Monday, October 28, 2013

Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline (Our Sunday Visitor)

In case you haven't noticed, at the end of each month I've been trying to highlight a book or product geared toward the homeschooling parent. It hasn't been an easy task, as this is a relatively new market. Luckily, good Catholic publishers like Our Sunday Visitor have some books that fit the bill and are ever-generous in allowing me to review their offerings. Today's review is for the book Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline, and while the target audience is not primarily homeschooling parents, I believe it contains some wisdom that can be applied in the home.

Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline is a book that advocates a different approach on behavior and discipline. As opposed to the tired methods of "carrot and/or stick," Lynne Lang introduces a different method - one based on teaching children virtue. The Virtue-Based Restorative Discipline (VBRD) model begins with helping children to grow spiritually by teaching them virtue. Then, when harm occurs (and it will occur), you look at the cause of harm or misbehavior and work on making amends. This is a completely different approach than "zero-tolerance," which simply advocates for suspension or expulsion of the bully without getting to the core of the bullying or working on repairing relationships between the children.

The VBRD model is ideal for Catholic schools for the following reason: "In public schools, if a child is marginalized, there are other places to go for acceptance: community-based extracurricular activities and church and neighborhood community events. In Catholic communities, however, if a child is marginalized or bullied at school, that same experience can spill over into sports teams and scout groups and even affect church attendance." Therefore, in order to make VBRD successful, you need community-wide cooperation, including parents, students, and staff, both at the school and at the church.

If you send your children to public school or choose to homeschool, this book is still a worthwhile read. It can also help with your parenting or even self-improvement. For example, I know I am guilty of gossip, negative humor, sarcasm, etc. However, I am trying to eliminate this so I don't pass it on to my son and his future siblings. This book gave practical actions to institute change, like being encouraging toward others, changing the subject when gossip arises, and paying people genuine compliments. I know it will be a struggle, but I know it will be worth it.

Though one could argue that the book is primarily directed at correcting bullying, the VBRD model is so much more. It has already shown great success in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. If given the chance it could work in your diocese as well. I plan on telling our Director of Religious Education about this book, and I would recommend this book to parents, teachers, principals, and school volunteers.

I received this book for free from Our Sunday Visitor in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Good Pope, Bad Pope (Servant Books)

In the history of the Catholic Church, there have been 266 popes serving as leader to the world's Catholics for nearly 2000 years. Throughout that illustrious history, there have been some truly great popes, some mediocre popes, and some downright awful popes. The one thing that remains constant is their position as head of the Catholic Church; even through very trying times, the Church that Christ established has not collapsed under a single pope.

In the book, Good Pope, Bad Pope Mike Aquilina highlights a selection of popes through the history of the Church - starting with St. Peter and ending with soon-to-be St. John Paul II. Ten other popes are also examined, including one of my favorites, St. Clement, and some lesser known ones like Liberius and Vigilus. As the title suggests, some of the popes are good, and some are bad. However, Mr. Aquilina selected these twelve to show how the papacy developed through the centuries.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Pope Pius XII. Pope Pius XII reigned during the time of Nazi Germany. His reign was very polarizing, and there is no real middle ground on people's view of him. They have either staunchly defended him or vilified him, saying he didn't do enough for Jewish people during his reign. Mr. Aquilina did a masterful job presenting all the facts regarding what Pope Pius XII did to help Jewish people. The most impressive action Pope Pius XII took was opening up monasteries, convents, and even Castel Gandolfo to Jewish people as a place to hide. Detractors of Pope Pius XII would do well to realize that if it wasn't for him, thousands more Jewish people would have died.

It is no surprise to me, or to anyone who has read Mr. Aquilina, that he delivers another solid work with Good Pope, Bad Pope. There were plenty of good and bad popes he could have chosen to highlight in this book, but his selections were thoughtful and made sense. Before you get scandalized that he would willingly air the Church's dirty laundry, you should realize that the main purpose of this book is to remind us that the Church is not a man-made institution, but one established by Jesus Christ. This means that, despite the bad popes, the Church still has not erred in doctrinal teaching. If you want to read a fascinating book about twelve remarkable men, pick up this 5-star book!

Note: The back of the book says that an Afterword is included, which discusses Pope Benedict XVI's retirement and Pope Francis' election. There was a glitch in printing somewhere, and it only appeared in the digital edition, not the print edition. If you own the print edition and would like to read the Afterword, you can click here.

I received this book for free from Franciscan Media in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here, and hit Yes!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Shakespeare's Catholicism (Catholic Courses)

William Shakespeare is considered history's greatest playwright for many reasons. His way with words has yet to be matched and the stories he told still capture the attention of audiences today. Hollywood, in fact, still likes to bring his plays to life on the big screen, as can be seen in the many adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Othello to name a few. Today, I have the privilege of reviewing another wonderful study program from Catholic Courses entitled Shakespeare's Catholicism by Joseph Pearce.

