Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mount Thabor Publishing: The Enlargement of the Heart

Well, another month is winding down, and that means it's time for my monthly Orthodox book review. If you had asked me a week ago, I would have told you that this was going to be my last Orthodox book review as the publishers just aren't interested in having their books reviewed, but I received a book from my favorite Orthodox company, Conciliar Press, very recently so maybe next month will be my farewell to Orthodox book reviews. Today, however, I have one final book from Mount Thabor Publishing to review.

The Enlargement of the Heart is a series of lectures, which Archimandrite Zacharias gave at a 2001 Clergy Brotherhood Retreat. Archimandrite Zacharias is a disciple of Elder Sophrony of Essex who was in turn a disciple of Saint Silouan the Athonite. That's some pretty impressive lineage for those of you unversed in Orthodoxy. Drawing upon their teachings, these lectures discuss man's ultimate existence and purpose.

Each lecture is brilliant but accessible. So many times, depending upon the speaker, theology can go over the heads of the majority of us, myself included. Archimandrite Zacharias, however, does a brilliant job keeping his lectures simple yet deep. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the Jesus Prayer. In this chapter he tells us that two factors are indispensable when praying the Jesus Prayer. "The first is the faithful effort made by man to focus his attention in his heart, and humbly predispose his spirit. The second, and incomparably more important, is the grace of the Holy Spirit, without which nothing can succeed, no word and no act is accomplished." If I understand it correctly, it is saying that we need to humbly put forth the effort, while realizing that we can't accomplish it without the Holy Spirit.

This was a great book to read. It not only made the teachings of Elder Sophrony and Saint Silouan available, but also made them accessible to the average reader. I appreciate the Scripture cross references included in the book, as well as the original questions and answers at the end of the lecture. Sometimes, no matter how clear a lecture is, there are questions that need to be answered, and a lot of the questions asked were some of the same ones I had as well. Pick up this 5 star book if you want to read from some of the great minds of recent Orthodox history.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Ascension Press: Walking Toward Eternity Series Two

Welcome back! Normally, I take this first paragraph of my post to elaborate on a part of my life. I feel it adds a little touch to my blog, and let's my readers get to know me. I don't want people thinking I am just a review robot that inputs products and outputs reviews. However, today I would like to wish everyone a Happy Memorial Day, remember those who passed away defending the freedoms of our country, and thank those currently in service, like my brother-in-law.

Today, I am reviewing the second part of the Walking Toward Eternity Series, available at Ascension Press. I reviewed the first part back in January in case anyone needs a refresher on what that one was about. Walking Toward Eternity: Engaging the Struggles of Your Heart is another masterful study put together by Jeff and Emily Cavins. Where Series One focused on positive aspects in the Christian life, such as love and forgiveness, Series Two focuses on negative aspects in our lives, such as envy and anger. The format is the same for Series Two, so if you have taken a Cavins course before, you'll feel right at home. If you have not, it is very approachable and the learning curve is not steep. The format of the study consists of four days of journaling, reading Scripture, and praying.
  • Day 1 - You focus on the meaning of the particular struggle/obstacle in your spiritual life, i.e., envy.
  • Day 2 - You look at how God views this obstacle and why it is important to get it in check in your life.
  • Day 3 - You examine steps and Scripture on how you can overcome this struggle.
  • Day 4 - You select the Scripture that spoke to you the most this week and pray using Lectio Divina.
  • Meeting Day - You watch the DVD lecture, about an hour long, and as a group you go through the questions outlined for you with each week.
I really enjoy the format of this study. Some studies expect you to read seven days AND do a DVD. That can get overwhelming, especially for someone like me with a new baby. I always felt bad when I missed a day in those series, and that I was slacking with God and my group. However, four days and a meeting day seems like the perfect amount of time and material. It even provides a built-in two day cushion if you do miss a day.

Now that I have discussed the format. I want to briefly touch on the content. Discussed in this series are appetites, shame, envy, anger, fear, loneliness, and hopelessness. As Jeff Cavins points out in the DVDs, people join a program like this, learn a lot about those topics, but then fail to make the necessary changes in their life. That's why he wants you to ask God three questions each week as it relates to each struggle. Let's stick with the example of envy. 1. What are you putting your hand on in my life that needs changing in relation envy? 2. What do I specifically need to do to change? 3. When am I going to take the first step of changing?

