Monday, July 29, 2013

Ignatius Press: Shakespeare on Love

If you're like me, you read Shakespeare in high school or college, and don't remember much of it. Sure, you can rattle off a few famous lines like Hamlet's "To be, or not to be," or Romeo's "But soft! What light through yonder window breaks," but do you really remember much else about the plays? In fact, would you go so far as to say that you even understood them back then? Or was it just funny-sounding English with a lot of references that your teacher explained to you for you to believe because you didn't know any better? That's how I always felt, but when I saw Shakespeare on Love released from Ignatius Press, I figured I would give it a shot.

True love and tragic love are the recurring themes that youth are taught when reading Romeo and Juliet in high school or college. Joseph Pearce would beg to differ though. In his book Shakespeare on Love, Mr. Pearce looks to debunk these misconceptions on the "love" that teachers and students interpret in Romeo and Juliet by looking at the play from a Catholic perspective. "Why from a Catholic perspective?" you might be asking. According to Mr. Pearce, it is because Shakespeare was Catholic, as he demonstrated in his previous two works The Quest for Shakespeare and Through Shakespeare's Eyes.

The book starts off explaining the three ways one can read Romeo and Juliet. The first way is from a fatalistic perspective, in which fate kills Romeo and Juliet. The second way to read the book is from a romantic perspective, in which it is the feuding families are ultimately responsible for the young lovers' demise. The last way, and the way which Mr. Pearce says you should read it, is from a moral perspective, where the star-crossed lovers' choices lead to their death and the deaths of many others. The book then embarks on a critical examination of Romeo, Juliet, Friar Lawrence, and some of the key scenes in the play, i.e. the balcony scene.

Each chapter was fascinating, and they provided me with key insights I did not receive in high school. At times, I was even asking myself, "Is this the same play I read in high school?" For example, I completely missed that Juliet was ONLY thirteen and Romeo was twentysomething. The most fascinating chapter to me, though, was entitled "Venus and the Virgin." In it, Mr. Pearce says that Romeo is a follower of Venus, and therefore Romeo's love is impure. He is more concerned with erotic love than true love. He therefore quickly recovers from being scorned by chaste Rosaline, and is able to find an easier target in Juliet, whom he corrupts and steals her innocence.

Overall, I found Shakespeare on Love to be a truly fascinating book that is worthy of a 5 star rating. It opened my eyes to sections I never understood, and it made me rethink everything I learned about Romeo and Juliet. If you have a teenager or twentysomething reading this play, I recommend you pick up a copy for them. Not only will they look more intelligent in the classroom setting by presenting the Catholic perspective on this play, they will also not be brainwashed by teachers who gloss over this play and try to boil the whole story down to true but tragic love and one of the greatest love stories ever told. Adult Shakespeare lovers will find this book fascinating as well. In a nutshell, buy this book!

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

Saturday, July 27, 2013

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

It feels like forever since I've reviewed a children's book. I hit a backlog of adult books that I had to start posting those on Saturday. I hope that won't be the norm, but progress had to be made in my review stack. Two months ago, I reviewed the ONLY fully Catholic Children's Bible (available from St. Mary's Press). You can read the review here. Today, I am reviewing the Activity Book that complements it.

The Catholic Children's Bible Activity Book is a 100-page, spiral-bound book of activities to enrich your children's understanding of what they just read in The Catholic Children's Bible. When you look through the Bible, you notice that there are "featured stories," which the publisher believes are vital for your children to know their faith. These featured stories serve as the backbone for the Activity Book.

With each featured story, there are two activities - Level 1 and Level 2. Level 1 is of course the easier activity, and Level 2 requires a bit more critical thinking. One could easily give the younger kids the Level 1 activity and save the Level 2 activity for the older kids, but in doing so, you miss two opportunities. 1. The younger kids could be challenged to think harder on their faith and might surprise you with the results. 2. The older kids might enjoy the refresher of an easier activity or just simply enjoy the particular activity. You know your children better than I do, so you know what your children will and will not enjoy.

