Monday, December 30, 2013

Treasury of Egyptian Mythology (National Geographic Kids)

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 27, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Mass (Image Books)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Holy Land: An Armchair Pilgrimage (Servant Books)

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

GoBible Review and 20% Off Coupon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 16, 2013

Only Love Can Save Us (Our Sunday Visitor)

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 13, 2013

Yes, God! (Ave Maria Press)

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Brother Francis Presents The King is Born (Herald Entertainment)

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 9, 2013

Pope Awesome and Other Stories

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 6, 2013

Journey to the Kingdom (Paraclete Press)

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Bambinelli Sunday: A Christmas Blessing (Franciscan Media)

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

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

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

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Bambinelli Sunday: A Christmas Blessing. The Catholic Company is the best resource for all your seasonal needs such as First Communion gifts as well as ideas and gifts for the special papal Year of Faith.

Monday, December 2, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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