This was an excellent program and a great followup to Walking Toward Eternity: Daring to Walk the Walk. You don't HAVE to take Series One before this one, but I would highly recommend it. I have nothing but positive things to say about this program, but I would say that Jeff Cavins presentations are the jewel of the series. His talks are brilliant but practical, and he makes sure the audience knows that he is not perfect, which makes them relatable. They also contain the right amount of seriousness and humor, which is appreciated.

Pick up this 5 star series from Ascension Press. You can use it to lead a small group, or if you're feeling ambitious, you can lead something at the parish level. There is a Leader's Guide in the Starter Pack that will help you not only get your program started, but will help you see it through to completion. Then, after you complete this study program, participate in or lead another. Ascension Press has many great titles including ones on Prayer, different books of the Bible, Church History, and one that looks really interesting to me on the Catechism.

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

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Gingerbread House Publishing: The Weight of a Mass

When I originally started this blog, I thought the greatest joy I would receive was from reading books of a higher theology and further educating myself on the Catholic faith. I looked at it as an alternative to the Theology Degree I can't afford. Several months into my reviews though, I started receiving children's books to review and they have brought me more joy than I ever imagined they would. Today, I have a VERY special children's book to review courtesy of Gingerbread House Publishing.

The Weight of a Mass: A Tale of Faith is a gorgeous book written by Josephine Nobisso and illustrated by Katalin Szegedi. It reads like a fairy tale, but is based on a true story that happened in Luxembourg, which can be found in the back of the book. This tale focuses on a simple request from a poor widow to a stingy baker. In exchange for her Mass intention that night, all she wants is just one stale piece of bread. To no surprise, the baker refuses, and the rest of the book is spent with the baker trying to show the worth of one Mass compared to his baked goods. I won't spoil the ending for you, but it I will say that it doesn't disappoint.

In this book, your children will learn lessons on faith, generosity, and kindness. Most importantly though, they will learn that the Mass is something which has value that can never be equaled, let alone outweighed, by human means. Whether the author intended it or not, this tale is also a tale of vocation, and that can be used to at least put the idea in your young children's heads that being a priest or other religious is a beautiful vocation in life. In today's world, we tend to want our kids to be rich and successful when they grow up, but this reinforces the fact that true riches and success come from God. Let us never let our children lose sight of this fact.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars, because I can't give it 10 out of 5 stars. The illustrations are beautiful, but the story is gorgeous! I also appreciate that she explains the allegory of each part of the story on the inside flaps. It illuminated illustrations of the story that I didn't even consider. This is a book that every Catholic family should have in their home. In fact, I'm tempted to buy a copy for every child that I have. As a bonus, if you order directly from the website, the author will autograph the book and personalize it to your child. I love that, and it's amazing to me when authors do these little personal things. Tune in next month for my review of the companion volume, Take it to the Queen: A Tale of Hope.

As always, if you found this review helpful, let me know by clicking the link and hitting Yes!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Image Books: On Heaven and Earth

With the election of Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, there was a rush among Catholic publishers to be the first to publish a book about the new pope. If you look at Amazon rankings for Catholic books, about a dozen different books on Pope Francis fill the Top 25. Even Life Magazine tried to get in on a piece of the action. But which one(s) should you read and which ones should you avoid? I can't vouch for all of them, but over the next couple of months, I will be reviewing what I view to be the Top 3 books to read about Pope Francis, starting with my #3.

On Heaven and Earth is a book of dialogue between Pope Francis (then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio) and Rabbi Abraham Skorka. Both men are Argentinian and both are respected religious leaders as well as brilliant minds. In these conversations, which read like brief letters back and forth to one another, various subjects such as God, the Devil, Science, Education, are covered. My initial impression was that it was nice to see subjects other than religion covered. This has potential to attract a wider, perhaps secular audience, who would otherwise never read a book by the Pope.