There are many things I love about this book. For starters, the types of activities are a great variety. You will open this book and find word searches and crosswords, but you won't find forty of them. You will find crafts, mazes, encoded messages, etc. Now, the price might scare some of you away, because you are thinking that's an expensive workbook for my child. However, "ALL materials included in the activity booklet are reproducible." This feature and the spiral-bound design give you a book that's easy to Xerox and makes the perfect addition to your religious education or homeschool setting. So grab your Catholic Children's Bible and this 5-star Activity Book and teach your children the beauty of Scripture.

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

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pauline Books and Media: Love and Responsibility

Before Karol Wojtyla was elected to pope and became John Paul II, he had already written what was arguably his greatest work. Let that sink in for a moment. The great saint who gave us fourteen encyclicals such as Ecclesia De EucharistiaFides et Ratio, and Evangelium Vitae had already written a work greater than perhaps all of his encyclicals put together. This book was entitled Love and Responsibility, and if you love reading (soon-to-be) Saint John Paul II's writings then you'll definitely want to check out this book.

I must admit that I feel ill-equipped to review Love and Responsibility. In fact, I've been at this book for months trying to parse through it and understand it to the best of my ability. A work like this requires multiple readings to begin to even comprehend all of the topics covered, and unfortunately, I was not able to devote my time to multiple readings. However, I appreciate the new translation and notes the translator, Grzegorz Ignatik, provided, as I believe I would have had an even harder time reading this work before the new translation. As a point of introduction, there are five main topics in this book:

  • The Person and the Drive
  • The Person and Love
  • The Person and Chastity
  • Justice with Respect to the Creator
  • Sociology and Ethics
The text is highly philosophical and contains copious footnotes from the translator. One should try not to get bogged down though and realize that Blessed John Paul was writing about what real human love is. As far as I can surmise from the text, we best find love when we give love ourselves. Also covered in this book is the the dignity of each individual and the "responsibility" portion of the title. Our society today has warped love, and people are used and discarded by other people. That is not how God intended love when he created man and woman. Therefore, we must not only be responsible with the love we give but the love we receive as well.

It's hard to pin down a section I could describe as my favorite, but I did have one that did stand out to me. Pope John Paul II states, "Although a second marriage after the death of a spouse is justified and permitted, it is nevertheless by all means praiseworthy to remain in a state of widowhood, for in this way the union with the person who passed away is, among other things, better expressed. After all, the very value of the person does not pass away and the spiritual union with him can and should continue, even when the bodily union has ceased." This is referred to in the book as absolute monogamy and something in which I firmly believe. Like this topic and many others in the book, I appreciate the fact that Pope John Paul II didn't shy away from truth.

I would love to tell you that Love and Responsibility  is a book you can pick up and read one weekend and walk away feeling wiser and spiritually richer. On the contrary, it is a VERY challenging read. That is not to discourage you from reading this 5-star book. Quite the contrary. Anything worth understanding will take effort on your part. You will have to pore over this book and struggle to understand some points of it. The fruit it will yield you, though, will be all the sweeter. Pick this book up along with Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, and you will have the two essential texts for seeing into the mind of the brilliant Saint John Paul II.

If you would like to learn more about John Paul II's teaching on human love, check out Pauline Books and Media's site on Love and Responsibility by clicking here for many great resources! As always, if you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Image Books: The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth

Today I'm reviewing a book that had a profound impact on my journey to Catholicism - The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth. Some of my regular readers might be thinking, "But you converted over 10 years ago, why review the book now?" Well, I first read this book as an ebook before ebooks took off. This was before the iPad or Kindle and when the format was a PDF tied to your computer. Unfortunately, I lost that computer and thus the book as well. Fortunately, Blogging for Books had one available copy left to review, and I knew it had to be mine! I also thought that it would be neat to re-read it (a practice I don't normally participate in) and see how the same words would speak to me ten years after my conversion.

The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth is broken into three parts - "The Gift of the Mass," "The Revelation of Heaven," and "Revelation for the Masses." In the first part, Dr. Hahn explains how the book of Revelation never made sense to him as a Protestant. He also explains that when he first attended Mass, he started connecting the dots between Scripture and everything that was going on during Mass. Since, he was well-versed in his Bible, he was able to point out the Biblical basis for many points in the Mass. This is something your average Catholic could not do, so he showed one of the advantages of having a Protestant background. His brain was starting to tell him what his heart knew all along. Chapter Four is an essential for someone considering converting as he walks through the entire Mass, part-by-part.

