Saturday, March 30, 2013

Children's Corner: My First Communion Remembrance Book

The Triduum is quickly coming to an end, and the glorious feast of Easter is rapidly approaching. In these past few days, we have received the sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Orders. Some people at tonight's Easter Vigil will receive Baptism, Confirmation, and Communion for the first time. I'm not sure how everyone's diocese does it, but our 2nd Graders receive their First Communion closer to the end of the school year. We record so many important secular events in our children's life, but we should also record the spiritual moments as well. Pauline Books and Media has you covered for their First Communion with the My First Communion Remembrance Book written by Joan Marie Arbogast and illustrated by Veronica Walsh.

At approximately the size of an 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper, "My First Communion Remembrance Book" has plenty of room to store all your child's memories of their important Sacramental milestone. Unlike a baby book, which the parent fills and completes, there are ample pages for your children to help fill out. These include pages to draw/color on and places for the child to get signatures of  other students in their First Communion class.

The book also has a nice focus on community. There are several pages to list people who helped your child prepare for their Sacrament, who attended their Sacrament, and who were there to celebrate with you afterward. I love that there is also a part for your child's First Reconciliation. So many people forget that their child receives this important sacrament too. There is nothing wrong with being a Eucharistic people, but we must remember that in order to receive Jesus' Body and Blood we must be free of mortal sin, and the only way we are is through Reconciliation.

Lastly in this book, there's a section of stories and prayers. The stories are beautifully illustrated and contain Bible passages which prefigure the Eucharist, including "Manna in the Desert," "Elijah the Prophet: God Provides," "Jesus Multiplies Loaves and Fishes," and many more. This is a wonderful book to mark an important moment in your child's journey toward salvation. Every feature of this book that you fill out, with your kid's help of course, shows them that this matters, and isn't just some to do list item to be checked off to be considered Catholic. It easily gets a 5 star review from me.

If you found this review helpful, click this link and hit the Yes button. Thanks!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Catholic Thursday: The Eucharist

Welcome back to Stuart's Study. For my faithful readers you'll notice that it says "Catholic Thursday," not "Orthodox Thursday." Don't worry. I'm not abandoning Orthodox books. The supply has just run dry for the time being, so I will be reviewing them once per month, as opposed to once per week like I had been doing. My apologies to my brothers and sisters in the East. Today, I am reviewing another Bible study book by Fr. Mitch Pacwa entitled, The Eucharist: A Bible Study Guide for Catholics.

Most people probably know Fr. Pacwa from one of his numerous shows on EWTN. However, he is also the author of several other Bible study books including one on The Year of Faith and another on St. Paul. In "The Eucharist," Fr. Pacwa helps us understand the true meaning of this Blessed Sacrament. We first start by seeing how it compares to the Old Testament sacrifice and then move on to the actual words of sacrifice used in both the New Testament and the Mass.

This book also discusses the parallels between the Eucharist and Passover while also explaining Christ's priesthood. The most fascinating part to me, though, was the section devoted to Jesus' words, "Eat my Body and Drink my Blood." This Biblical passage is definitely a stumbling block for many today and was in Jesus' day as well. I definitely believe that the Eucharist becomes the actual Body and Blood of Jesus, but this section helped me appreciate the Scriptural evidence of it even more.

I love Fr. Pacwa's Bible studies. They are straightforward and, unlike other studies, all you need is his book and a Bible. Divided into six sections, one could easily complete this study in a week. However, you could also choose to only do one section a week if you are crunched for time. If you want to understand the Jewish roots of the Eucharist, this book is for you. If you are friends with a bunch of Protestants who say the Eucharist is a symbol and not the actual Body and Blood of Jesus, then reading this book will provide you  Biblical examples for next time they say this. In reality, any Catholic with a pulse would benefit from this 5 star book. Pick it up from Our Sunday Visitor and deepen your appreciation of the Eucharist during The Year of Faith.

