Monday, September 30, 2013

BabyLit's Latest Three Books! (Gibbs-Smith)

I am stepping out of my comfort zone today and reviewing three secular books. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my Catholic books, especially the ones for kids. However, I want my son and his future siblings to have a well-rounded education and love of learning. And though my son isn't quite old enough for formal textbooks, it's never too early to start reading to your children.  In my quest to find new and interesting things to read to my son, I stumbled across these gems, and I couldn't wait to spread the word.

If you've ever been on Amazon to shop for children's books, you know that you have thousands of options. The amount of books for children 2 and under is just under 40,000. With that many choices, what do you pick and what do you pass over? Well, if you're shopping for the youngest reader, you definitely want to try to get board books, because they are sturdy and should last you for more than one child. Next you want books with great pictures, because that will keep their interest. Lastly, you want books that you enjoy as well as them, because you will have to re-read them hundreds upon hundreds of times BabyLit delivers all three in spades!

If you've never heard of BabyLit, allow me to provide the briefest of descriptions. BabyLit is a series of board books based on classic literary tales, from authors like William Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll to name a few. Don't be intimidated at the idea of reading these authors to a baby. The books aren't the full stories, but instead draw elements of the story into a clever format and teach your children concepts such as counting, colors, opposites, etc. There are currently twelve volumes in the series, and I am going to provide a brief review of the latest three in the series.

Sherlock Holmes is the first in the BabyLit series to address the concept of sounds to your children. Some sounds your children will encounter include hounds howling, wheels clattering, and leaves rustling. Each of these sounds is appropriately illustrated with concepts from The Hound of Baskervilles. It is definitely a favorite of my son's as I try to really get into mimicking the sounds as they appear on the page. It is beautifully illustrated too, and would be my top choice if you are new to BabyLit.

Anna Karenina is billed as a "Fashion Primer." I would say this book is more aimed for the little girl than boy, but I wouldn't run away from this book if you only had a boy household. I say this because, BabyLit raised the bar with this book and apart from just putting pictures of clothing in the book, they made it a Question and Answer book as well. For example, Page 1 has the word "GOWN," and then asks if your child can also find the fan in the picture. Even though my son doesn't seem overly interested in this book, I love the Q and A concept they introduced as it makes the book more interactive than just reading the words and looking at the picture on the next page.

Jabberwocky is probably the toughest of the BabyLit books to review. If you have never read the poem by Lewis Carroll, this book will have you scratching your head and agreeing that this is appropriately called a "Nonsense Primer." If you have read the poem, expect an abridged version with the author omitting any mention of the vorpal sword and killing of the Jabberwocky. I am fine with this, as you don't want to introduce violence, killing, or death to a child that young. The book is very colorful, and it can be fun to occasionally try and pronounce made up words like borogoves and Bandersnatch. However, your child will eventually ask what those words mean, and I hope you can come up with a better explanation than I did. It's not my favorite BabyLit book, but I am definitely glad to have it as part of my collection!

Thank you for taking the time to read what I hope will be the first of many reviews geared toward parents and the homeschool crowd. I also want to send a TREMENDOUS thank you to Gibbs-Smith for providing me with review copies. Check out BabyLit's homepage here to see all twelve volumes in the set. They also have  buttons, totes, playsets, dolls, and wall art, which you or your child might enjoy. You could also like their Facebook page and be on the lookout for occasional contests or Groupon deals. Lastly, keep your eyes peeled for future titles in this series. There are still a ton of Classics they haven't covered yet, leaving endless possibilities. I am personally holding out hope for The Jungle Book an Animal Primer or A Tale of Two Cities an Opposite Primer!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor)

Throughout his reign as pope, Benedict XVI has given many talks on various aspects of the Faith, including the Apostles, the Fathers of the Church, Doctors of the Church, etc. Our Sunday Visitor has done an excellent job compiling these texts into published volumes and keeping the appearance of the books uniform throughout the series. This makes for not only a superb collection of writings but also an aesthetically pleasing section on your bookshelf when you line up the many tomes of our retired Holy Father. When I heard that there was a book being released on Prayer, I knew had to read it.