In the second part, Dr. Hahn walks you through the book of Revelation. It isn't a verse-by-verse study, though I would be interested in reading that if Dr. Hahn ever wrote it. Instead, it covers some of the tougher passages and more argued about points. Some of these topics covered include the woman clothed in the sun, the number 666, the beasts, etc. He also talked about covenants and how the Israelites or "old Jerusalem" broke the covenant and a new covenant was formed with the Church or "new Jerusalem." In the third part, ancient liturgies are discussed as well as the importance of the Mass. We must remember that it is not just church we are going to, but we are entering Heaven on Earth.

Ten years later, this book still offers great truth and beauty. It is written in Dr. Hahn's personal and easy-to-understand style that so many of us converts relied upon to help us comprehend the truths of the Catholic Church. I remember that I had two major reservations on my path to Catholicism - the Eucharist and Mary. I am eternally grateful that Dr. Hahn wrote a book addressing each of these topics - The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth and Hail Holy Queen, respectively. So whether you are new to the faith or a seasoned veteran, I invite you to pick up this 5 star book. You won't be disappointed, and you will definitely learn something you didn't know before. I certainly did, both ten years ago and presently.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. If you'd like to know more about the book itself or Dr. Hahn, click the links below. As always, if you found this review helpful, click this link and hit Yes!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Image Books: Praying in Rome

During the Conclave and the days leading up to it, the world was abuzz with excitement. The media, being the media, wanted to know everything that they could and then would use sound bites to display their message. I must admit that I grew aggravated with the U.S. cardinals at times, because it felt like they were talking to the media too much. However, they are wiser than me, so I trust their judgment. Very recently, Image Books released a book by Cardinal Dolan about his reflections on the Conclave and Pope Francis, entitled Praying in Rome. Here is my brief review of it.

Praying in Rome is a brief e-book, which addresses the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI, the time leading up to the Conclave, the Conclave itself, the election of Pope Francis, and people's reactions to Pope Francis. With each of these topics, Cardinal Dolan shares his personal thoughts and feelings. The book reads like a personal journal or diary in that it contains both reverence and humor. One example of this is his mention of hoping he doesn't run out of clean socks, while waiting for the date of the Conclave to be announced.

The part of the book I enjoyed the most was Cardinal Dolan's opinion on the "five key lessons that Pope Benedict left behind for us to cultivate." I won't tell you all five. You'll have to buy the book for that, but Lesson #5 spoke to me the most. With his retirement, Pope Benedict XVI taught us that, "It's not about him, or you, or me, or us. It's about Christ. It's about the Church." This is a lesson I need to be reminded of frequently. It's easy to get wrapped up in a me-first world, especially with a blog, but it's not about me!

There were parts of the book that I didn't like, but these are small and probably just the result of me splitting hairs. He tries to downplay his importance in the Church on the third page with the statement that "People are kind when it comes to how connected they think I am to the Vatican." However, he then goes on to say that he's had the privilege of meeting the Pope rather often. He also speculated that this would be his only Conclave to participate in. At 63, he must expect Pope Francis will live to 93, plan on retiring before he hits 80, or know something about the Second Coming that we don't know.

Overall, this was a fair book, which I would give 4 stars. I had to read through it twice, because it rubbed me wrong the first time I read it. I'm not sure why exactly, but I attribute it to previous aggravation with the U.S. Cardinals talking to the media so much. Luckily, the book is a quick read at thirty minutes to an hour. If you want to see inside the head and heart of a Cardinal who was tasked with electing Pope Francis, this book is for you.

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

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tan Books: The Foundations of Western Monasticism

There's something appealing about monasticism. In my single days, I did some minor discerning toward it. What initially drew me toward this lifestyle was the naive thought that if I was a monk, I could just spend all my time reading and praying, and that life would be easy. In reality though, the life of a monk is anything but easy. We on the outside world think our life is tough. However, monastics have it just as tough if not tougher. The closer you are to God, the more the devil will pursue you and try to capture your soul. It is my love for monastics that led me to request a review copy of The Foundations of Western Monasticism from TAN Books.