If you found this review helpful, click this link and hit the Yes button. Thanks!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Catholic Monday: Faith of Our Fathers

Welcome back to Stuart's Study. We're on Day 2 of the greatest and most beautiful time of the year, Holy Week. We talked about the Triduum at our last young adult night and it made me sad. The Triduum does not fall under the category of Holy Days of Obligation, but that was because the Church Fathers thought we would want to go and respect the days so much that we wouldn't dream of missing them. That's not the case anymore. Why do I bring up the Church Fathers, you ask? Today, I am reviewing the book Faith of Our Fathers: Why the Early Christians Still Matter and Always Will by Mike Aquilina.

To me, this book read like a series of mini-essays, not that that is a bad thing. Just some of the topics covered include who the Church Fathers are, the Domestic Church, icons, and the canon of Scripture. The Church Fathers wrote about all of these things, and much, much more. We are truly blessed to have the writings of these saintly, learned men preserved and even more blessed that so many of these works have been translated into English. It's also great that our Protestant brothers and sisters are starting to discover these writings and realize that the Church wasn't founded at the Reformation. :) There is even a chapter on one of the great converts from Protestantism, Blessed John Henry Newman. He discovered the faith of the early Church in his readings of the Fathers and came home to the Catholic Church.

It's hard to find a clear favorite section in this book for me as I simply love all things about Patristics. Early in the book, Mr. Aquilina did a nice job explaining that even though the Fathers are a source of authority for us, it doesn't mean they always agreed on everything or got along, especially good ole St. Jerome. However, if I had to pick a favorite chapter, it would be the one on Christmas. As much emphasis as our American culture puts on Christmas, it's not the most important Feast Day in the Church Calendar, and it never has been. It was fascinating reading about the history of Christmas and how in early times no one could even agree on a date.

This book is a true pleasure to read, and the great thing about it is that it does not have to be read straight through, in order. If icons interest you, you can skip to that chapter. If you want to know more about the reasons why we now say, "And with your spirit," there's chapter on that as well. Faith of Our Fathers lives up to its name, because this book really shows us not only how, but why their teachings still matter today. If you want to know more about the Fathers, you can pick up other books by Mike Aquilina. He really is the go-to author for all things Church Fathers in the Catholic Church.

If you found this review helpful, click this link and hit the Yes button. Thanks!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Children's Corner: Brother Francis Presents The Bread of Life (DVD)

Today in the Children's Corner, I have a DVD to review. It's from the Brother Francis series produced by Herald Entertainment. I can imagine the creators and producers were thrilled at the announcement of the pope's new name. Instant sales boost, am I right? :) I received the first two DVDs from them to review, but am reviewing DVD #2 in the series, The Bread of Life, first as we are in the season of First Communion and people coming into the Church on Easter Vigil.

This video is approximately 29 minutes long, but don't let the length fool you. It is CRAMMED with fun and information. From the Bible alone, your children will see cartoon versions of The Last Supper, Jesus' Resurrection, and The Parable of the Vine and the Branches. They will also learn the story of a lesser known saint in Blessed Imelda Lambertini. She was just a little girl who's love of Jesus and the Eucharist filled her heart. She is also the patron saint of First Communicants. Lastly, there two songs for your kids to sing along with.

I'm not sure if any of you parents, catechists, or teachers out there have ever tried to find Catholic cartoons for kids, but they are hard to come by. There are a glut of Christian/Protestant DVDs, but the few Catholic ones out there are usually high on the theology scale and low on the graphic scale, not so with Brother Francis! The Brother Francis DVDs are great theologically with Bible stories and saints, and graphically, as you get a mix of both 3-D animation and 2-D animation. It also has the option to watch it in Spanish, if you are part of your Church's Hispanic ministry. Get this 5 star DVD and pair it with the coloring and activity book to help your kid(s) prepare for their First Communion. For a preview of the video see below.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Orthodox Thursday: Testament of a Memory

Testament of Memory is the memoir of Fr. Mikhail Chevalkov, translated into English by John Warden. In this book the reader is taken to the 19th Century Russia, where we see various tribes of pagan people. Fr. Chevalkov started out as an illiterate pagan of the Altai region, but under the guidance of Father Macarios began a humble journey to Orthodoxy. By assisting Fr. Macarios and other priests as a translator, the author became a great missionary and helped translate many portions of the Bible and church service books to his native tongue.

