Monday, March 31, 2014

Catholicism Blog Tour Day 1 and a Contest

Welcome to Stuart's Study. Today, I am kicking off a blog tour for the world-renowned book Catholicism by: Fr. Robert Barron. In order to celebrate the release of this book in paperback and pay respect to the fact that it has sold over 100,000 copies, Image Books and Word on Fire are hosting this blog tour and sponsoring a contest where the winner can win a trip for 2 to Rome and Paris. You'll have to read to the end of this post to find the contest link though. (Don't cheat and scroll down early!) Today, I will be featuring Chapter One, entitled "Amazed and Afraid."

Chapter One serves as the jumping off point for Fr. Barron's book Catholicism. Before we embark on his epic journey through Roman Catholicism, he sets the stage and provides in great detail who Jesus is. We first look at Jesus' humanity. "Deus fit homo ut homo fieret Deus (God became human so that humans might become God.)" Ponder that for a minute. God in His infinite majesty and grandeur humbled Himself and took on human form. However, he didn't come and make Himself a worldly Caesar, king, or pharaoh in some great city. He was born in an insignificant town to a poor teenage girl, and with His birth the world was never the same again.

After His birth, there is little mention of His childhood except for two instances in the Temple - His Presentation and His Finding. We instead jump straight to His ministry. Fr. Barron points out that other great religious teachers (Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius) insisted the focus be on their teachings and words. Jesus wanted the focus on more than His teachings and words. He wanted people to be drawn to Him; to develop a personal relationship with Him. By doing so, they will develop a personal relationship with God the Father.

The rest of the chapter is not only my favorite part of this chapter, but quite possibly of the book. Fr. Barron opens up the Old Testament for us and explains the four-fold mission of the Christ. 1. Gather the scattered tribes of Israel. 2. Cleanse the Temple of Jerusalem. 3. Definitively deal with the enemies of the nation. 4. Reign as Lord of Heaven and earth. After reading detailed explanations of each of these four things, it puts a new light on the Gospels and how one reads them. We can also better understand why Jesus performed certain actions, like his Healings.  Yes, there was mercy involved, but God was also calling His children back to Him through Jesus.

To enter the contest click, here. Tune in tomorrow at Seasons of Grace as Kathy Schiffer highlights and reviews Chapter Two of Catholicism entitled, "Happy Are We: The Teachings of Jesus."

Friday, March 28, 2014

Fr. Barron Friday (Image Books and Word on Fire)

It's a double review here again at Stuart's Study. Today, I'll be reviewing two Fr. Barron products. One of them is his world famous book Catholicism and the other is his latest project Tre Ore. This coming Monday, I will be kicking off an Image Books blog tour to celebrate Catholicism selling 100,000 copies and being published in paperback as well. Also on the blog tour, I will link up a contest that Image Books and Word on Fire are co-hosting where you can win a trip for two to Paris and Rome! Now let's get to the reviews!

If you've seen the Catholicism series, then this book will prove to be nothing new under the sun. In fact, this book is almost a transcript of the video series. This is both good and bad. It is bad because the book will never match the visual appeal of the videos. They were breathtaking presentations that brought us to many great landmarks of Roman Catholicism. However, there is a lot of dense material in the videos that is easy to miss, unless you rewind and re-watch several times. Having it presented to you in book format gives you a chance to see the words in front of your face, chew on them a bit, and hopefully understand. There are many great parts in this book, which Roman Catholics (and I stress Roman Catholics) will appreciate, including focus on the Mass, the Sacraments, and great saints. Now don't get me wrong, this book and series has done a great deal of good for a great many people. Instead of telling you about the good parts, which you can read in the hundreds of reviews on Amazon, I will tell you about the parts that bothered me.

For starters, there is also a lot of bias in this book. Fr. Barron states that Protestants and Orthodox don't hold as firm a conviction on the doctrine of the Incarnation as Catholics do. I would agree with him regarding Protestants, but disagree regarding Orthodox. He mentions sacraments, Liturgy, bishops, cathedrals, etc. All of which the Orthodox have. He then uses an image from the Hagia Sophia (a once Orthodox Church) on the opposite page. Sadly, the whole book only shows you the Western view of Catholicism, and completely ignores Eastern Catholics. The Roman Rite is but one of the many rites in the Catholic Church. This book doesn't even mention them and gives the feeling of "If it ain't Roman, it ain't rite."