"The Life of St. Antony," "Rule of St. Benedict," and "Twelve Degrees of Humility and Pride" compose the book Foundations of Western Monasticism. These three texts serve to provide a small glimpse into what exactly monasticism is. They were chosen because, according to the preface, "St. Antony is presented as monasticism's foremost founder, St. Benedict as its greatest law-giver, and St. Bernard as its greatest mystic." Dr. Fahey, the editor of this book, chose three fine texts and also provided a new translation of the "Rule of St. Benedict."

You might already be familiar with one, two, or all three of the above texts. I personally was familiar with two of these texts, but "Twelve Degrees of Humility" was a new one to me. My familiarity with some of these texts did not keep me from re-reading them though. I personally love "The Life of St. Antony," and if you have never read it, you need to at least once in your life! In this work, which was written by St. Athanasius, the reader not only receives a biography of St. Antony, but spiritual wisdom and advice on how to resist the devil and his assaults against us.

I won't elaborate on the other two works in great detail. The "Rule of St. Benedict" contains a number of prescriptions for monastics to practice, such as, "How Morning Prayer is to be Said." Dr. Fahey's translation is superb and easy to read. "Twelve Degrees of Humility" is a spiritual "Chutes and Ladders," to explain it in terms that make sense to me. There are twelve degrees one can take to grow more humble and closer to God, but there are also degrees one can take which will make them more prideful and further from God. While this text was intended for monastics, it contains great spiritual truths for the laity as well.

Apart from the texts, which are gems, what I appreciated most about this book were the prefaces Dr. Fahey wrote for each text. They provided background for each great monastic saint and put their teachings/writings in the proper context. He also included suggestions for further reading. I love when an author does this, as it gives you the option of taking what you just read and diving deeper if you choose to do so. So if you want to learn more about Western monasticism's roots, practices, and three of the great Western monastic Saints, pick up this 5 star book.

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

Monday, July 15, 2013

Ave Maria Press: The First Spiritual Exercises

I must admit that I am not a big retreat guy. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of retreats. I'm just awful at executing them properly. Instead of focusing on my relationship with God, I spend too much time looking at others on retreat. In doing this, I end up feeling inadequate, like I don't love Jesus as much as everyone else there. Then, when people start crying from joy and I remain dry-eyed, and I start feeling that other people can sense my feelings of inadequacy. I mention all of this because Ave Maria Press has published a book on the classic Ignatian Spiritual Exercises with a new twist.

The First Spiritual Exercises are a series of retreats designed for people looking to begin Ignatian Spirituality. Each retreat is designed to bring you closer to God and help you discern his will for your life. Each retreat is four weeks and comprises elements of Scripture, prayer, meditation, and contemplation. There are four retreats in all, and they all center around finding Inner Peace. Unlike most retreats, you don't have to perform the first before you can form the second through fourth. They are designed for wherever you are in your life at the moment. Specifically the four retreats are:
  1. Inner Peace in Divine Love
  2. Inner Peace in Darkness and Light
  3. Inner Peace in Friendship with Jesus
  4. Inner Peace in the Service of God
Each retreat takes four weeks. Monday through Thursday you spend anywhere from twenty to forty-five minutes praying while reading Scripture and meditating on it. There is also a weekend exercise to perform and receiving the Eucharist on Sunday. I wasn't entirely sure which one to choose, so I picked the logical choice and attempted the first retreat. I'd love to say that my entire life was instantly made better. However, that isn't how retreats work. If you make some steps in the right direction, then it is considered a success.

My favorite part of the retreat was the Program for Life on the last Saturday. In it, you reflect and answer what time you can take to enhance your family life, work life, personal life, prayer life, etc. Once you have finished answering these questions, you have your Program for Life. As the retreat reminds you though, you need to make it practical and sustainable or else you won't follow through with it. Remember, small steps are the key to success.

