Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sophia Institute Press: Everyday Meditations

There have been many converts to the Catholic faith through the centuries. Some of them have made bigger splashes than others, and their ripples can still be seen in the great Catholic pond. Scott Hahn, for example, is one of the big reasons I and so many others are Catholic today. Works of other notable converts are more truly appreciated after someone has converted. I refer, today, specifically to Blessed John Henry Newman. Blessed John Henry Newman converted in 1845, was ordained a Catholic priest in 1846, and became a Cardinal in 1879. This was truly a meteoric, yet deserved, rise through the Catholic Church for a former Anglican. Today, I would like to recommend you a work of his to read entitled Everyday Meditations.

Everyday Meditations is a collection of fifty meditations that range in length from two to four pages each. Topics include God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Mary, Sin, the Eucharist, etc. The book is arranged in such a way that similar topics are grouped together and thus you can build on your understanding of each topic by reading and reflecting on the same topic for several sessions in a row. However, you do not have to read this book in order. If you wanted to meditate on Good Friday, you could read the meditation "The Power of the Cross." If you want to express your love for God, but don't have the words, then try, "An Act of Love."

I generally try to pick a section in the book that I view as my favorite part. With this book, however, that is an impossible task, as each meditation will speak to different people in different ways. The message that I obtain from a meditation might not be the same message you obtain. In fact, the message that you obtain on your first reading of a particular meditation might be different on your next reflection of it. That is the beauty of works such as these. They lend themselves to being read and re-read. I will share with you a quote from one meditation that spoke to me though. With this brief quote, I hope to show you how simple, yet profound each meditation is. From "The Passion of Our Lord," Cardinal John Henry Newman writes:

"O tormented heart, it was love and sorrow and fear that broke you. It was the sight of human sin, it was the sense of it, the feeling of it laid on you; it was zeal for the glory of God, horror at seeing sin so near you, a sickening, stifling, feeling at its pollution, the deep shame and disgust and abhorrence and revolt it inspired, keen pity for the souls whom it has drawn headlong into hell – all these feelings together you allowed to rush upon you. You submitted yourself to their powers, and  they were your death. That strong heart; that all-noble, all generous, all-tender, all-pure heart was slain by sin."

With only fifty meditations in this 5-star book, one could use this book in a number of ways. The easiest way would be to start from the beginning and read one per day. You would certainly gain a lot of wisdom and appreciation for all aspects of your faith. I, however, would like to suggest a better way to use this book. Find a chapel that has Eucharistic Adoration, and spend thirty minutes to one hour per week there. Bring this book with you every time, and read one meditation per week. In front of our Lord, reflect on that meditation, and make the meditation your focus through the week, especially when life tries to weigh you down. If you make it the whole year, you will finish the book with a few weeks to spare, and you would also be spiritually richer for it.

Look for this review on Catholic Exchange by clicking here, and if you found this review helpful, click this link and hit Yes.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

CUA Press: A Service of Love

Welcome back to Stuart's Study! I am very excited to announce that Catholic University of America Press has agreed to let me review one of their books. Those of you who love the Church Fathers should be very familiar with their Fathers of the Church series. It was this series, which I first discovered at Auburn University's Library, that kept calling my name as I made my first few tentative steps on my journey to Catholicism. While I only own a few books in this impressive collection, I have a goal to one day own them all. Today, I will be reviewing A Service of Love, which I hope will be the first of many reviews for this wonderful publisher!

Ecumenism, or perhaps one day even reunion, between the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church has long been hindered by a few sticky subjects in high theology. These issues serve as points of disagreement and contention between people on both sides. Some of the major issues that plague these two groups include the primacy and infallibility of the pope and the Filioque as it relates to Trinitarian procession. Rev. Msgr. Paul McPartlan, a professor of Systematic Theology and Ecumenism at the Catholic University of America, addresses some of these issues in his work A Service of Love.

With fewer than 100 pages and only three chapters in this book, one might infer that this is a quick read. Don't be fooled by the relatively small size, though. Rev. Msgr. McPartlan packs these pages with depth and insight. Throughout this book, we are shown the contrast between primacy and collegiality through the millennia. For example, Pope Innocent III was the first to use the papal title "Vicar of Christ." Before him, all other popes used the title "Vicar of Peter." The book also states that Pope Innocent III believed that all bishops were "the members of the body of which he was the head." This contrast of primacy and collegiality led to the issue of jurisdiction. Cardinal Ratzinger offered a possible solution to the issue of primacy; he suggested the use of papal titles from the patristic era, such as, "first in honor."