Also, I don't like how he highlights Thomas Merton so much in Chapter 9 on prayer. I have spoke with people close to Fr. Barron before, and they have told me that he was shaped "by two Thomases" - St. Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Merton. The Summa Theologiae dramatically shaped his early religious life and set him on the path to priesthood. However, it is Thomas Merton that I am wary of. Merton was a Trappist monk who got involved to excess with Eastern religions (primarily Buddhism and Zen) near the end of his life. In fact, Fr. Barron has readily admitted in some of his homilies that Merton went too far to Eastern religions. If he knows that, why bother to include him in the book? He seems like too controversial of a figure to include in a book that is supposed to be a broad strokes view of Catholicism for outsiders, inquirers, new Catholics, and/or uneducated Catholics. If they see Fr. Barron endorsing Thomas Merton and read Merton's later stuff, bad things could happen! I agree with Dan Burke who says the following:

"The Church is in no way lacking in solid and perfectly trustworthy writings on the spiritual life. I personally don’t know why anyone would want to carefully sift through this kind of literature when it is clear that Merton had serious issues even during the his “orthodox” period. It seems a bit like sifting through the refuse at the back of a good restaurant. You will no doubt find much that is of nutritional value, but why not just go take your seat at the table for the best and purest meals available? I would encourage you to stick with the spiritual doctors of the Church. To name a few, the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Francis de Sales will more than meet your needs for spiritual guidance and you need not worry that you might be led down a path that leads away from the Heart of the Church."

So for the lack of focus on Eastern Catholicism and the heavy amount of Thomas Merton, I can only give this book 3.5 stars.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. For helpful links, click below:
Tre Ore: The Seven Last Words of Christ is a series of homilies that Fr. Barron gave at St. Patrick's Cathedral in 2012. Tre Ore stands for "Three Hours." This is a liturgical service that is held on Good Friday from noon until 3 PM, which remembers the time that Jesus hung on the Cross. The CD series itself is actually 90 minutes long and the contents are as follows:

Disc One
FIRST: Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. 12:39
SECOND: Today you will be with me in paradise. 15:56
THIRD: Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother. 12:28

Disc Two
FOURTH: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 16:13
FIFTH: I thirst. 9:53
SIXTH: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. 8:01
SEVENTH: It is finished. 7:27

I enjoyed these homilies. They were brief (ranging from 8 to 16 minutes), but poignant. For example, The First Word dealt with forgiveness. He touches on "turning the other cheek," and shows how this is a third possible response instead of "fight or flight." I particularly enjoyed The Second Word as this focused on St. Dismas the Good Thief. He was my RCIA saint, and he is largely forgotten in the Catholic world, despite being the first one to be granted Paradise. Topics addressed were sin, temptations, and addictions; how we use them to try and replace God and how it leaves us empty doing so. He also took the time to reveal a bit of his personality and how he is one who seeks glory, honor, and recognition. I could definitely relate to him there, and it was a nice wake-up call that these things can also be used to replace God if we let them.

In addition to the homilies, you get a little booklet with three to four reflection questions for each of the homilies. This booklet is glued to the CD case, which means you won't lose it unless you lose the CDs. However, it also means that you can't detach it, which made it a little inconvenient for me. Thankfully, the questions and answers can also be found on their website for easy printing. Overall, this was a very good program. I think it would have been great, albeit a bit more pricey, if it was a video recording that included hymns, moments of mediation, and the Way of the Cross like normally happens during the Tre Ore.

I received a copy of this from Word on Fire for free in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Classic Nativity Stones Cross Review

As my regular readers know, I tend to focus my reviews on literary works, and only occasionally branch out to review a truly exceptional product.  I am pleased to tell you today that I was recently asked to review such a product.