If the idea of going on a retreat intimidates you, then this is a book for you. If you're looking to learn more about Ignatian Spirituality, then this is a book for you too. I still think you should take the time and go on retreats with other people, even if it makes you uncomfortable. This is advice I am giving to myself as well. However, this a five star book that will get you started and might help you build up some courage and comfort for the group retreat setting. So pick up a copy, and make some steps toward Inner Peace with God.

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

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Assisi Media: Winner of Waking Up Catholic autographed book

And the winner of an autographed copy of Waking Up Catholic by Chad R. Torgerson is Lillian V! Thank you for all the entries. If you missed a copy and are still interested, the e-book is a very affordable $4.95 at Amazon!

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Crossroad Publishing: A Call to Serve

Unless you've been in a coma or living under a rock, you know that we have a new pope. In fact, today marks the four month anniversary of Pope Francis' election to the papacy. In that short time, there have been dozens of books published about him. I personally had a Top Three selection of Pope Francis books, and somehow A Call to Serve from Crossroad Publishing wasn't even on my radar. I'm glad they sent it to me though, as I'm not sure I would have requested to review it otherwise. (Disclaimer: Crossroad Publishing is a publisher, I'm not overly familiar with. They have some great books in their collection and unfortunately some questionable ones too, i.e., Richard Rohr. As with all publishers, not just this one, be sure you select Catholic authors faithful to the Church and her teachings, lest you fall in error.)

A Call to Serve is written by two noted Catholic journalists - Stefan von Kempis (editor of Vatican Radio) and Philip F. Lawler (Editor of Catholic World News). In this book, one gets both a written and pictorial journey of Pope Benedict XVI's retirement, the conclave, Pope Francis' election, and some of the media-worthy events of Pope Francis after his election. Also included in this book are challenges that Pope Francis will face in his papacy, including reform of the Curia, the growing threat of Islam, and ecumenism/reunion talks with the Eastern Orthodox Church, to name a few.

The first thing you'll notice when opening this book is the abundance of crisp and beautiful pictures. If you followed the retirement and conclave closely like I did, a lot of these pictures won't be new to you. You will see the lightning bolt hitting St. Peter's Basilica, the seagull atop the roof of the Sistine Chapel, and the glorious white smoke announcing Pope Francis' election. If you didn't get a chance to keep up with news coverage, these images are a big selling point for the book. It's not the live coverage you could have experienced, but it does justice to the events that transpired, and I personally enjoyed reliving the experience.

My favorite chapter in this book was entitled "Series of Surprises." In this chapter, the two authors discuss some of the controversial acts of humility that Pope Francis exhibited after his election, including the washing of the feet of residents in a juvenile detention center. If the man in charge of 1 billion Catholics can humble himself to this degree, we should too. There is also a chapter dedicated to the conclave. I had great hopes for that chapter and hoped the authors would clearly spell out the events that take place during a conclave. This could have been a great opportunity to educate both Catholics and non-Catholics. Instead, the chapter mainly focused on the front-runners before the conclave and how no one expected Archbishop Bergoglio to become pope.

Overall, I would give A Call to Serve 4 out of 5 stars. It was good, but I had higher hopes for the chapter on the conclave. I also wish this book had been hardcover instead of softcover, as this would make the perfect book to put on your coffee table. Those two criticisms aside, it was still a very good book, and it was refreshing to escape the secular media trying to grasp and explain the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis. I recommend it for those looking to read the viewpoint of two Catholic journalists or those just looking to see if they missed anything that happened in the whirlwind of events.The wonderful photographs really do  make the book come alive and could even be used to explain some of the basics of Pope Francis to your children.

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

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Angelico Press: The Cross and the Beatitudes

I was talking with my wife recently about technology and books, and we were speculating about when books will become strictly digital. We concluded that it won't be in our lifetime, and maybe not in our kids' lifetimes. However, books might become a rare commodity, which one has to pay a premium price to own. I have mixed feelings about that. I appreciate technology, but there's something about just turning actual pages and the smell of paper. Books also help me to appreciate publishers, like Angelico Press, who are taking the time to reprint some of the classics of Catholicism. They are not only making the works available to a new generation, but they are doing it at a reasonable price to boot!