To me, the most fascinating section in this book was the discussion of the Council of Vatican I. The only thing people really remember about that council was that papal infallibility was established/defined at that time. However, since Vatican I was cut short for political reasons, the bishops never had a chance to read and debate Tametsi Deus, which dealt more fully with bishops and the Church at large and was supposed to complement Pastor Aeternus, the document that dealt with the primacy and infallibility of the Pope.

This is a superb book, which is easily worth 5 stars. I consider myself of average to above average knowledge with regard to the subjects of papacy, primacy, and ecumenism, but I learned a great deal from this little tome. What I most appreciated about this book was that it didn't just present problems. It also offered possible solutions. We must come to accept and embrace that the primary ministry of the Bishop of Rome is "a service to the Eucharist, and to the ecclesial communion that flows from it." If you would like to better understand the subjects in the above paragraphs, this is the book for you. In fact, I would recommend it to Catholics and Orthodox alike. May the Eucharist unite what has been separated, and may there be unity of East and West in our day.

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

Monday, August 26, 2013

Saint Benedict Press: The Gospel of the Holy Spirit: Meditation and Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

When looking for some reading about the Early Church, most people look for the Early Church Fathers like Clement of Rome or Polycarp of Smyrna. However, I would recommend going a little further back and opening the Bible. You could read some of the Epistles Paul wrote to various churches and note how the issues afflicting those churches are still present today. I personally would recommend starting with the Acts of the Apostles and reading about historic events such as the Martyrdom of Stephen, the Conversion of Saul, and the Council of Jerusalem. When reading any book of the Bible, though, you should read it with the Church's guidance, perhaps with a commentary such as The Gospel of the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel of the Holy Spirit is written by Fr. Alfred McBride, a priest with about 60 years of service and a doctorate in religious education.  He is considered one of the most influential religious leaders of the 20th Century. In this commentary, Fr. McBride starts by dividing the Acts of the Apostles into two separate books - "The Book of Peter," which covers Acts 1 to 13 and "The Book of Paul," which covers Acts 14 to 28. Even though I have read Acts several times, I never noticed this natural division in the book.  Now that I have seen it explained on paper, it makes perfect sense. There are 29 chapters in this book, which means you could work through this book solely over the period of a month. You could also decide to use it in a group study.

I really like that each chapter is broken down into three parts - the commentary, reflection questions, and a concluding prayer that ties in elements of what you just learned. One should always pray when reading the Scriptures, and this helps reinforce that. I always like to try and find a favorite part in a book I review, but that's hard when it comes to commentaries. However, I did find the section on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-12) to be absolutely fascinating. The way Fr. McBride compared the events of that day to different Old Testament events, especially from the book of Exodus, was eye-opening and made me look at the birth of the Church in a whole new light.

If you have never read a book of the Bible before or want to read the Bible deeper, I would recommend reading a synoptic Gospel, preferably Luke first, and then picking up The Gospel of the Holy Spirit   Why Luke? Luke and Acts are essentially two volumes of a larger book, so you will get a fuller picture of the message Luke was trying to convey by reading both, rather than one or the other. I would love it if Fr. McBride would do a book like this one for the Gospel of Luke, because this was a 5-star book. If he doesn't though, one can always take his Catholic Course on The Christ, which covers all four Gospels.

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

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Pauline Books and Media: Danger at Sea

Good afternoon one and all. I'm back here in the Children's Corner, and I have mixed feelings today. We have reached Book 3 in the Gospel Time Trekkers series, Danger at Sea, which is exciting. However, I have to now wait for the next three to be published, which is several months away. For those of you who know me or read my blog regularly, I am NOT a patient person. If this is your first time checking out my blog or hearing about the Gospel Time Trekkers, check out my reviews of the first two volumes, Shepherds to the Rescue and Braving the Storm.

Our story opens up with the three young adventurers trying to avoid weeding a garden (Who can blame them?!) by making another trip back to the time of Jesus. After several silly and failed attempts of rolling down a mini-hill, they realize that their attempts are not working and, after some normal bickering among siblings over who will weed what, they begin the tedious task of weeding the garden. However, just as they begin their task, they are unexpectedly whisked back to Jesus' time.