Each chapter reads like a friendly debate (for lack of a better word). One man gives his and his religion's viewpoint on a specific subject, and the other replies with their viewpoint. The tone is never harsh, and you can tell that these men have a good deal of respect for each other. If you are looking for fireworks or one party to declare the other wrong, you need to find a different book. I must admit there are times when I wish Pope Francis would have told Rabbi Skorka that he was wrong, but that is not how dialogue, especially religious dialogue works. Both men exhibited what a religious dialogue is supposed to look like - loving, respectful, willing to listen, and willing to share.

Some chapters were more appealing to me than others. For example, the first chapter, "On God," was very interesting. I'm not sure what exactly I expected them to discuss as it related to God, but Rabbi Skorka's explanation of Nimrod and the Tower of Babel, according to Talmudic tradition, was very interesting and a perspective I had never heard before. The chapter "On the 1970s" had a hard time keeping my interest because I wasn't alive during that time. The beautiful thing about this book though is that you don't have to read it in order or completely if a chapter doesn't interest you.

I originally thought that this book wouldn't hold my interest as I tend to only want to know what the Catholic viewpoint is on things, but I was very wrong. It was very well put together, covered a wide variety of topics, and I felt that both men educated me, not just Pope Francis. I give it 5 out of 5 stars and recommend that you read through each section slowly and reflect on each one. Tune in next month for #2 in my list of Pope Francis books.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. Some helpful resources related to this book are listed below.
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Monday, May 20, 2013

Our Sunday Visitor: New Evangelization

This was a great weekend. For starters, our little boy got baptized! The smell of oil is still fresh in his hair. I was thinking originally that we should have waited a day and baptized him on Pentecost. How cool would that have been? It's okay though. I realized several hours later, thanks to Facebook, that he was baptized on Blessed John Paul II's birthday. That's pretty cool too. But since Pentecost just occurred, I decided today would be the perfect day to review New Evangelization by Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

I have recently discovered the New Evangelization. Everywhere you turn today, it's the latest buzz phrase in the Catholic world. In this short book, written by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, he explains what it is, where it began, why it's important, and what we can do to spread the Gospel. The chapters are a short read, but they come off a little bit stiff at times, like mini-essays.

I really enjoyed Chapter 6 - "Parishes - Centers of the New Evangelization." This chapter focuses a lot on the religious education of our children both by teachers at Catholic schools and Catechists at the parish level. I have been a catechist for three years, but I never considered this to be a part of the New Evangelization. It definitely eases the sting you sometimes feel when the kids are just not responding to you and don't want to be there at all.

Overall, I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It was a very fine explanation of what the New Evangelization is, but I was hoping for more practical examples in Chapter 8 - "Sharing the Faith." The book is still worth reading though. We are all called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, not just with strangers but with our family and friends as well. Therefore, we need to know more about the New Evangelization, so pick up this book and other works related to the subject and learn a little more about this movement within our Church.

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Saint Mary's Press: The Catholic Children's Bible

As I am reflecting on what to write for this review, I am reminded of the story of "Goldlilocks and the Three Bears" and how beds are too soft, too hard, and just right. If you have a child ages 5 to 13, Bibles can start to feel like that too. There are Bibles for toddlers, which have about ten or so stories, but are mostly pictures, so older kids will feel babied. Then there are Bibles for teenagers or adults, which have no pictures and can quickly make your child bored and lose interest. Thankfully, St. Mary's Press has released two Bibles, The Catholic Children's Bible and Breakthrough! The Bible for Young Catholics to fill this void. I will be reviewing The Catholic Children's Bible today.

The Catholic Children's Bible is the first of its kind in that it is a COMPLETE Bible for children. That's right. You get all 73 books. The translation used is the Good News Translation (GNT), which is a more casual and conversational translation. I must admit that I am generally not a fan of the GNT. I feel it waters down powerful phrases in the Bible and makes them sound a bit clunky. One example that is always nails on a chalkboard to me is when they translate Jesus saying, "Amen, Amen I say to you," as "I'm telling you the truth!" The latter just doesn't hold the same gravitas as the former. I would normally ding a Catholic Bible 1 star in a review for using this translation, but for children I believe this translation is acceptable and easier to understand for them.