The Cross and the Beatitudes is a short work by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. I won't go into great detail on who Venerable Sheen is as I expect my older audience will immediately recognize that name. However, for my younger audience, I encourage you to find out more about this great man. He was a brilliant writer and "televangelist" who was VERY popular in the 1950s with his television show called "Life is Worth Living." He was definitely a prophet for his time and Blessed (soon to be Saint) John Paul II said of him, "You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus Christ. You are a loyal son of the Church." That's very high praise.

At under 100 pages, The Cross and the Beatitudes, is a quick, but profound read. If you're like me, you have read or been taught a lot about both the Beatitudes and Jesus' last words from the Cross. However, I have never seen them juxtaposed, and it was a truly fascinating study. Archbishop Sheen explains to us that Jesus preached the Beatitudes at the Sermon on the Mount. However, he lived them at Golgotha. One may wonder how he was able to link the Seven Last Words on the Cross when there are eight beatitudes. He was able to do this, because the eighth Beatitude, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, "is a confirmation and a declaration of all those that precede."

While each of these seven chapters provided wisdom and clarity, the one that spoke to me most was "The Second Word," which juxtaposed "Blessed are the merciful" for they shall obtain mercy," with, "This day you shall be with me in Paradise." In this chapter, Archbishop Sheen elaborates on the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin. He explains how Heaven rejoices over the lost soul being found (saved) as opposed to the already saved souls. He then talks about the Good Thief to the right of our crucified Lord, who showed the full amount of mercy he could to not only Jesus, but also the thief on the left of Jesus. Tradition refers to him as St. Dismas, and as he was the saint I chose going through the RCIA program, I have a special devotion to him.

The Cross and the Beatitudes is a book you can read in an hour, but it is not one that you should attempt to read in an hour. If you speed through this book, you will surely miss some of the great truths it contains. Take the time. Meditate on this book. It would make a great book to read during Lent, but it's message is applicable at any season in the year. So pick up this 5-star book and expose yourself to the wisdom of Venerable Fulton Sheen. Pray for his intercession so that he may become a saint. Then, read another of his works. I recommend A Brief Life of Christ.

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

Monday, July 8, 2013

Scepter Publishers: Encountering Christ: Homilies, Letters, and Addresses of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio

This week at Stuart's Study I have three great books to review and recommend to you. I know it might seem like I always say that about all the books I review, but I really mean it this time. Wednesday I will be reviewing a reprint of a classic Fulton Sheen work and Friday I have a photo journal of Pope Francis and his election. Today, however, I am going to review my #1 choice for books by about Pope Francis. You can find my #2 and #3 choices here and here, respectively.

Encountering Christ: Homilies, Letters, and Addresses of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio is a book from Scepter Publishers that I was dying to read, so much so that it got to the point where I was emailing them weekly to see if it had been released yet. In this book, one can read the words of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio from 2009 to 2013. Some of these homilies were given right before the conclave that resulted in his election to the papacy.

This book is divided into eight sections. Seven of the sections are addresses or homilies for specific occasions or people, including homilies for Christmas Eve; Lent; Easter Vigil; Corpus Christi, Catechists; Priests; and Bishops. The last section deals with Social Doctrines of the Church. I was super excited that there was a section for catechists. Although the audience is intended for catechists in Argentina, the message rings true for all catechists, and since I am a catechist, I felt like he was personally talking to me. In the Catechist section, he spoke about embracing the Year of Faith. I guarantee he never thought he would be the Pope closing out the Year of Faith when he was speaking on it.

Reading through Archbishop Bergoglio's homilies for Ash Wednesday, one begins to make sense of Pope Francis' actions upon ascending the papacy. The humility and service that those outside of the Church find astounding are the words he preached for years to the people of Argentina. He truly is a Pope who is not only talking the talk but walking the walk as well. Don't think of Pope Francis as just a simple man who preaches love and service though. He has a brilliant mind and that is on display in his social doctrine speeches.