As one can infer by the book cover and the title, this is a story about fishermen. The children are once again in a different Biblical town than their previous adventures. This one is called Gennesaret where Lake Gennesaret is located. This lake also is referred to as Lake Tiberias or the Sea of Galilee. Jesus did many miracles and signs in this area, including healing many diseased people (Matthew 14:34-36). Unlike the other stories, the people the children meet don't have direct Biblical counterparts, but instead are just an average family of fisherman that you would find in Jesus' day.

I enjoyed this story because it gives your children a good mental picture of what the life of a fisherman might have been like in Jesus' time. This is important to me because at least 1/3 of Jesus' Apostles were fisherman, so next time they hear a story from the Bible on Peter, Andrew, James, or John, they can make the connection. They could also think about the miracles Jesus performed like calming the sea or the miraculous catch of fish the Apostles had after fishing all night and not catching anything.

I also enjoy how at the end of the story the children are more mature than the beginning. This shows personal growth and how Jesus will transform your life, in small ways and large ways, if you let Him. With the right mix of past, present, history, and Bible this is another 5 star book in the Gospel Time Trekkers series. The only disappoint me I have with the series is that I have to wait several months to see how it concludes.

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

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sophia Institute Press: The Sign of the Cross

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." These words roll off every Catholic's tongue so frequently that we often forget the significance of what we are saying. Sometimes we make the Sign of the Cross at Mass so haphazardly that we look like a coach on the first base line at a Major League Baseball game. Worst of all, sometimes we don't even make the Sign of the Cross because we are afraid we will bring unwanted attention and judgment upon ourselves. All of these are bad, and I am ashamed to admit that I have been guilty of each transgression at various points in my life. It is time we reconnect with this most ancient of prayers and discover the power behind these fifteen words.

St. Francis de Sales' little treatise entitled The Sign of the Cross begins by explaining how to make the sign of the Cross. It may seem like a no-brainer at first, but I'd bet that very few Catholics know why we make the Sign of the Cross the way we do. To summarize St. Francis de Sales, we use our right hand, because it is "the more worthy of the two." With our right hand, we use either three fingers to represent the Trinity or five fingers to represent Jesus' five wounds. We begin the prayer by placing our right hand on our forehead to acknowledge that God the Father is the one from whom all things originate. Next, we move our hand down to our stomach as a sign that Jesus proceeded from the Father. Lastly, we cross ourselves from left shoulder to right shoulder to show that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son and that He is the bond of love between Father and Son. Let that information sink in, and reflect on it going forward each time you make the Sign of the Cross.

The rest of this book deals with the origins, history, uses, and benefits of the Sign of the Cross. For example, did you know that in early times the Sign of the Cross was made on the forehead? It eventually evolved to its present form, but early Christians put the Sign on their forehead both as a profession of faith and an invocation of God's assistance in every aspect of their lives. The most fascinating chapter to me was entitled "A Defense against Demons." In this chapter, St. Francis de Sales quotes various Church Fathers, from St. Athanasius to St. John Chrysostom, all of whom speak about the power of the Sign of the Cross over Satan and his minions. It is truly a simple but powerful weapon that so many fail to realize they possess. So, in the words of Origen, "Let us rejoice, my beloved friends, and lift holy hands to heaven in the form of the Cross; when the demons see us armed in this way they will be crushed."

If you are looking for a simple way to deepen your prayer life, then pick up a copy of The Sign of the Cross. You will gain a wealth of spiritual benefits from reading this book, but you must not stop there. You must then act upon what you have read. Slow down when crossing yourself. Think about each word as you say it. Also, start using the Sign of the Cross in every aspect of your life! You don't have to just use it at the beginning and ending of formal prayer. You can use it when starting and ending a task at work. By doing this, you will make your entire day a prayer to God. These fifteen words can transform your life, if you only let them.

Look for this review on Catholic Exchange by clicking here, and if you found this review helpful, click this link and hit Yes.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Tiny Saints Product Review and GIVEAWAY

A little over one month ago, I was looking to buy a birthday present for a friend's four year old girl. As a little background, I like to give religious gifts. I refer to them as gifts for the soul. The practice isn't always popular, but this gift was going to a good Catholic family, so I knew it would be appreciated. I just had to find the perfect gift! So I racked my brain, and I scoured the Catholic stores on the Internet to no avail. About to give up, I decided to try to start Googling for gift ideas, and while I don't remember what I exactly typed in, my search led me to Tiny Saints!