The text of this book includes General Audiences that Pope Benedict XVI gave from May 2011 through October 2012. He stopped giving these talks in February 2013, when he resigned from the papacy to pursue a life of prayer. That makes this series of catechetical talks one of his very last, and a must-own for any serious student of Pope Benedict. A thought struck me while reading through this book. I'm not sure if it's true, but it seems like he was not only educating his flock on prayer but also preparing for the next chapter in his life.

Spanning forty-five chapters (or talks), this book covers a wide range of topics on prayer. I won't list them all here, but some of the highlights include chapters on Moses, Elijah, Peter, Paul, Stephen, and various psalms. Of particular interest to me was the Chapter Thirteen, which discussed Psalm 22 (21). As Pope Benedict pointed out, this psalm is very Christological. For those of you unfamiliar with this psalm, it begins with, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" We hear these words of the psalmist David echoed from the lips of Jesus on His cross. However, as Pope Benedict is quick to explain, this lamentation in the psalm turns into a song of praise. By explaining this, it brings to light the fact that Jesus didn't actually lament God forsaking Him, because God did not forsake Him. It also reminds us that we should always trust God, even in moments of persecution and humiliation.

If you would like to learn more about prayer, I can think of no better teacher than our previous Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. Each talk is spiritually deep and full of wisdom. However, they remain clear and concise too. Reading some of these chapters made me feel like I was in Rome listening to him deliver these addresses in person. Pick this book up, and read it. Then, re-read it, and follow his lessons and example on how to develop and cultivate a prayerful life. Lastly, let us remember to pray for both him and our current Holy Father, Pope Francis.

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

Monday, September 23, 2013

Walking with Mary (Image Books)

When we think of important Marian Feast Days in the Church Calendar, the Catholic Church recognizes three as Holy Days of Obligation. They are as follows:
  • Mary, Mother of God  January 1st
  • Mary's Assumption/Dormition  August 15th
  • Mary's Immaculate Conception  December 8th
The Orthodox mark Mary's nativity (September 8th) as one of their Twelve Great Feasts, and I believe the Catholics should make this a Holy Day of Obligation as well! In honor of Mary's nativity this month, I have a special book to review called Walking with Mary by Edward Sri. Dr. Sri is a brilliant mind and quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Watch out, Dr. Hahn!

Upon reading the Introduction to Walking with Mary, I was immediately reminded of Dr. Scott Hahn's early works that led me and many others like me to Catholicism. Dr. Sri begins by drawing upon personal experiences in his life as they relate to Mary. He then sets the framework for this book by giving us three Biblical facts about Mary - 1. She lived in Nazareth. 2. She was betrothed to Joseph. 3. Joseph belonged to the house of David. You'll need to read the book to find out why these three facts are so important. After these three facts, we embark on an exciting nine-step Biblical journey of Mary's life with seven steps coming from Luke, two from John, and one from Revelation.

The most eye-opening chapter for me was "Step 5: Sharing in the Sword." In this chapter, Dr. Sri outlines Simeon's prophecy to Mary at Jesus' Presentation in the Temple. He cites Pope John Paul II, who called the Presentation in the Temple a "second Annunciation." (The first Annunciation was Gabriel to Mary.) He then outlines and explains the four key messages of Simeon's words, which are found in Luke 2:34-35. These four points not only tell what Jesus' life and ministry will be like, but they also reveal the suffering Mary will endure because she is Jesus' mother. As Dr. Sri points out, though, Mary did not shrink from this "second Annunciation," but embraces her mission and with it her Son's Cross and suffering. We would do well to imitate her example.