Mr. Pearce begins by discussing how to read and how to think. In both cases, he states that there is an objective way to read/think and a subjective way to read/think. The best way to read literature in his opinion is to read it through the eyes of the author. Why is all of this important? It is important because both lectures on Disc 1 are biographical in content. Mr. Pearce believes if you want to truly understand the plays of Shakespeare and their Catholicity then you have to understand the following:
  1. Who was Shakespeare?
  2. What do we know about his life?
  3. What were his beliefs?
  4. How do these beliefs inform his works, and do we see those beliefs in his works?
If you don't understand these things about Shakespeare, then your own subjective biases will creep in and color the way you read the plays. T.S. Eliot felt this way about Dante as well, and expressed it in the quote, "You cannot afford to ignore Dante's philosophical and theological beliefs, or to skip the passages which express them most clearly...You are not called upon to believe what Dante believed." Therefore, you don't have to be Catholic to see the Catholicism in Shakespeare's work; you just have to see the evidence for Shakespeare's Catholicism and expect to see the Catholicism reflected in the work. You also don't have to agree with it.

The remaining 3 discs (6 lectures) focus on the following Shakespeare plays:
  • Romeo and Juliet (2 lectures)
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • Hamlet
  • Macbeth
  • King Lear
I have recently read Joseph Pearce's book on Romeo and Juliet, so Disc 2 (Lectures 3 and 4) was a bit of a re-hash for me, but if you have not had the time to read this book, it will be fresh information to you. The most interesting lecture to me was on Hamlet, as this was my favorite play I read in high school. If you went to a secular high school like I did, you will notice a vast difference between your English teacher's interpretation and Mr. Pearce's. I vastly prefer Mr. Pearce's, but others may not. Having studied this Catholic Course, I have a new desire to re-read Hamlet or even tackle Macbeth since I never had the opportunity to study it previously. If you are a lover of Shakespeare, literature, and/or Catholicism, you will want to pick up a copy of Shakespeare's Catholicism. For a brief preview, check out the video below:

I received this course for free from Catholic Courses in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Politicizing the Bible (Crossroad Publishing)

There are lots of things I love about being Catholic. I've never formally composed a list, but if I did you would definitely find the Bible and Scott Hahn on that list. Therefore, you can only imagine my excitement when I found out that Crossroad Publishing was releasing the book Politicizing the BiblePoliticizing the Bible is the second joint effort between Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker, the first of which was Answering the New Atheism. I knew this book would be a challenge to read, but I also knew it would contain great wisdom.

Politicizing the Bible  is a meaty tome spanning over 500 pages, which examines the origins of the historical critical method as a means of interpreting the Bible and identifies famous people who utilized this method. For those unfamiliar with the historical critical method, it is a way of understanding the Bible through understanding the literal meaning of Biblical texts when placed in the original historical context. This means the researcher wants to know who wrote it, when it was written, where it was written, what influenced the writing of it, etc. Additionally, one can use this method and compare the Biblical text to other texts written during the same period. In a nutshell, this method focuses on the human origins of the Biblical text, which isn't wrong but doesn't give you the whole picture either.

In this book, Drs. Hahn and Wiker cover both the development of the historical critical method over time and the key people in history who utilized the historical critical method. These people used their interpretation of Biblical texts to further their own political purposes and agendas. Some such people include Martin Luther, Thomas Hobbes, Machiavelli, and even King Henry VIII. Another interesting fact that I learned from reading this book is that most people believe this method originated in the 17th or 18th Century. However, the two authors demonstrate that it in fact had its earliest origins in the 14th Century, well before the Reformation ever occurred.

Each person listed above (and the others not listed in this review) is the subject of a fascinating chapter in this book, which demonstrates how the historical critical method developed over time. Drs. Hahn and Wiker were able to show how each person's idea builds off the ideas of their predecessors to further secularize and politicize the Bible. This steady shift in thought ended up having a lasting effect on modern interpretation of Scripture. It is worth pointing out that Biblical critics often claim that the historical critical method of studying Scripture is unbiased and neutral. One only needs to skim this book to see that this is not the case. A deeper read will show you that whenever people are involved, bias is impossible to eliminate; people will manipulate even the Bible if it suits their agenda.