You might be asking yourself, "what are Tiny Saints?" Tiny Saints are THE coolest charm/necklace/gift/invention ever! At the time that I placed my order, you paid $9.95 (no shipping and handling) and you received a charm of a saint, a cord on which to wear them, and an ID tag that told you all about the saint. I ordered Rose of Lima for my friend's daughter, and let Tiny Saint founder, Joe, know that I run a Catholic review blog and would post a review of Tiny Rose of Lima after the party. He was gracious enough to send me a few extra saints, but he asked me to hold my review  until he released the new line of Tiny Saints   I am not a patient person, and I have been biding my time since June to sing the praises of these products, but upon seeing the new line of products, I now know why he wanted me to wait!

Tiny Saints have recently added a slew of products to their collection. They now offer charms for the Virgin Mary, Sts. Joseph, Patrick, Jude, Christopher, Blesseds John Paul II and Teresa of Calcutta, and perhaps one of the coolest...Pope Francis! However, they also have products other than charms; you can get a Saint Bracelet (also comes in all girl variety) or a Rosary in black or full-color. In addition to adding these great new products, they have also managed to make their products more affordable! Now, you can buy the charm and cord separately; that way you don't end up with 50 cords if you're like me and plan on collecting them all. So what was originally a $9.95 product is now a $5 if you just buy the charm. This just went from being a bargain to a STEAL!

Besides the price and selection, another great thing about Tiny Saints  is the versatility they offer. Don't get me wrong, I love my Tiny Saint Paul necklace and have been faithfully wearing him since I received him, using him as both a conversation piece and witnessing tool. However, you can put the Tiny Saints around more than just your neck. With the wholesale option, the Principal or Director of Religious Education can order the school's Patron Saint, and distribute them to the children to hang on their backpacks. You could put Tiny Saint Francis around your pet's collar or hang Tiny Saint Christopher in your cars for safe travels. The possibilities are really endless. I even saw one lady replace her Monopoly tokens with Tiny Saints, and that got me to thinking...

When I was little, I played chess in tournaments, and you always had to bring your own chess board and chess pieces. How cool would it be for the men on your chess board to be Tiny Saints? Jesus would be the King, of course. Mary would be the Queen. For Bishops, you could have Pope Francis (the Bishop of Rome) and/or St. Nicholas (the bishop who slapped Arius!). For Knights, I was thinking two Tiny Saint Georges. I haven't figured out who to use for the Castles/Rooks yet, and Pawns could be any of the Tiny Saints really.

I really, really, REALLY LOVE this product.  The only disappointment I have is that I wasn't creative enough to come up with it first. :) Tiny Saints are high quality products, and the customer service is second-to-none. Two things impress me most about the company. 1. They pulled one of the Tiny Saints because its quality wasn't up to their standards, and they didn't want to ship an inferior product. 2. They are making it a goal to produce every suggested/requested saint by customers. I'm still holding out hope for St. Dismas. :) For a full line of products (coming in October), click here. To show my love for this product and to share some of the wealth, I am giving one of my readers a Tiny Saint Rosary (pictured to the left). Use the Rafflecopter entry form below, and you could be the winner. Winner must live in the United States and will be notified August 29th (The Feast of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Pauline Books and Media: Braving the Storm

Today in the Children's Corner, we're looking at Volume 2 of the Gospel Time Trekkers series. As you recall, last week we looked at Volume 1: Shepherds to the Rescue, where our young adventurers Hannah, Caleb, and Noah traveled backwards in time to Bethlehem when Jesus was 30 years old. They didn't get to meet him in that book but met a shepherd named Benjamin and his family. Let's see where Volume 2: Braving the Storm takes them.

The story's beginning reminds me of The Chronicles of Narnia. Caleb, the middle child and narrator, reminisces about the adventure with his siblings in Bethlehem (as read in Book 1: Shepherds to the Rescue)  and is trying desperately to get back to the past. After multiple failed attempts of trying to re-create the same scenario that allowed them to originally travel to the time of Jesus, they eventually discover a new route to the past. However, things are different than their first adventure...