The first thing I love about this Bible is the color. It's like a rainbow exploded in this Bible, but in a systematic way. On page 15, they organize all the books of the Bible on a bookshelf and color code them into six different sections - the Pentateuch, Historical Books, Wisdom Books, Books of the Prophets, Gospels and Acts, and Letters. I always love this visual representation of the Bible. It helps remind us that the Bible is actually a collection of 73 books of all different literary genres. The same color code used on the bookshelf can then be seen at the bottom of the pages to remind your young one what section of the Bible they are reading.

The feature I really love though is how they highlight important stories. At the beginning of every book of the Bible you will find a list of "Featured Stories." For example, if your child is reading the Bible like they normally would, and they come to a picture of a leaf, they know that this is "Featured Story." Then on the next two pages, the story is highlighted with pictures and extra features. These extra features include keyword definitions, a recap of the story, practical application for their everyday life, and three little pictures so your child can re-tell the story using their own words. I really like that they have to re-tell the story. This not only reinforces it in their memory, but helps them to own it.

If you are serious about your Bible and want your child to be serious as well, then you will want to get this 5 star Bible! There is also an activity book available for purchase to help further reinforce the stories that your children read. I wasn't provided this to review, but looking at the sample pages, they'd be great for both home use and catechist use. The two arms of the Church are Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. We tend to ignore Sacred Scripture, but let's reverse that trend. I encourage you to buy this Bible. Read it to your children. Let your children read it to you. You won't regret it.

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

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sophia Institute Press: Treason

I'm not sure how common this is among spouses who both enjoy reading, but my wife enjoys fiction, and I enjoy non-fiction. I have a few exceptions like Lewis, Tolkien, or anything considered classic. However, I generally tend to avoid fiction like the plague. God in His Divine humor decided that I have been having too easy of a time reviewing books and decided to slip a fiction book in my queue courtesy of Sophia Institute Press. I was definitely thrown for a loop. I have no idea how to review fiction, so please bear with me as I try to do my best.

Treason: A Catholic Novel of Elizabethan England takes place in 16th Century England, or Shakespeare's day. This was a time when being Catholic in England was traitorous and resulted in death. Within this book, Ms. Hunt shows us the human spirit in many different characters and how each one responds to the persecution of themselves or others. Spoiler alert: It's not always in a positive manner.

The first thing I do with a book, regardless of whether it's fiction or non-fiction, is read the back cover to get an idea of what it is about. In this case, I wish I hadn't of done that. The back cover gives you the impression that Stephen and Caroline are the main characters in the story. If they are indeed, it took nearly 50 pages (of a 200 page book) to feel like you got to know them in order to build some kind of attachment to them. We instead learn more about all the ancillary characters early on in  the book, which, while they are all connected in some way to Stephen or Caroline, come off more as major characters than minor ones.

Another thing of note in the book is that all the events take place over the span of a week, May 21 to May 27, 1581. This isn't a big deal, and it was a fact I didn't notice at first, but on reflection, that was a whirlwind of events that happened in the span of a week. I'm not saying it's impossible that it could have happened. I'm just saying I felt like this was taking place over the course of weeks and months and was surprised when I realized that it only took a week.

I give this book 4 out 5 stars. It did a nice job painting a portrait of how England was in the late 16th Century. It also did a nice job of showing all the different ways people act when faced with persecution of their faith. There is a character who turns his head and switches to the state religion, and then there are martyrs, both red (a literal dying for the faith) and white (a dying to everything you love for God). I am not saying there is a right way or a wrong way, as I hope to never be put in that position, but it does make you appreciate your freedom and ability to worship as you see fit. May we learn from our mistakes, lest we repeat them.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Image Books: The Church

Well, we officially have less than a week of Easter left. We are entering the second half of the longest season of the Church Year - Ordinary Time. A lot of people, myself included, tend to flounder in this season. They have no fasting to re-focus their life, as in Lent or Advent, and no Great Feast to look forward to like Easter or Christmas. So instead of treating Ordinary Time as a dry season, pick up a book and learn something new. I recommend The Church by Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina.

The Church begins simply by explaining what a church is and why people are willing to sacrifice so much and live in poverty to construct these lavish and ornate buildings. It then goes on to explain what THE Church is, as in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.  He also explains some of the different names for it, including Mother and Ship to name a few. You may think this is all very basic information that most people know, but the book then progresses to my favorite part. It breaks down every aspect and feature of a church and explains the historical, physical, and spiritual significance of each feature.

