Body and Blood more often than just Sunday Mass. It also created a sense of guilt in me that I have not been to Eucharistic Adoration in a long time and makes me want to go soon. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars and recommend you read this to increase your knowledge, reverence, and love of the most important sacrament in our Church, the Holy Eucharist.

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 Divine Love Made Flesh. 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.