This is a 5-star book which provides the reader with a Biblical view of Mary from the Annunciation to her Crowing in Heaven. And since it is all Biblical, this would be the perfect book for those considering becoming Catholic or those who merely struggle with the Catholic viewpoint of Mary. I plan on gifting a copy to my mother, a Southern Baptist, in hopes that this book will explain what I have a hard time putting into words. Let us all look to Mary as our model on how to be a Christian, a she will always point us to her Son.

If you found this review helpful, please click this link and hit Yes! For a reading guide to go with this book, click here. For an interview with the author, click here. And if you're interested in seeing the first of many to come video reflections on Mary by Dr. Sri, check out the video below!

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. For helpful links, click below:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Lumen Fidei (Ignatius Press)

I found out in late May that Pope Francis would be finishing Pope Benedict XVI's last encyclical on faith. Needless to say I was excited, as this would complete Pope Benedict's encyclicals on the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. However, I wondered if I was in the minority with my level of excitement. I hopped on my Facebook to share the news I had read, only to see others were already talking about it and just as excited. I hadn't seen this much excitement over the release of a work since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Well, it's been almost three months, since Lumen Fidei was released. I have been trying to figure out how to review this one of a kind work (only encyclical written by two popes), and I have come to the conclusion that the only way is CAREFULLY! goes nothing!

Lumen Fidei is both the last encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI and the first encyclical of Pope Francis. It was appropriately released on June 29th, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. Those two great saints and apostles helped build the Church. Likewise, the two great popes who authored this encyclical help to teach, guide, and protect the Church today. This work starts out by appropriately discussing the light and dark imagery that pervades the entire Gospel of John. It then goes on to briefly discuss the Year of Faith and the importance of this year and faith in general. This leads us to the four different chapters of this encyclical.
  1. We have Believed in Love (cf. 1 Jn 4:16)
  2. Unless you Believe, you will not Understand (cf. Is 7:9)
  3. I Delivered to you what I also Received (cf. 1 Cor 15:3)
  4. God Prepares a City for them (Heb 11:16)
I am in no way qualified to review the quality of the writing, nor the message. Instead, I will speak of my favorite part of this encyclical, which was Chapter 1. In this chapter, the reader is treated to a chronological walkthrough of our faith. It begins by discussing Abraham, the father of our faith. We mainly remember that his faith was put to the test when God told him to kill his son Isaac, but it was tested in more ways than just that one trial. We next move to the people of Israel, which shows both their belief and unbelief through the ages. Then, we reach the fullness of faith, which is Jesus and His love for us demonstrated in His death for us. Faith has now been focused and centered on Jesus, which leads to salvation.

Apart from the content, which is brilliant and enlightening, the format this book was printed in is superb. There are several publishers who have released editions of Lumen Fidei. None of them are as beautiful as the hardcover from Ignatius Press. It may cost a little bit more, but it's worth the price as it will not only look good on your bookshelf but also stand the test of time that a paperback wouldn't when you read this multiple times. It also complements the other three hardcover encyclicals of Pope Benedict as well. My only hope is that one day they will release a one volume edition of all fourteen of Pope John Paul II's encyclicals.

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

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Most Holy Eucharist (Sophia Institute Press)

Today at Stuart's Study, I'm writing a long overdue review of the book, The Most Holy Eucharist. It's been off and on my shelf for at least three months, and other commitments have kept me from it. That's not a good excuse, I know. However, since I work with so many publishers, I try to spread out the reviews and only review one book per publisher per month. Sometimes, that's not feasible or possible, but it's the only fair solution I have come up with. That's enough blog background, though. Let's review this book!

The Most Holy Eucharist is a near 300 page tome aimed at increasing the readers' love of both the Mass and the Eucharist. Though this book can be read like a textbook, it is not Fr. McGovern's desire that you do so. You will also not glean as much beauty from the book that way either. Apart from the expected topics of Adoration and the Real Presence, the author also includes chapters on Eucharistic teachings from our two previous Holy Fathers, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. In these two chapters, it is very clear how central the Eucharist was to each of their lives. In fact, Pope John Paul II's first encyclical stated that, "The Church lives by the Eucharist."