Some features of a church might be obvious. For example, a lot of churches are cruciform shaped to represent the Body of Christ, which is the Church. Other features of a church though hold more significance than one realizes. The Ambo for example is the place where the Word of God is proclaimed. This is, in fact, a second table. The first table is the altar, where the Bread is broken. The second table is the Ambo, where the Word of God is broken.  To put it plainly, this is where the Sacred Scripture is opened, read, and explained to us. The most enlightening passage to me was the part on the Sacristy. Being a convert, I never had the chance to be an altar server, and so I have never experienced this room. It was truly enlightening learning the spiritual dimension of a space that seems to be a mere dressing room to many.

The Church is a 5 star book that is excellent for the convert and cradle Catholic alike. This building that so many take for granted is more than just a building. It is full of both physical and spiritual beauty and reading this book will open your eyes to all that beauty. So take the time to read this book and see how your church and the churches in your area compare to the descriptions in this book and to each other. Then, when you get done with this book, pick up its companion book called The Mass. You won't be disappointed with what you find.  I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Some helpful links related to this book are below, and as always, if you found this review helpful please click the link and hit Yes!
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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Children's Corner: Brother Francis Presents The Rosary

As many of you know, the month of May in the Catholic Church is dedicated to Mary. On top of that, today is the day before Mother's Day. So what better way to honor Jesus' mother and ours than by praying the Rosary? It is for these two reasons I chose to review Brother Franics Presents The Rosary today. I have actually had this in my review queue for a little while, but wanted the perfect day to review it.

This episode of Brother Francis starts off with Brother Francis receiving a letter from his nephew thanking him for the gift he received on his First Holy Communion. Brother Francis then goes on to explain how letters are special because you can take them out and read them anytime you want, and ties in the idea that God probably feels that way about our prayers. He then gives a simple explanation and some examples of ways we can pray to God, i.e., singing or just talking to God.

Most of the time though, like Brother Francis points out, we talk to God through the prayers of the Church, like the Our Father. He then goes on to explain how people, generally Protestants, accuse us of just saying the same prayer over and over again without it meaning anything. He does a nice job debunking this claim using the example of having a song that reminds you of someone. Your child then gets to hear the Our Father sung, like in Episode 1 "Let's Pray!" I found this useful as it helped reinforce what the child already heard and will help them commit it to memory.

We then get to the meat of the episode, which talks about Mary. I enjoyed the cartoon representation of the Annunciation. They also did a nice job sneaking in some more knowledge by teaching your kids that we call Mary the Mother of God. Your children are then taught the other prayers that make up the Rosary including the Hail Mary, Glory Be and the Apostles' Creed. Brother Francis then compared the Apostles' Creed to the Pledge of Allegiance. This was an interesting take, which I had never thought of, but I could see that registering with kids. Finally, your kids learn all twenty Mysteries of the Rosary, with visual representation, and the Hail Holy Queen prayer.

I thoroughly enjoyed this video presentation of The Rosary, and it easily gets 5 stars. It will make a great resource for Catechists of young children, or simply serve as a favorite video for your kids to watch at home over and over again. It seems with each subsequent Brother Francis DVD they release, the product gets better and better. They already have a CD of the prayers of the Rosary put to song, but I hope that they will consider releasing a CD of the entire Rosary, with each set of mysteries, prayed by Brother Francis and the children. This would make a useful additional tool to encourage your little ones to pray the Rosary every day. Tune in next month when I review Episode 4 "Forgiven!"

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

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Catholic Thursday: With Christ - An Anthology of the Writings of Blessed Columba Marmion

Welcome back! I am always amazed by the generosity of publishers, both big and little, in allowing me to review their books for free. In fact, I often worry that I am going to run out of books to review, so I like to make a calendar and map out what I am going to review and when. In the middle of April, it looked like I was going to run out of books in the first week of May. Fast forward two weeks, and I am now swimming in books. It is truly a great problem to have! I now have my review calendar planned out, and I have enough books to get me through the end of June. Today's book review is brought to you by Angelico Press.