Instead of making it back to Bethlehem, they are now situated in Sogane, a town which is very far north of Bethlehem. Like the first story when they met Benjamin, the children are once again fortunate enough to meet a kind young traveling companion named Levi. Levi, like Benjamin, has a story to share with the young Time Trekkers about his connection with Jesus. He was not only present for a miracle Jesus performed, but was integral to the miracle occurring. You might be able to deduce the miracle to which I am referring, but if not, you'll have to read the book to find out.

Like the first book, there is a bit of adventure when Levi allows the Time Trekkers to journey with him. There is also a good lesson in the book as Caleb learns about respecting and listening to his father. Different from the first story is the intention of the children. With a better understanding of the time travel gift that has been bestowed on them, they now have a goal of meeting Jesus. This definitely represents a child's mindset of fearlessness. I'm not sure how many adults would have that goal, or if they would be too scared to approach Him. You're going to have to read the book to find out if they meet Him.

I am thoroughly enjoying this well-written series. Each book subtly teaches your children different stories of the New Testament and makes them feel like they are living the events in the book. This is the mark of a great story and storyteller. You are definitely going to want to pick up this 5-star book as well as the other books in the Gospel Time Trekkers series. Tune in next Saturday for my review of Volume 3 Danger at Sea.

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

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Image Books: Catholic Dictionary

There are some books that you read once and then you place on your shelf to add to your collection. Other books, however, manage to land a coveted spot on your desk to be used for reference and will eventually need to be replaced because it has been used so frequently. The book I am reviewing today, Catholic Dictionary, falls into the latter category. I didn't read it cover to cover, and frankly I don't know many people who would do that with a dictionary. I did use it as a reference though, and I would like to provide you with a brief review of this work.

At over 500 pages, the Catholic Dictionary is an abridged and updated version of Fr. Hardon's "Modern Catholic Dictionary." Entries vary in length and cover topics from Aaron to Zephaniah. Don't let the bookending entries fool you though. This dictionary covers more than the Bible. It deals with all things Catholic, including Scripture, Tradition, history, doctrine, prayers, and devotions. With over 2,000 entries, if there is something Catholic you need to define, this book is the resource to turn to.

My favorite entries were the lists that included Scriptural references. There was a list of Jesus' miracles, filed under "Miracles of Christ" for those looking to locate it in the dictionary. In this entry, Fr. Hardon divides Jesus' miracles into five categories - Nature Miracles, Miracles of Healing, Deliverance of Demoniacs, Victories over Hostile Wills, and Cases of Resurrection. In addition to providing a list of each type of miracle and where you can find it in the Bible, he also gives a brief definition on each type of miracle. There are other definition lists like this in the Catholic Dictionary, such as "Christ, New Testament Names and Titles." Picking any one of these lists would make an excellent starting point to do your own study and learn more about Jesus.

This is a great Catholic reference book that you should have in your library. It is scholarly but manages to be both clear and concise as well. If I had one gripe to make about it, it would be that the binding is paperback. I feel that reference books should always be hardcover. Since these types of books get frequent use, hardcover seems to better stand the test of time. I won't dock a full star for that complaint alone, so that still makes this a 5 star book. If you are looking to compile a Catholic reference library, this is a good starting point. You can then pair it with a Catechism, Catholic Bible Encyclopedia, and a Catholic Bible Concordance as well!

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

Monday, August 12, 2013

de Montfort Music: Mater Eucharistiae

If you're a Catholic music-lover, then surely you know about the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. They have two beautiful albums - Advent at Ephesus and Angels and Saints at Ephesus. The latter has been at the top of the charts in the classical album section for over thirteen weeks. I missed out on the debut of both albums, but I vowed if they released another one, I would get in on the ground floor. Well, they don't have a new album (yet), but the same label, de Montfort Music, de Montfort Music, has an album by The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist entitled Mater Eucharistiae.

Before I review the CD, I'd like to provide some background on the sisters. The Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan and were founded in 1997 with only four sisters. In those short sixteen years, they have increased to 110 sisters, which is remarkable! You might recognize the name of this order if you watched the American Bible Challenge game show and saw Sister Peter Joseph, Sister Maria Suso, and Sister Evangeline finish in second place on the most recent season. The purpose of this album, and the focus of the sisters' lives, is to draw people closer to Jesus through Mary, and they certainly succeeded in that goal.