This is my #1 choice for books to read by/about Pope Francis and easily gets a 5 star rating. Even though we just received his first encyclical, it was written primarily by Pope Benedict XVI. This book provides several years of Pope Francis' teachings before he was pope. I believe it will help illuminate the path on which he will lead the Church during his papacy, and frankly, I couldn't be more pleased. If you would like to read a few articles/interviews from someone involved with one part of the translation of these talks, then click the two links below. And as always, if you found this review helpful, please click this link and hit Yes!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Assisi Media: Waking Up Catholic (plus a giveaway!)

Welcome to Stuart's Study! Today, I am excited to bring you a new book from Chad R. Torgerson. Chad is the founder of the website Waking up Catholic, which according to the site, is aimed at people going through the RCIA process, cradle Catholics looking to reawaken their faith, and people new to the Catholic faith. Their Facebook page was also nominated for Best Catholic Facebook Page in the 2013 Reader's Choice Awards. That's pretty awesome in and of itself.

Waking Up Catholic, by Chad Torgerson, is the story of one man's journey to Catholicism and the MANY objections he had to the Catholic faith along the way. However, his story is not unique to him. Many people, myself included, had these same objections and misconceptions before we finally made our way to Rome. Chad just had the good sense and spiritual gift to write about these points and help others along their journey.

In this book, one will find some of the major stumbling blocks people have with the Roman Catholic Church, including, Tradition, Mary, the Saints, the Eucharist, etc. Each chapter follows a specific pattern. Chad mentions a subject that was a stumbling block for him. Next, he talks about his feelings on the subject before he was Catholic. He then explains the actual Catholic teaching on the particular subject using Scripture and the Catechism. Lastly, he explains his new viewpoint and appreciation of the matter at hand. This definitely was like re-living my conversion as I went through practically these same steps on each such subject.

On face value, this books comes off as an introduction to Catholic Apologetics. Depending on your point of view, it is either a nice defense of your core beliefs or a reinforcement of them. However, the author wants us to not only know our faith; he wants us to live it too. He mentions the 80-20 rule, which says that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. In reality, and according to Matthew Kelly in "The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic," 7% is a more accurate approximation of the number of people who are active in their parish. ("Active" means more than just showing up to Mass once a week.) Chad designed this book to be a call to evangelization, particularly the New Evangelization. The first step in the New Evangelization is learning and growing in our faith, with which this book definitely helps.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. It's easy to read, but that doesn't mean that the truths of our Faith have been dumbed down. My one regret with this book is that it wasn't around when I was embarking on my journey toward Catholicism. This is the perfect book for those considering becoming Catholic, already in an RCIA class, those looking to come back to the Church, or just someone who wants to understand what they believe better. Thanks to Chad's generosity, I am able to give away one autographed copy of this book. If you'd like to enter, use the Rafflecopter form below. The contest ends July 12th at midnight. Winner will be announced on July 14th, the Feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes.

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Catholic Courses: The Hidden Meaning of "The Lord of the Rings"

The world is once again buzzing with thoughts of Tolkien and hobbits thanks to Peter Jackson's "trilogy" on "The Hobbit." I am conflicted with the movies. I am glad that they exist as they will hopefully encourage people to actually read the books associated with Middle Earth. However, I am disappointed with the gross inaccuracies in the films. Also, don't get me started on the money-grab attempt of turning "The Hobbit" into three movies.

What a lot of people don't realize is that Tolkien's works are distinctly Catholic. Joseph Pearce, a Tolkien expert (though I imagine my aunt could give him a run for his money), has two Catholic Courses on Tolkien. The one I am reviewing today is called The Hidden Meaning of the Lord of the Rings - The Theological Vision in Tolkien's Fiction. I will review The Hobbit - Discovering Grace and Providence in Bilbo's Adventure in August.

The first two lectures (Disc One) don't immediately dive into "The Lord of the Rings," but instead discuss the who, what, when, where, and why of Tolkien. I was slightly disappointed at first, because I knew there was a limited number of lectures, and I wanted to dive right into the book discussion. Looking back on it though, it makes sense to discuss the author first. It's hard to completely understand an author's works if you don't understand both the author's point of view and the context within which he was writing. It was also interesting to learn about his involvement in C.S. Lewis' conversion to Christianity; unfortunately, Mr .Lewis didn't choose Catholicism.