With Christ - An Anthology of the Writings of Blessed Columba Marmion, compiled by Dom Raymund Thiabut, O.S.B., draws from three of Blessed Columba Marmion's works - "Christ, the Life of the Soul," "Christ in His Mysteries," and "Christ, the Ideal of the Monk." It also has selections from his letters in "Union with God." For those of you unfamiliar with Blessed Columba Marmion, like myself before reading this work, he was an Irish monk in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in the year 2000 and was considered one of the most popular and influential writers of the 20th Century.

This anthology is divided into six parts:
  • Jesus Christ and His Work of Redemption
  • We Co-Operate in Christ's Work of Redemption by Sharing in His Passion
  • On Human Misery and Some Forms of Trial and Suffering
  • The Fecundity of Suffering Accepted in a Christian Spirit
  • Facing Death, the Supreme Trial
  • Our Sharing in the Eternal Glory of Christ
Each of these parts is made up of carefully selected passages from Blessed Columba Marmion's works.  The passages range in length from a paragraph to a couple of pages. I initially made the mistake of trying to read straight through Part One, "Jesus Christ and His Work of Redemption." After about a dozen pages, I realized that I needed to slow down and reflect on each passage. Overall, I felt that the most fascinating and beautiful section dealt with "How Suffering Leads to Life" as it pertains to human suffering purifying the soul to lead us to eternal life. We tend to try and avoid suffering or get it over with as quickly as possible, but this section teaches and reminds us that suffering has a purpose.

This is a 5 star introduction to Blessed Columba Marmion and his writings. However, these select passages were just the tip of the iceberg and made me long to read some of his complete works. So pick up this book, or some of his complete works available at Angelico Press. Read them, meditate on them, and pray for the canonization of  Blessed Columba Marmion.

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

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Catholic Courses: The First 500 Years - The Fathers, Councils, and Doctrines of the Early Church

Well, I just had the privilege of reviewing another course from Catholic Courses called The First 500 Years - The Fathers, Councils, and Doctrines of the Early Church. I never pass up an opportunity to learn more about the Early Church, especially the Early Church Fathers, so this course had my name written all over it! Fr. David Meconi, S.J. is your presenter, and if you would like to see an introduction for the course, watch the two minute video below.

Like all of Catholic Courses' main courses, there are eight lectures, each approximately 30 minutes. Lecture One is an introduction on Patristics that breaks the Fathers down into three categories - Apostolic Fathers, Apologists, and Great Theologians. Fr. Meconi then expounds on some of their writings. Lecture Two deals with the Persecution of Christians pre-Constantine and the Edict of Milan. Lecture Three discusses Constantine, and Lecture Four was my favorite as it dealt with the Cappadocian Fathers - Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus. We in the West tend to overlook these three great saints, but they are responsible for key theological contributions on our understanding of the Trinity and in fighting heresies such as Arianism and Apollinarianism.

Lecture Five discusses the early Church's view on Mary and her role as Theotokos or the Mother of God or the God-bearer. This is a term that is still prominently used in Eastern Christianity but has mostly fallen out of use in the West. This term may seem like it only deals with Mary, but it also deals with Jesus, His two natures, and the heresy of Nestorius, and its correction by St. Cyril of Alexandria at the Council of Ephesus. Lecture Six talks about St. Augustine. It would not be a study of early Catholicism without detailed mention of St. Augustine. While he is one of the great Fathers of the West, I wish that one of the great Fathers of the East, St. John Chrysostom, would have gotten equal airtime.

Lecture Seven deals with Pope Leo the Great and the Council of Chalcedon. Lecture Eight deals with two main topics - the monks or Desert Fathers, primarily St. Antony of Egypt and doctrines of the Church  that St. John of Damascus was responsible for teaching. I personally would have preferred that we omit the teachings of St. John of Damascus, and focus on other monks in the Desert. Don't get me wrong. I love St. John of Damascus, and he played a huge role in the Church, but he was not present for the first 500 years of the Church. I therefore feel that the title of the Course should be changed with his addition. That is just me splitting hairs though.