The album itself is composed of fifteen songs and is just under 45 minutes long. The music is a mixture of English and Latin and it incorporates some instrumental and a capella pieces. You will recognize some of the music, such as Salve Regina or Pange Lingua. However, there is also an original one entitled "I Am in Thy Hands, O Mary." I first listened to this album at work and it transformed my whole day and made it more Christ-centered. I try now to listen to at least some of the album once a day, and in different places like home or the car. Doing this helps remind me that every aspect of our lives should be prayer and worship of God. It also helps transform my car or job-site into a mini-place of worship. I am truly grateful, not only for the 5-star CD that these sisters produced but more importantly for the example of their lives.

If you would like to see a behind the scenes look at the making of this album, check out the video below. As always, if you found this review helpful, click this link and hit Yes.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Pauline Books and Media: Shepherds to the Rescue

Welcome back to the Children's Corner feature on Stuart's Study. I have been neglecting this segment due to a combination of too many adult books to review and a lack of children's literature in my queue. Whenever I find myself with a shortage of kids books to review, Pauline Books and Media always comes to the rescue. They have recently released the first of three books in a six book series called Gospel Time Trekkers. I will be reviewing these three books over the next three Saturdays, but today we are starting with Volume 1: Shepherds to the Rescue!

The story involves three siblings named Hannah, Caleb, and Noah. It is told from the perspective of Caleb, but that doesn't necessarily make it a story just for boys. One day the three siblings are transported back in time to 30 years after Jesus' birth. The children spend a lot of time with a shepherd boy named Benjamin and his family. They also come to a better understanding of Jesus through a story told to them by Benjamin's grandfather, Eldad. I won't spoil the story for you, but you and your kids will absolutely love it.

At approximately 70 pages, this book is a quick read. The font is a nice size for children and each chapter is five to six pages long, so your child will have easy stopping points if they want to take a break from the book. More than likely, you'll have to pry the book from them as the story is just that captivating. There's about one illustration every two chapters, meaning your six year old will still be engaged while reading it to them, but your nine year old won't think this is a book for babies.

I particularly love the feature at the end titled, "Where is that in the Bible?" In this section, your child reads the Scripture passage that serves as the basis for this book. This ties a neat little bow on the package and helps catechize and reinforce what they just read. At $5.95, this 5 star book is a steal, and I can't wait to read the rest of the Gospel Time Trekkers series. Tune in next week for my review of Braving the Storm and in two weeks for my review of Danger at Sea!

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

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Catholic Courses: The Hobbit: Discovering Grace and Providence in Bilbo's Adventure

Today, I am reviewing the Catholic Courses' product The Hobbit - Discovering Grace and Providence in Bilbo's Adventure. If you recall, last month I reviewed The Hidden Meaning of The Lord of the Rings - The Theological Vision in Tolkien's Fiction. If you're wondering why I started with the one on "The Lord of the Rings" first, it's because it has two introductory lessons covering J.R.R. Tolkien's biography and his writing style. These are covered again in the course on "The Hobbit," but not to the same level of detail.

If you're like me and read "The Lord of the Rings" before you read "The Hobbit," you were probably a bit disappointed by "The Hobbit."  Alongside the action-packed trilogy, "The Hobbit" might seem rather lackluster by comparison. However, this tale serves as more than a precursor to the grand epic of "The Lord of the Rings." It is in-fact a coming of age story of the young Bilbo Baggins. Joseph Pearce also points out that Biblo's journey has many parallels with a person's journey throughout life. He further illustrates these points by addressing the ideas that every life is a pilgrimage and that the impossibility of growth without grace.

One topic that caught my interest in this Catholic Course was the juxtapositions Mr. Pearce made between Thorin Oakenshield and Aragorn. Both of them are kings. However, as kings they are vastly different. Aragorn is seen as a true and just king who can be seen as a Christ-figure. Thorin, on the other hand, is an easily corrupted king who values gold and treasures over people throughout his life. Another part of this course I found fascinating was the discussion on the dragon symbology, Smaug, and dragon sickness. It is no surprise that dragons represent evil, demons, and devils. This was true in early Christian iconography and can be seen clearly in the icon of St. George to your left. Mr. Pearce makes the astute observation that we all must either fight our dragons or become one.