Lecture Three was by far my favorite lecture, as Mr. Pearce discusses the meaning of the One Ring. Spoiler Alert: The One Ring symbolizes sin. He also talks about how the One Ring was destroyed on March 25th. This is significant, because this is the Feast of the Annunciation. The day Jesus became human was not the day He was born, but it was the day He was conceived. March 25th is also traditionally given for the day that Jesus died, and that is why Mr. Tolkien chose this date to have the ring destroyed.

Another topic addressed was the Everyman figures of the Hobbits, Gollum, Boromir, and Faramir. In this lecture he shows ways we can see ourselves in these characters. He also criticizes Peter Jackson for completely getting the character of Faramir wrong in the movies. Lecture Six discusses who the Christ-figure is in The Lord of the Rings. My wife and I disagree. She says Gandalf. I say Aragorn. However, we can both be right, because The Lord of the Rings isn't a strict allegory like The Chronicles of Narnia, which only has Aslan as the Christ-figure. I would disagree with Mr. Pearce that Frodo is a type of Christ-figure, though, as he is too flawed. I am especially pleased that Mr. Pearce took the time to address some of the overlooked characters, i.e., Tom Bombadil. He got excluded from the movies, and that was a shame!

This was a well thought out course, and I can't wait to begin The Hobbit - Discovering Grace and Providence in Bilbo's Adventure. Mr. Pearce did a fantastic job of showing just how Catholic The Lord of the Rings actually is. Whether you're a homeschooling parent looking for a way to help your kids understand Tolkien better or a nerd like me who just loves Tolkien and his many works, this is a study for you!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sophia Institute Press: The Church Under Attack

History was never one of my favorite subjects in high school or college. I'd even go so far to say that it was a thorn in my side. Part of my attitude toward history derived from the fact that textbooks are usually just a dry presentation of dates and facts. Perhaps a greater cause of my apathy/disdain toward the subject was that it seemed like I was always studying American History, with the attitude that nothing else happened in the world. I did learn at least one valuable piece of advice when reading history: "History is written by the winners." I tried to keep that in mind when reviewing this book, as it's easy to ignore biases in history and just accept what you read and are told.

The Church Under Attack is Dr. Diane Moczar's latest release. For those of you who have not heard of her before, Dr. Moczar is a Catholic historian. This is an important distinction to be aware of before reading this book, as it means the book will be written from a pro-Catholic perspective. This is not unheard of in the field of history, but it is rare. In her book, she provides a brief glimpse of the previous five centuries (1500s-1900s) and how the Church has been attacked throughout the ages.

The author starts off remarking about how crammed the Sixteenth Century was with happenings.  She states that there isn't enough room to record all of the events that occurred during this time and even proclaimed, "Stop doing things! Leave something for the next century!" That made sense to me, and I appreciated her condensing her thoughts on the Sixteenth Century to 24 pages. However, she then proceeds to devote 43 pages to the Seventeenth Century. That seemed a bit backwards to me. I personally would have loved to read more about the Sixteenth Century, as opposed to the Seventeenth Century, but that's a personal preference. The book then works its way through Reformations; Revolutionary Wars, both French and American; World Wars, and the Cold War. There was a ton of information packed in these 200+ pages.

There were several aspects I liked about this book, but the biggest one was that the author doesn't present you with a "just the facts" approach to history. She makes it interesting and fun with a bit of snarkiness, i.e., referring to the Protestant Reformation as the Protestant Revolution. I also appreciated her focus on Mary's impact on historical events as well as the holy men and women throughout the centuries. This served as a reminder that there were still people fighting for what was right in the world when others weren't.

Overall, I would give this book 4 stars. It's impossible to write a lively history text like this one, without some sort of bias. Don't mistake me. I greatly appreciated the author presenting the Catholic Church in an almost entirely positive light., and it was refreshing to read a history text without a clear bias against the Church. However, if you read a Protestant history text on the Reformation, I imagine you would get a completely different viewpoint than the Catholic viewpoint in this book. With that said, this is still a fruitful read and would be a great book for home-schooled students. It could also serve as a good supplemental text for your high school or college student to read and counter their dry and generally anti-Catholic textbook.

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