Politicizing the Bible is THE go-to guide for an explanation and critique of the historical critical method. Be forewarned though, this is not a book for the casual reader. When placed next to your Bible, the two books look nearly equally big and thick. In addition to the size and weight of this book, almost each page is half text and half footnotes. This is a book for the serious student of Scripture, and if you fall into that category you will want this 5 star book on your shelf.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Ignatius of Loyola (Pauline Books and Media)

Today is a double review day at Stuart's Study. I'm normally not a fan of doing that, but these books are similar in many ways that it just made sense to me. The books are entitled Saint Francis of Assisi: Messenger of Peace and Saint Ignatius of Loyola: Leading the Way. Both of them are written by Toni Matas and illustrated by Picanyol. You can find them available for purchase at Pauline Books and Media.

Saint Francis of Assisi: Messenger of Peace is the life story of St. Francis in a graphic novel format. The book starts off with St. Francis' most famous prayer, "The Canticle of the Sun." I must admit that I find myself struggling with this prayer. Sometimes I like it, and other times it puzzles me. However, it wouldn't be a book about St. Francis if it didn't incorporate this prayer in there. The book then proceeds to cover his entire life from birth to death, including two key events in his life - the vision with the San Damiano Cross and his receiving of the stigmata. Lastly in this book is the Prayer for Peace, which serves as a perfect close for this book.

I really like that this book presents the whole truth of St. Francis' life. St. Francis wasn't born a saint, and this was shown by the way he lived his life before his conversion experience. This book doesn't gloss over these truths about his life, which is greatly appreciated. It also covered in detail, without being too gory, how St. Francis received the stigmata and the unusual treatment he received near the end of his life for an eye disease which afflicted him. The story flows nicely and has little headings in red text to highlight major events for your child. The illustrations are of high quality and will make this saint's story come alive for your grade school or middle school child, though older kids might like it as well.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola: Leading the Way presents St. Ignatius' biography in the format of a graphic novel. It begins with the Suscipe prayer, which is a prayer asking God to receive us and everything we are. The story then starts with St. Ignatius' birth and quickly jumps to his military escapades. He was an able soldier and a skilled diplomat but was injured to the point of death. Fortunately for him, St. Peter appeared to him and healed him. However, in a gruesome turn of events, one of his leg was shorter than the other, but he ordered it to be re-broken and set to the length of his other leg. It was during this recovery that St. Ignatius began to turn away from the world and toward God.

Besides learning about St. Ignatius' life, your child will also get a brief introduction to the Spanish Inquisition, discernment of spirits, Ignatian spirituality, and the founding of the Jesuits. Like it's counterpart, Saint Francis of Assisi: Messenger of Peace, this book is well-illustrated and does a fine job of making the stories of saints interesting for your young readers. It also does a fine job of showing your kids how a person's life and attitude can be changed with God's help. With the action of fighting in battles to start the story off, it will surely capture the attention of young boys.

Both of these books are worthy of the 5-star rating. As someone who grew up reading comic books and still reads them occasionally, it's cool to see the faith presented graphically. I believe it is a sure-fire way to not only get young boys attention but also keep it. Don't fret parents of girls! There are also two girls' graphic novels, which are entitled Saint Joan of Arc: Quest for Peace and Saint Bernadette: The Miracle of Lourdes. They are by a different author, but I would bet they are of equal quality and depth. Thank you to Pauline Books and Media for continuing to publish great Catholic children's books. May these books be the stepping stones for a vocation boom in the coming generation!

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Friday, October 11, 2013

All the Way to Heaven (Image Books)

If you want to know, and I mean really know, a historical figure, read what they personally wrote. Although their writings of fiction and/or nonfiction are edifying to read, they will only provide you with a glimpse of their lives as they wanted it to be seen.  To truly understand them, you need to read what they really wrote, like letters or personal correspondence. In these very personal writings, they bare their soul and reveal a side of them you might have never seen otherwise. This is true of Dorothy Day's letters, as can be seen in the book All the Way to Heaven.

All the Way to Heaven is an anthology of letters written by Dorothy Day from 1923 to 1980. I did some research to find out the year in which she was born (which was 1897 if you were wondering). This means that these letters began when she was approximately 26 and continued til February of 1980, when she was 82 years old. This is impressive in and of itself. Like most twenty-somethings, her early letters deal with love and relationships. This first series was written ten years before she established the Catholic Worker movement. By reading these letters, we are able to see her life before God got a hold of her.

We then see a dramatic shift in the next series of letters.  By this time, she had become the leader of a lay movement and was addressing issues of labor and social justice. her focus had shifted towards helping others and away from herself. The rest of the letters continue to show her spiritual growth and maturity, as well as the advancement of her newspaper and the cause for which she fought her whole life - social justice. Besides writing to ordinary lay people interested in her cause, Dorothy Day also wrote to some of the most important people in her day, including bishops and Thomas Merton.