Also of interest in this book is the mission of priesthood in Chapter 4. Though this is the shortest chapter in the book, it contains a powerful message to both the clergy and the laity. The chapter starts by talking about the priesthood of Jesus, and then it shifts to ministerial priesthood. It explains how the Eucharist is central to a priest's life and how their main mission is to bring the Eucharist to the people. The chapter then quickly shifts to discussing the priesthood of the laity. This concept is either ignored or not understood by many in the Church, but it states that we too have a part in Christ's redemptive mission. We must attend Mass reverently and participate fully. By doing so, we can offer our work and daily lives in reparation for the sins of the world.

After the chapter on priesthood, Chapter 6: "Devotion as Mass and Holy Communion" was the one which spoke to me the most. The chapter starts off by explaining why Sunday is holy and offering suggestions on ways to keep it holy. "John Paul II affirmed that Sunday should be arranged in such a way that it 'allows people to take part in the Eucharist, refraining from work and activities, which are incompatible with the sanctification of the Lord's Day, with its characteristic joy and necessary rest for spirit and body.'" I am guilty of not always resting on Sundays like I should, and I hope to improve that area in my life. This chapter also points out that the Eucharistic Celebration doesn't end when Mass is over. We are called to evangelize the world like the Apostles did.

This was a profound book, which deepened both my love and understanding of the Eucharist. It is a book that I hope to visit again in more detail in the future and one that clergy and laity alike should read. If you are looking for a comprehensive reading on the Eucharist, this Fr. McGovern delivers. I only regret that I let it sit on my shelf this long and didn't read it sooner. Don't make the same mistake I did by letting the length of this book intimidate you, pick up a copy and dive in immediately. You won't regret it!

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

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Queen and the Cross (Pauline Books and Media)

Pop Quiz! Tomorrow is an important feast in the Universal Church Calendar (Catholic and Orthodox). What is it? (Find the answer at the end of this paragraph.) Throughout the year, the Catholic Church celebrates six great feasts, the Holy Days of Obligation.   Similarly, the Orthodox Church recognizes twelve feasts that have a special place in their Church Calendar. This doesn't include Easter which is the Feast of Feasts. I love that the Orthodox Church recognizes exactly twelve Great Feasts, as twelve is an important Biblical number.  I wish the Catholic Church took a cue from our Orthodox brethren. We designate some important Feasts, including the one tomorrow, as optional in the name of convenience, when we should look forward to the opportunity to celebrate these momentous occasions with out Church family. Ranting aside, did you come up with tomorrow's Feast Day? It's the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. My review today relates to tomorrow's Feast Day.

The Queen and the Cross is a wonderful children's book that tells the story of St. Helen and her quest to find Jesus' cross. For those of you unfamiliar with who St. Helen is, she is the mother of the Emperor Constantine. Constantine is given credit for making Christianity legal in 313 with the Edict of Milan. In this book, one gets a full picture of the finding of the Holy Cross. We see why Helen wanted to find the Cross; her meeting of Macarius, the Bishop of Jerusalem; the finding of three crosses (Jesus' and the two thieves'); and how she determined which cross was THE Cross. You'll have to read the story to find out.

The book starts with a prayer from the Stations of the Cross (Catholic) and ends with a Hymn from the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Orthodox). I appreciate the inclusion of both West and East as parents from both sides will appreciate the message of this book.  I also appreciate that the book mentioned where pieces of the Holy Cross are worldwide, in case you get the urge for a pilgrimage. However, since St. Helen is the patron saint of archaeologists, I wish the book would have addressed some of the other great relics St. Helen found, like the remains of the Magi, but it did not. That is not a dealbreaker for me, though, and I still give this book 5 stars.