The book starts off slow. In the first 2 pages alone, I got discouraged by all the complicated Russian names that I had trouble reading and pronouncing, but I plugged though it. The book is written in a very simplistic style, but it does not detract from the message. One can learn a lot about faith, humility, and thankfulness in all things by reading this memoir. My favorite part was the final chapter, "Admonitions to my Children." In these few pages, Fr. Chevalkov gave advice that is reminiscent of Proverbs or Wisdom such as, "Guard your tongue," and, "Do not sing the praises of your own knowledge."

If you have an interest in 19th Century Russia and how people from this era lived, this book might appeal to you. I don't particularly, so the book had a hard time keeping my attention. That's not to say that it wasn't well-written with a positive theme and message. I just couldn't dive completely in and get engulfed in this world. For those reasons I am giving this book 4 out of 5 stars. It was a good book. It just didn't appeal to me and wasn't a book I would actively seek out to read.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Catholic Monday: What must I do to be Saved?

"What must I do to be saved?" This question from the rich young man in Luke's Gospel still tugs at man's heart today. I certainly felt this struggle in my spiritual journey in my early 20s, and I wish that a book of this nature had been written when I was going through my spiritual turmoil. What must I do to be Saved? is written by Marcus Grodi, a convert who hosts the television show The Journey Home on EWTN. He also founded The Coming Home Network for people who have converted or are interested in converting to the Catholic Church.

The book starts off explaining the Protestant path of salvation, which varies from pastor to pastor. Most methods consist of some form of the Romans Road (scripture passages in the Letter to the Romans that help you realize you're a sinner in need of being saved), which leads to a sinner's prayer and has led to the whole "Jesus and me" attitude. Mr. Grodi then goes on to explain why this method is insufficient and how one can still feel like they aren't saved because they didn't experience that emotional feeling. I remember the Romans Road well, and definitely prayed the sinners prayer what seemed like hundreds of times.

Mr. Grodi then uses the rest of the book to walk the reader through an Old Testament path of salvation and a New Testament path. With his clear flow charts, one can see the striking similarities between the two and see how the Old Covenant was replaced by the New Covenant, complete with grace, sacraments, and the Church. I definitely feel like I could have used this explanation when I was going through a searching phase, from my Southern Baptist background to my eventual conversion to Catholicism.

I have one grief with this book, and it occurred in a paragraph in the Conclusion.When asked about how he views the Eastern Orthodox Church, Mr. Grodi said, "A quick glance into any phone book reveals the absence of unity...The Orthodox churches are divided churches not one united Family of God." I assume he is referring to the fact that there are Greek, Russian, Antiochian, etc. Just because they say their Liturgy in a different language, does not mean they aren't united in their beliefs. These are our Eastern brothers, and Jesus wanted us to be one.

For the reason above, I am taking away 1 star from my rating of this and only giving 4 out of 5 stars. Blessed John Paul II worked toward ecumenism, as did Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. I'd even wager Pope Francis will as well. The above section should be omitted if this book is ever edited and a revised edition is released. Other than that, it was a well-laid out book that would benefit someone at any stage in their journey from Protestantism to Catholicism.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Children's Corner: Winning the Discipline Debates

Today in Children's Corner, I'm going to review a book that one would normally classify as a "children's book." This isn't a story book or a book with a lot of pictures, but instead a book to help you be a better parent, which is beneficial for your children. Is it a stretch putting this book in the "Children's Corner?" Maybe, but it is here nonetheless.

Dr. Ray Guarendi is a clinical psychologist, author of numerous books on parenting, and a radio host of the show The Doctor Is In. Most importantly though, he is the father of ten. If anyone knows something about parenting and discipline, it's him.