I did not read all the letters, as they span nearly 600 pages. However, during the ones I did read, I found myself wishing to read the responses she received to these letters. I feel it would have fleshed out the dialogue more and made for more interesting reading. I did like that there was an index at the end, as it was helpful if you were looking for a letter to a specific individual. While this book isn't technically a biography, it feels biographical in a way as you read through it. Overall, I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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Monday, October 7, 2013

When God Spoke Greek (Oxford University Press)

Kids today are learning foreign languages at an earlier age and with better grasp than my generation or my parents' generation ever did. Frankly, I must admit that I am jealous of them at times. I also feel at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to this skill set. Anytime I try to learn a language, and I have tried several times, I get burnt out and quit before making much progress. Recently, I have been trying to teach myself Greek using this website, in order to be able to read the Bible in Greek. I fell in love with the Septuagint years ago and it is my go to source for the Old Testament. Needless to say, when I heard that Oxford University Press was releasing a book on it entitled When God Spoke Greek, I knew I had to read it.

When God Spoke Greek is a scholarly work dealing with the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) and the making of the Bible as a whole. How scholarly is it? Let's just say the book is 216 pages long, but 40 of those pages are notes, further readings, and the index. After a brief introduction, which includes terminology and the aim of the book, Dr. Law takes us on a brief but thorough history of the Septuagint. The book begins with how Greek became the language of choice and ends (as much as something with an open-ending can) with Jerome and Augustine.

As someone who grew up Southern Baptist, I was taught that Scripture never changed and the words on the pages of my Bible were the same words on the original scrolls. This way of looking at things and takes a great deal of faith to believe that there wasn't one translation or transcription error in all the centuries that past. It wasn't until years later after my conversion to Catholicism that I learned that this is a very naive perspective. Dr. Law elaborates on this very matter by explaining the use of textual plurality by early translators and transcribers By pulling from several different manuscripts, these men sought to show what the Scriptures were saying and convey it to us.

There are so many fascinating sections in this book that I had a hard time deciding on what to highlight as my favorite section of the book. Eventually, I decided that I greatly appreciated the numerous comparisons between the Masoretic and Septuagint texts. The differences in the two texts range from a few words being different to whole books being rearranged. There are even some chapters that are different in length depending on which source you use. Where this would have once scandalized me, I feel more mature in my understanding and appreciation of the Bible. It was also enlightening to learn that the New Testament authors primarily read and used the Septuagint. Dr. Law includes examples of this in his book as well.

Overall, this was a very edifying book that increased my love for the Septuagint, which I didn't think was possible. It wasn't a quick read, like I originally expected. However, like most good things, it was worth the effort of a careful and slow reading. I hope Dr. Law continues to write books about the Septuagint and that each one will delve deeper and deeper into this beautiful text. If you're looking for an thoughtful and well put-together introduction to the Septuagint, you will want to read this book!

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Friday, October 4, 2013

In Him Alone is our Hope (Magnificat)

When I take the time to examine my spiritual life, if I am honest with myself I can find a lot of shortcomings: things I wish I did better. It seems that prayer is always at the top of this list. I wish to be better at this discipline. I strive to be better at this discipline. Sometimes I progress. Sometimes I regress. I keep trying though, and that is important. St. Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises have intrigued me. It has always been a practice that has escaped me, but I have been reading about it a lot lately.

Recently, I picked up the book In Him Alone is Our Hope, courtesy of Ignatius Press. In this book, the then Cardinal Bergoglio preached a Holy Week retreat for the Bishops of Spain using the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The retreat starts with Cardinal Bergoglio asking the bishops to reflect on how their vocation started. It quickly progresses to asking the bishiops how their vocation has grown and evolved over time. In this time of prayer, the bishops are asked to also reflect on their tasks, duties, and responsibilities as shepherds of the Church. However, he is also asking them to reflect on their personal lives and grow closer to God in this retreat so that they may serve the Church better.

There is a particularly beautiful passage in this book where Cardinal Bergoglio talks about what it means to "keep watch." He first starts by referencing the Scriptural passage of the Agony in the Garden, where none of the Apostles could stay awake with Jesus and keep watch. Then, he contrasts the task of 'keeping watch' against similar tasks like supervision and diligence. To summarize his points, he says, "To supervise and to be vigilant both entail a certain degree of control. To keep watch, on the other, hand speaks of hope." This means that the bishops are called to be like God - allowing us to make our own choices, but always keeping watch ready to welcome us home when we err. One can see this message of love and forgiveness in his short papal reign so far.

One could argue that the audience for this book is only bishops. However, I believe that there is spiritual wisdom in this book for priests and laity as well. Some might read this book and learn more about the vocation of being a bishop and how our current Pope views their role in the Church. Others might read this book and see Pope Francis' possible reform program for the Church. I personally tried to take some of the advice he gave to his brother bishops and apply it to my own life. We can all stand to grow closer to God, and the way to do that is by surrendering to God and allowing him to form us and mold us in His image.

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