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

Monday, September 9, 2013

Pillar I: The Creed (Ascension Press)

We are approaching the one year anniversary of Pope Benedict's Year of Faith. I can honestly say that I didn't expect we'd have a different Pope closing out the Year of Faith from when it was declared. While I welcome the spirit of love and humility that Pope Francis has brought into the Church since his election, I do miss Pope Emeritus Benedict as well. Sentimentality aside, though, let's get down to business. You have approximately twelve weeks left before the Year of Faith closes! What have you done to deepen your faith? If you made grand resolutions that you didn't see through, don't give up hope! You still have time to make this year count! I recommend a study series from Ascension Press called Pillars. Today, I will be reviewing Pillar I: The Creed.

If you've used an Ascension Press series before, then you might expect a series that requires a 3-4 day commitment each week. Don't expect so easy of a time with the Pillars series. After the Introduction in Week 1, you will be asked to read 100 paragraphs in the Catechism for Week 2. To many this will seem like a daunting task, and there is an option to read only a selection from the 100 paragraphs, but before you make this choice, I recommend that you try to read all 100 paragraphs. Anything worth having won't come easy, and if something is truly important to you, you will make time for it. So before you quit and go in with a defeatist attitude, I implore you to at least TRY.

The first thing we learn in this study is that the Catechism is NOT merely a reference book. I admit that I am guilty of using it as just that for many years. If I had a question, I knew I could turn to the index and find the appropriate paragraph to answer my question. While the Catechism is useful in this respect, it is "a road map to their journey of faith."  You then learn that the Catechism is broken into four parts or pillars - 1. The Creed, 2. The Sacraments, 3. Moral Life, and 4. Prayer. Ascension Press will have a DVD series for every pillar. The pillars can also be looked at as rungs on a ladder, which draw us ever closer to God and Heaven.

But what will you learn specifically in Pillar I: The Creed? You will learn primarily that the Creed is more than just some words we say at Mass every week. It is the entire story of salvation. Think about that next time you are saying it at Mass or while praying the Rosary. Perhaps the most fascinating part to me was Session 5, which discusses God and His Creation. This includes more than the physical world where you and I live; it also encompasses the spiritual world, where angels dwell. You'll also learn the role angels play in our salvation and the help they provide us.

With insightful lectures by Dr. Sean Innerst and in-depth questions to guide your study, you will benefit greatly from this study. I certainly did! In fact, I can't wait to dive into Pillar II: Sacraments! It was just released, and I bet it will be as great as Pillar I. Check back in December (or January if something comes up) for my review of it! If you're still not convinced that you have the time to pour into a series with this much depth, then I implore you to at least check out Dr. Innerst's book From Blessing to Blessing. It is only 71 pages, and will provide you a brief look at the Catechism.

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

Friday, September 6, 2013

In the Redeeming Christ (Ave Maria Press)

Welcome back to Stuart's Study. Today, I'm pleased to review another book from Ave Maria Press, entitled In the Redeeming Christ. This book is part of their Christian Classics imprint. There's something about reading an old book that takes you back to the time it was written. This is true of fiction and nonfiction alike. And while I enjoy most all of the present Catholic authors out there, it is spiritually enlightening to read what the previous generations thought and taught as well.

In the Redeeming Christ starts with an introduction by Dr. Scott Hahn, which provides a brief biography of Fr. Durwell and the time he lived in. Living from 1912 to 2005, he certainly experienced almost the entire 20th Century. At the young age of 27, he made two important insights regarding theology. 1. Jesus' Resurrection was not receiving proper attention. 2. The Pascal Mystery of Jesus should be the center of Catholic theology. This shaped his theological teachings and writings, including this book. In the Redeeming Christ is broken into five parts:
  • Principles of Christian Life
  • The Sacraments of Christian Life
  • Christian Virtues
  • Our Master in the Christian Life
  • Mary Amongst Us
The five sections mentioned above allow the book to flow smoothly, as they outline the way faith grows within a person. First, one must be presented with the ideas of salvation, redemption, and sanctification, which are key tenets of Christianity. One's faith then begins to deepen through life in the Church. The Bible, the Mass, and the Sacraments help us live this life.  Once a faith is well established and practiced, the fruits of that faith, virtues, bear witness to our life in Christ.  As always, when we need some guidance in our faith journey, we are able to look to Mary, who is the perfect example of what the Church is supposed to be - the bride of Christ.