Spanning 25 chapters, Winning the Discipline Debates walks a parent through common parental-child discipline scenarios, including temper tantrums, fighting siblings, and cell phone privileges, to name a few. Each discipline scenario is laid out in the form of a mini-play with roles. The children are cleverly named to illustrate the problem, i.e., Rip who won't get out of bed in the morning is named for Rip Van Winkle, and Tattalia is a tattler. You get the idea. He then walks you through a common problem and gives you examples of a poor way to discipline and better way to discipline. I thought I would hate this method of writing at first, but it grew on me.

The book is chronologically laid out in that it starts with kids ages 4-5 and builds up to a 16 year old. Yes, your child may exhibit discipline problems earlier or later than the ages of the the kids described in the book, but I think he did a masterful job targeting the common discipline problems for a typical age range. I really enjoyed reading this book as I could easily relate to it. I was able to look back on my childhood and see how I acted like most of these children at some point or another and also look at current peers and family members and see how they discipline compared to the book.

There is no manual on how to raise children. You'll make plenty of mistakes, especially with the first one as you are still learning how to be a parent. However, this 5 star book gives you a leg up on one of the harder aspects of parenting. Will you automatically become an awesome parent who never disciplines poorly from reading this book? No. Will you adopt every solution that Dr. Ray suggests in his book? Probably not. You will get solid gold advice and methods that have worked for him and others. This book was provided to me by Franciscan Media in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Orthodox Thursday: Christ in the Psalms

Today on Orthodox Thursday, I'm reviewing a book by one of my favorite Orthodox authors, Patrick Henry Reardon. How much do I love his books? Let's just say that I own all of them. However, Fr. Reardon is more than an author. He's also the senior editor of the magazine Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity and the pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church. You can listen to his homilies here, courtesy of Ancient Faith Radio.

Christ in the Psalms was originally published back in 2000 but has since been revised. If you own the original, like myself, you will first notice a more substantial introduction. In this edition, Fr. Reardon explains "The Unity of the Bible," "The Voices of the Psalter," and "The First Three Psalms." I never noticed this about the Psalms before, but the first three chapters form a theological outline for the whole book. The other major changes occurred in Fr. Reardon's commentary on Psalms 73, 75, 90, 94, and 106. Bear in mind this is the Septuagint numbering as the Septuagint Old Testament has 151 Psalms.

As the title suggests, this book is a devotion/commentary on the book of Psalms with Jesus as the light by which to read them. With a commentary for each chapter, this book is just over 300 pages. However, don't let the size of this book intimidate you. Each commentary is only 1 page front and back, making it both manageable and enjoyable to read at your own pace. I recommend reading a Psalm and commentary in the morning and one at night. Using this schedule, one can make it through the book in other 3 months, but one a day is also a good reading pace.

It is easy to read some Psalms and see how they relate to Jesus, like Psalm 23 (Psalm 22 in the Septuagint). However, don't think that this is just merely "The Good Shepherd Psalm." Fr. Reardon provides further insight that one may have never noticed before. In the 23rd Psalm, one can also see the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Eucharist, and Chrismation/Confirmation). That explanation blew my mind, and I will never look at Psalm 23 the same way again.

This is a book you must have in your library. I simply wish I could give it more than 5 stars. The only hard decision to make, when it comes to owning this book, would be if you own the original edition. You will have to decide if the changes mentioned above are worth buying the revised edition. I personally would, but that's just me. Check out Fr. Reardon's complementary title Christ in His Saints also available from Conciliar Press.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Catholic Monday: Fill These Hearts

Today in the Catholic Corner, I am reviewing a book by one of the quintessential authors on Theology of the Body, Christopher West. For those of you unfamiliar with Theology of the Body, it was a series of 129 lectures Blessed John Paul II gave which showed his integrated vision of the human person - body, soul, and spirit. They dealt with love, purpose of life, marriage, sex, gender, etc.

I must admit that this is my first time reading not only the author, but also the subject, so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from Fill These Hearts. The first thing I noticed, though, was the precise organization of this book. Broken into three parts, "Desire, Design, and Destiny," Mr. West displayed a clear thought pattern of where he wanted to take you in this book. I appreciated the alliterative sections as it made the message of this book easier to remember. What exactly is our ultimate desire, design, and destiny? Union with God, of course.