Perhaps, the biggest lesson I took away from the course had to do with materialism. We can see this most clearly through the dragon Smaug, who had no use for gold but could tell you the exact amount in his possession, down to the ounce, and Thorin Oakenshield, who had such a great love of gold that he didn't want to share the gold with the people in Laketown whom he rightfully owed. Both Smaug and Thorin allowed their love of gold to consume them.  This underscores the message of "where your treasure is, there your heart is." While my heart doesn't value gold, I can see how some of my other possessions (my books) can be a stumbling block for me if I let them.  It is important for us as Catholics to keep our heart as close to God as possible.

If you're looking to gain a better appreciation for "The Hobbit" and the Catholic messages within it, this Catholic Course will be a good starting point. You can then follow it up with The Hidden Meaning of The Lord of the Rings - The Theological Vision in Tolkien's Fiction if you haven't studied it already. If you don't have time for an eight lecture course, Mr. Pearce also wrote a book on the subject called, Bilbo's Journey: Discovering the Hidden Meaning in The Hobbit. There are also other great courses that cover Dante's Divine Comedy or William Shakespeare if you are interested in literature, so be sure to check them out as well. For a brief introduction of the course, see the video below.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Pauline Books and Media: Intimacy in Prayer: Wisdom from Bernard of Clairvaux

I am a sucker for things that come in series - books, DVDs, games. If I own one of them, I am going to want to own them all. It's the collector in me, I think. Well, I was recently introduced to the Classic Wisdom Collection (available at Pauline Books and Media) when they sent me a copy the eleventh book in this series, entitled Intimacy in Prayer: Wisdom from Bernard of Clairvaux. The other ten books in the Classic Wisdom Collection (arranged alphabetically) are linked at the end of this review.

In my recent readings on western monasticism, I was introduced to St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Before that, I thought he was just another saint in a long line of saints about whom I knew nothing. I learned that he wrote a treatise entitled "The Steps of Humility and Pride," which I consider life-changing. I also learned that he preached 86 sermons on the Song of Songs, before he died. 86 sermons on an eight chapter book, and he still didn't finish the entire book! Intimacy in Prayer: Wisdom from Bernard of Clairvaux contains excerpts from these 86 sermons and some of his treatises in order to better explain the soul's search for intimacy with God in prayer.

This book is under 100 pages and divided into 23 different chapters. Each chapter is three to four pages long. With this layout, one can easily read the book in less than a month by simply reading a chapter a day. I would recommend picking a consistent time reading it each day to develop a habit, and so that you will stick with it. If you read upon waking, your whole day will be pointed toward God. If you do it before you go to bed, you can accompany it with an Examination of Conscience and a reflection upon your whole day. There are tons of ways to read this book. The key is to actually read it!

I particularly enjoyed the brief chapter called, "Alone with God." As a lay person, I have often felt a longing to be closer to God. I believe sometimes that just getting away from everyone and everything and focusing on God, like monastics, would help accomplish this. I know this is not possible due to the responsibilities of my life and vocation. St. Bernard, thankfully, helped spell things out for me. He said, "You must withdraw mentally rather than physically, in your intention, in your devotion, in your spirit. For Christ the Lord is a spirit before your face, and he demands solitude of the spirit more than of the body, although physical withdrawal can be of  benefit when the opportunity offers, especially in time of prayer."

This is a 5 star book that provides the reader with a small sample of the beauty of the Song of Songs mixed with the wisdom of St. Bernard of Clairvaux. It provided me with a deeper comprehension of this often misunderstood book of the Bible, and it also increased my appreciation for a saint about whom I am just starting to learn. If you are looking to draw closer to God in prayer, and honestly, who isn't, I would recommend this book to you. They also have ten other books (as seen below) for different challenges in your spiritual life that you might be facing.

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Comfort in Hardship: Wisdom from Thérèse of Lisieux
Courage in Chaos: Wisdom from Francis de Sales
Inner Peace: Wisdom from Jean Pierre de Caussade
Life’s Purpose: Wisdom from John Henry Newman
Path of Holiness: Wisdom from Catherine of Siena
Peace in Prayer: Wisdom from Theresa of Avila
Secrets of the Spirit: Wisdom from Luis Martinez
A Simple Life: Wisdom from Jane Frances de Chantal
Solace in Suffering: Wisdom from Thomas à Kempis
Strength in Darkness: Wisdom from John of the Cross

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Our Sunday Visitor: The Fathers of the Church Bible

If you follow my blog and books I review, you should know three at least three things about me. I LOVE Bibles, the Fathers of the Church, and Mike Aquilina's books. Therefore, when I heard that there was a Bible being published called The Fathers of the Church Bible and that Mike Aquilina was involved in the project, I knew I had to own a copy! Unfortunately, my excitement quickly faded once it arrived in the mail. Before I get to what I didn't like about the Bible, let me give some basic details about the Bible.