The most helpful portion to me was the chapter, "Faithfulness to Prayer," which can be found in the section on Christian Virtues. I feel that prayer is an area of my life in which I would like to grow, so I am always interested in books or talks that provide insight on prayer. Of particular interest to me was Fr. Durwell's explanation on the origin of Christian prayer. I never put much thought into the subject, honestly, but he explains that the Church's prayer was born when Jesus cried aloud on the Cross, "Abba, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." This echoes back to what I said earlier about the Paschal Mystery being the center of Catholic theology.

If you're looking for an explanation of what it truly means to live in Christ, you will want to read In the Redeeming Christ. It is a lengthy book at near 300 pages, so it will take you some time to work your way through it. However, it is also straightforward, explaining things at a level that is easily understood. When you complete the last page, you will feel like you have a better understanding of how to live a Christian life and realize that it is only possible by having Christ at the center of your life.

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

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Did you see Cardinal Dolan on The Colbert Report?

Check out the videos here:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Be sure to purchase Cardinal Dolan's e-book Praying in Rome at a steal for $1.99, and check out my review of the e-book here.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Angelico Press: The Tumbler of God: Chesterton as Mystic

If you have been keeping up with Catholic news at all, you will be aware that "permission for the first step in a possible canonization process has been granted for the cause of G.K. Chesterton." ( For fans of Chesterton, myself included, this is definitely reason to celebrate. I also figured it would be a good time to review a book about the man himself entitled The Tumbler of God: Chesterton as Man and Mystic, available from Angelico Press.

When one thinks of great mystics of the Catholic faith, we think of people like St. Padre Pio, St. Bernadette of Lourdes, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux to name a few. Gilbert Keith Chesterton is probably far from people's minds, but Fr. Robert Wild looks to add him to the list of mystics with his book The Tumbler of God. For those who find the title unusual, I refer you to Chesterton's work on St. Francis or just reading Chapter 6 of this book.

The book starts off by explaining who Chesterton was and what went on inside of his head. Fr. Wild then draws upon different authors, including Karl Rahner and Thomas Merton, to provide different definitions of mysticism and to examine how well Chesterton would fit into these molds. The author then takes the time to explain what exactly constituted Chesterton's mysticism. If I understand it correctly, Chesterton's mysticism stemmed from seeing reality for what it is and glorifying the Creator. The rest of the book then deals with the mysticism found in some of Chesterton's important writings, such as Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man.

I am usually able to pick one chapter in a book as my favorite, but I was unable to narrow it down to just one with this book.  Two stood out in particular to me. The first was the chapter on Chesterton's work Orthodoxy. This is one of my favorite Chesterton works, so the extra insight I gained on it from this chapter was helpful and kindled a spark in me to approach this work again with new eyes. The other chapter I particularly liked was the final chapter, which made a case for Chesterton's sainthood. As Fr. Wild points out, Chesterton isn't your typical mystic or saint, but that's doesn't make him any less of a mystic or saint. It just goes to show that God made us all unique, and we all have the potential for sainthood.

This entire book was written like a thesis by Fr. Wild. With a first person point of view, you are able to hear the author's passion, enthusiasm, and zeal for the great man that G.K. Chesterton was. It was a truly enlightening book which strengthens the case for canonizing Chesterton as well. So whether you are a seasoned reader of Chesterton or someone looking to start reading his works, you will find gold when reading this 5 star book. I look forward to the future with the hope that we will one day have a Saint Gilbert.

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