Whether every person realizes it or not, we are all designed for Union with God and will not feel complete unless we are reunited with Him. We also desire love, from God and other people. As a Christian, I was taught about love a lot growing up. I was told that there are different types of love, including love of friends (philia), romantic love (eros), and unconditional love (agape). Agape is the one we are always told to aim for, but this book does a fine job defending and explaining eros, which when rightly directed is a  good thing. Yes, we can distort it and turn it into lust, but eros can also be an on-fire, longing type of love, which we should have about our eternal destiny of Heaven.

I also appreciated the personal stories that Mr. West shared in this book. When one becomes an expert on a subject, it is easy to depersonalize the subject and write a book in textbook format. However, the author's stories made me relate to him better and feel connected to him. He didn't paint himself as a saint, but showed us his self-portrait, warts and all.

I did have one big gripe with the book though, and that was that every chapter had a quote from a popular song underneath the chapter title. Did I recognize all these songs? Yes, but with the song choices, movie references, and other pop culture sprinklings, it felt that this book was tailored to a very specific audience and would be dated quickly, as songs and movies can quickly fall out of fashion with the next big song or movie. This means the book might not stand the test of time and could fade with this generation, which is a shame.

Overall though, this is a very well-written and informative book. It is easy to read, and made the subject matter less intimidating for someone who had no prior knowledge of it. I wish all the pop culture references would have been left out though. I don't think anything would have been lost from the book if they were omitted, and the message would have still been just as clear. So for all the pop culture references, I am giving the book 4 out of 5 stars. I understood them and appreciated them, but an older reader or younger reader probably would not have.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. Here are some helpful links related to the book.

Children's Corner: The Christian Alphabet Book

Today in the Children's Corner I am reviewing the book The Christian Alphabet. This book, as the title suggests, is not any specific "denomination." It's not Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant. The author, Tracy Sands, uses various pictures to compose and make up all twenty-six letters of the alphabet. She then associates a Christian word  for each letter, i.e., G is for God and J is for Jesus. Lastly, each letter/Christian word comes with an definition, Scripture verses, activities you can do to reinforce the word, and an explanation of all the symbols associated with each letter.

I have mixed feelings when it comes to some of the word choices for each letter. The two examples I gave above are some of the words I think are appropriate for their respective letters. However, I feel there are some clunky choices for words. My three biggest gripes are A is for Always; M is for Miracles; and Y is for Yes. A could have been for Apostles. M could have been for Mary. And Y could have been for Yahweh. I know Protestants have some kind of aversion to Mary, but she's Jesus' mom no matter what "denomination" you are, so I felt like the author tried not to scare off a potentially large audience segment. Maybe, I am wrong.

This is a pretty book though and the workmanship is high quality. The reader should use this book appropriately though. If you expect to teach your child the basic ABCs using this book, it will frustrate both you and them. This book would best be used with kids who have mastered their alphabet and now need a clever and catchy way to learn about basic Christian beliefs. There is also a CD, which you can buy separately, that includes a few songs including the Christian Alphabet song. Perhaps in the future, they will just give an option to download the songs from their website as four songs for $4.95 is a little high. Overall, I would give this book a 4 out of 5. It was a good and clever idea, but some parts of it could have been better.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Orthodox Thursday: Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven

Why are we here on this earth? Is there more to this life than this? These and many others are questions that man struggles with in this world. Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven attempts to answer these questions and provide an introduction to the Christian life. This book was written by St. Innocent of Alaska, who not only developed an alphabet (Aleut) for natives in Alaska, but also had the Bible and other religious works translated into this language. That's some effective evangelism!

There are only four chapters in this book, but each chapter gets progressively longer as the information becomes deeper. In the first chapter, the reader (presumably a new Christian) learns about the blessings we gained from Jesus' death. This is something the seasoned Christian will already know, but it is definitely essential for the new Christian to know that it is only through Jesus' death that we can receive forgiveness of sins and the eternal reward of Heaven. We do not gain either of those by our own power.