I thoroughly enjoyed this product from Catholic Courses. There are a few parts I would like to see added in this course, but I have to remember that time is limited and there is only so much Fr. Meconi can cover, and there was already a lot of knowledge crammed into these eight courses. The great thing about our Church though is that there is always plenty to learn, and if a specific saint or topic interests you, you can do more reading on the subject. I hope there is another course covering the next 500 years or so in the works. Check back next month for my review of Unveiling the Apocalypse - The End Times According to the Bible.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Children's Corner: Seeds of Faith for Children

Seeds of Faith for Children is a tiny booklet that has different parts of the Catholic Faith and how your child can use them to grow closer to God. Topics touched on include Prayer, the Creed, The Ten Commandments, the Sacraments, and Sacramentals. However, there is no mention of the Bible or attending weekly Mass! Yes, there are some Scripture passages at the top of every other page and Mass is briefly mentioned when talking about the Third Commandment and the Sacrament of the Eucharist, but weekly attendance at Mass and the reading of God's Word will definitely help your children's "Seeds of Faith" to grow.

The illustrations in the book are cute and do a nice job of showing both the physical world and spiritual world when we participate in the Sacraments or prayer. I especially liked the ongoing illustration showing a pot grow from a seed into a thriving plant as your child participates in different aspects of their Faith. However, I feel that the topics are out of order. Sacraments are the second to last topic mentioned in this book. Your Faith begins with Baptism, so Sacraments should have been first. Then, you can talk about the Creed and Prayer, etc.

Overall, I found this book to be lacking. The information within it was all accurate. However, it was poorly organized and missing crucial tools that help faith grow, like attending weekly Mass and reading the Bible. This was a fair book that left me wishing it had been better. To top it off, it is a flimsy paperback book that will not hold up well with one child, let alone subsequent ones. Unfortunately, I am giving this book 3 out of 5 stars.

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 Seeds of Faith for Children. 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, May 2, 2013

Catholic Thursday: The Holy Spirit Within

Welcome back, my dear readers. We are quickly approaching the end of the Easter Season, which means that we have two BIG Feasts coming up - the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven and the Descent of the Holy Spirit or Pentecost. I was going to complain for a moment about having to celebrate the Ascension on Sunday instead of Thursday to give more people the opportunity to celebrate this Feast. Instead, I will trust the pastoral care of the U.S. to the bishops and just type my book review. It's a great book too. I have been sitting on this book for over a month, as I wanted to not only read it at the appropriate time in the Church Year, but also present it to you at the same time.

The Holy Spirit Within: Homilies at Ascension and Pentecost is composed of six sermons (two for Ascension and four for Pentecost) by St. John of Ávila. Some of you may be wondering, "Who is St John of Ávila?" He was a Spanish priest and mystic from the 1500s who was declared Venerable in 1759, Blessed in 1893, Saint in 1970, and became a Doctor of the Church in 2012. He had great influence on St. Teresa of Ávila, who remarkably became a Saint and Doctor of the Church well before he did.

St. John of Ávila believed, rightly, that the Holy Spirit was the Person of the Trinity that was most misunderstood and most forgotten. These homilies serve the purpose of better explaining who the Holy Spirit is, how and why we should seek His intercession, and how He will help us in our spiritual lives if we just allow Him. My first thoughts when reading his homilies were that this was a brilliant man. However, it also struck me that his congregation must have been very intelligent as well to understand what he was telling them. Although his homilies are long, they are also understandable. He also quotes extensively from both Sacred Scripture and the Fathers of the Church, which I always love to "hear" when reading homilies.

I only have one negative thing to say about this work, and it deals with the presentation of portions of his homilies. There is a ton of Latin interspersed within these sermons. This might not bother you, especially if you are fluent in Latin, but it grew to be a distraction for me. I understand some Latin, but unfortunately I don't read it fluently. Therefore, I believe it would have been better to have the translated portion directly in the text, with a footnote at the end of the homily or the bottom of the page for the exact Latin phrase.

That one complaint aside, I feel spiritually richer having read these homilies. Pope Benedict XVI was truly wise in making St. John of Ávila a Doctor of the Church. I challenge you to pick up this 5 star book and learn what a great Saint had to say about the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised that God would send an Advocate and Comforter in the Holy Spirit, so let's stop neglecting the Holy Spirit and give Him the honor He is due by learning more about Him and praying to Him more.

Click this link or this one and hit Yes if you found this review helpful! Sorry for the double review on Amazon, but I hate when they don't link the physical book with the Kindle edition.