The translation of this Bible is the New American Bible Revised Edition, also known as the NABRE. This is the version you hear proclaimed at every Mass, so you know this is a faithful translation. Like your basic NABRE Bible, you get both the NAB and NABRE introductions. You also get footnotes and cross-references. How is this Bible different then? There are 88 color inserts in the Bible with writings from the Church Fathers on topics such as the Canon, Baptism, Angels, etc. I would have liked for these inserts would be placed near the Scripture passages that they address, but instead they are just spread about evenly to make for a uniform distribution.

Let me start with the positive aspects of this Bible. The Fathers of the Church Bible itself is a paperback, but the pages have a nice weight to them. The font is easy to read, and the Scripture cross-references and notes are easily separated on the page to make for easy navigation and easier reading. The margins aren't very large if you are looking for a Bible to make notes in. I am not, so that wasn't a deal-breaker for me. The inserts are especially enlightening and full of important teachings. I am VERY pleased that St. Ephrem the Syrian merited his own insert, as he is too often overlooked and forgotten.

As for the negatives, it is mainly the combination of presentation and price that I find lacking with this Bible. If you are looking to buy your FIRST copy of the NABRE Bible, then this would be a good choice. If you already own a copy of the NABRE, then you will be a little disappointed with this Bible. In my opinion, the inserts would have been better served as a small booklet sold separately. So if you already have a NABRE Bible, then I wouldn't recommend getting this one as well, because the inserts don't justify the cost. You would be better served buying a copy of one of Mike Aquilina's many books on the Church Fathers.Overall, I would give this Bible 3.5 out of 5 stars. I expected much more from this Bible, and I believe it could have been better than it was.

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 Fathers of the Church Bible. 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.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Harvard University Press: Aquinas on the Beginning and End of Human Life

Since I've become Catholic, I could easily say that my viewpoint on a lot of issues have been changed. Because I believe the Catholic Church is the fullness of faith and is true in her teachings, I have a new appreciation for matters of doctrinal and moral nature. One such example is my opinion on human life and death.  I have always been pro-life in terms of abortion. However, I used to see euthanasia as an acceptable choice. Since my conversion, I no longer see things that way anymore. Thank God for opening my eyes. I bring all this up, because I am reviewing a book from. I bring all this up, because I am reviewing a book from Harvard University Press called Aquinas on the Beginning and End of Human Life.

In Aquinas on the Beginning and End of Human Life, Fabrizio Amerini examines the writings of Thomas Aquinas to determine which side of the fence he would land on with regards to abortion, euthanasia, and personhood. For those unfamiliar with Fabrizio Amerini, such as myself before this book, he is an internationally renowned scholar of medieval philosophy. Chapters in this book cover topics that range from the human soul and embryology to the bioethical implications of Aquinas' viewpoint.

The book is laid out in a fact-oriented manner. Instead of telling you what he believes Thomas Aquinas is saying, Dr. Amerini presents you with Aquinas' writings and how they can be interpreted by each side. In my opinion, the most interesting parts of this book dealt with ensoulment. Ensoulment is when a human being gains his soul. It is the Catholic belief presently that ensoulment occurs at conception, thus an embryo is an actual human being. Thomas Aquinas (and others in that day) believed that ensoulment occurred 40 days after conception for males and 80 days after conception for females. Despite this though, he still believed abortion to be against natural law and a mortal sin, if committed before these times. However, he didn't regard it as a homicide. We, pro-lifers, would disagree today and say that abortion is a homicide.

I'm having a tough time determining a rating for this book. It is highly academic, and at times the footnotes overwhelm the actual text on the pages. I wonder who the audience for this book would be apart from academics or die-hard Aquinas lovers. Also, the book seemed to focus more on when human life began, and not near as much when it ended. Therefore, I wonder if it would have just been better to call this book, "Aquinas on the Beginning of Human Life." For these reasons, I am giving this book a 4 out of 5 stars. I would like to add, though, that as demonstrated in this book, no matter when Thomas Aquinas believed ensoulment occurred, he still believed a human embryo was a person or had the potential to be a person.

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