We then move onto a chapter about how Jesus lived and suffered. This is followed by a chapter that discusses the way to Heaven. In one word, it's Jesus. That is the simple answer, but we must deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Him. That is easier said than done. The last chapter deals with how Jesus helps us and that is through the Holy Spirit. However, we can only receive the Holy Spirit through purity of heart, humility, listening to the voice of God, prayer, daily self-denial, reading and listening to the Holy Scripture, and the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

This is a great little book for the beginning Christian or possibly even someone questioning Christianity or considering conversion to Christianity. Don't let it's size fool you though. It is packed with information, and each chapter contains questions to reflect upon which provide further assistance. Even the person who has been a Christian all their life will find merit in reading this book. I wish I had read this book in my late teens/early twenties. So pick up this 5 star book from Holy Trinity Publications today!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Catholic Monday: Faith at Work

Today at Stuart's Study, I am reviewing a book Faith at Work: Finding Purpose Beyond the Paycheck. This book is written by Kevin Lowry who is a husband, father, convert and a blogger, like me, at Graceful Convert. I imagine he's more successful than all those than me, but I keep telling myself that it's not a competition, and we're all in this race together. This book came in the mail at just the right time. It's funny how God does that. Even in the littlest of things, God is there. Thank you to The Coming Home Network, where Mr. Lowry is COO, for sending me this book.

How many people work for the Church? What about missionary work? I'll even count people who work for organizations that help spread the Gospel either by word or deed. If you fit into these three categories, then you are not Kevin Lowry's target audience with his book. While I know your jobs aren't always easy or fulfilling, I believe that the spiritual rewards you see from the people you minister to can be uplifting. Instead, this book is intended for us poor working stiffs in the secular world and trying to find fulfillment and meaning in our jobs.

A few of the topics covered in this book are teamwork, patience, and diverity. I mention these because they are ones I probably struggle with the most. I like working alone. I like things done immediately. And I don't always deal well with people who don't think like I do. With each chapter being approximately ten pages in length, Mr. Lowry manages to integrate personal examples, steps we can take to put each lesson into practice, and questions to reflect on.

My favorite chapter by far dealt with being a witness at the workplace. Growing up Southern Baptist, witnessing was strongly emphasized. I was never particularly good at it, but I knew it was something I had to do. When I became Catholic, it took me a while to learn that Catholics still evangelize. It is just less Bible-beating and more in the way one talks and lives. There are simple ways we can show we are Catholic without bludgeoning those who work with us. Praying before meals is one way I try to show my faith. However, we should also do it in the big things and small things by having a servant mentality. After all, Jesus was the greatest servant of all, so we should strive to be like Him.

This is a great book that would benefit anyone to read. It is straightforward, practical, and easy to read. In fact, I couldn't put the book down, and was able to read it in a couple of hours. I easily give this book 5 stars, but now comes the hard part. I have to put the wisdom of the book into practice. This is always easier said than done, so pray for me.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Children's Corner: Growing in Love

Today in the Children's Corner, I'm reviewing another amazing book from Pauline Books and Media called Growing in Love. This book is written by Marilyn Evangelina Monge, FSP and is illustrated by Lorella Flamini, the same illustrator of Thank You, Dear God! It is intended for children ages 0-5.

How do you teach your child to be more like Jesus? Do you read Bible stories to them and try to relate them as best you can to young minds? This isn't a bad strategy, but they many times go over children's heads, and we are left trying to explain it in kid language. Enter this book!

Using cute animals, scripture passages, and prayer, your child will learn about a dozen different virtues including love, forgiveness, patience, and many more. So many books that try to teach our kids to be virtuous provide lofty examples they cannot relate to at all. This book provides simple ideas on how they can apply the specific virtue they just learned about. "I can take care of my toys. I can put them away when I'm done playing with them." "I can be honest even if I've done something wrong."

This is a great chunky book for kids. The pages are a sturdy cardboard, so it should last for multiple kids, which is always a plus. So pick up this 5 star book from Pauline Books and Media and check out the rest of their kids section too. They really do have some of the finest selection of kids books for Catholics.