Before I review the piece of jewelry I was given, I would like to give you a little bit of background. During a visit to the Manger Room in the Cave of the Nativity in 1963, Stanley Slotkin, a philanthropist and amateur archaeologist, noticed a portion of the cave’s inside wall being removed. Bethlehem’s mayor and Slotkin’s host Elias Bandak explained that this one-time excavation would allow another exit for the thousands of devoted visitors who came to the Cave of the Nativity each year.  Slotkin saw the significance of the stones that were being removed and knew that many people worldwide would cherish a relic from such a holy place. The Nativity Stones are the only stones ever authorized to be removed from this sacred site, excavated just a few feet from the star that marks the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

The jewelry piece I was given to review is called the Classic Nativity Stones Cross. The cross is a filigree pattern and made of alloy that is layered in 18K gold. It measures 2.25" in length and 1.375" in width, and it comes attached on a 22" rope chain. The focal point is, of course, the Nativity Stone which  is prominently displayed in the center and surrounded by the 14-pointed star. The significance of the 14-pointed star is tied to the Cave of the Nativity. In the Cave, there is also a 14-pointed star on the ground, which commemorates the actual place of Christ's birth.

  • Each cross comes with a lovely gift box, an explanatory booklet, and a numbered certificate of authenticity.
  • It comes with a chain. It seems that with so many jewelry today, the chain is sold separately, but this one already comes with one.
  • The Classic Nativity Stones Cross is unisex and can be worn by male or female, young or old.
  • There are multiple designs. If you're a guy and think this one still might be a little feminine, check out the Carpenter's Cross, which is an "unassuming" silver. I also like the pendant that is just a Nativity Star. If you already have a special crucifix you wear, you can pair the Nativity Star with it.
  • The cross is not connected to the chain by a drift ring, but instead the hole that you slide the chain through is directly connected to the cross. If you've ever lost a piece of jewelry on a chain, because the drift ring sprung, you don't have to worry about that with the Nativity Stones jewelry. Our 1-year old son has tugged on the jewelry, and it has held up just fine. (Thanks to my wife for pointing out the perils of drift rings and being the eager test subject to wear the jewelry.)
  • "In the year 2000 the Nativity Stones were honored with a plaque placed in the Vatican further validating their authenticity." If it's okay with the Vatican, it's okay by me! To read more about their authenticity and see scanned copies of the actual letters, click here.
  • Last, and certainly not least, a portion of all sales go to charities. Some of the charities include Esther's Aid, World Vision - Haiti, and Catholic Charities, but to read about more of the charities, click here.

  • The metal isn't pure 14K or 18K gold. I know this would drive up the price, but for a jewel (the Nativity Stone) this valuable, it seems worth it to display it in pure gold.
As you can see from my long list of pros, this is truly a great product. So I would like my readers the chance to get one at a discount. If you go to their site and find one you like, use coupon code STUDY15 for 15% off your order.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Turning to Tradition (Oxford University Press)

As a convert to Roman Catholicism, I have grown to understand both the positives and negatives that conversions can bring into a church. The primary positive (as I see it) revolves around the fire accompanying a convert or group of converts. Very few people convert in an apathetic manner. Instead, these people have actively made a decision to join something bigger than themselves and they view to be right and true. This period varies in length depending on the person, but if channelled properly can be very valuable for reaching others. The primary negative (as I see it) associated with converts can be a stubborn hanging on to their former denomination or religion. Converts will either try to shape their new faith with their old faith, which can pose problems both for the convert and others. The book I am reviewing today involves the story of four converts to the Orthodox Church. This is not a subject I am an expert on by any means, but it sounded interesting to me.

Turning to Tradition is a brief history of American Orthodoxy and how it was shaped by converts. It covers the conversion stories of St. Alexis Toth, Fr. Raphael Morgan, Fr. Moses Berry, and Fr. Peter Gillquist. Despite each of these men belonging to different religious backgrounds, each of them had the same longing - a return to the Early Church. For example, St. Alexis Toth was an Eastern Catholic (Carpatho-Rusyn to be precise) who experienced prejudice and rejection from a Roman Catholic bishop in the U.S. for being from an Eastern Rite. Fr. Peter Gillquist was a member of the Protestant movement known as Campus Crusade.

Each of their journeys provided a fascinating and sometimes depressing read. The overt prejudice that Eastern Catholics received from their Western counterparts in St. Alexis Toth's day is truly disheartening. While, I have confidence that this overt discrimination is gone, I do question if the covertness is still there among some Western Catholics. As a former Protestant, the section I was most excited to read (Fr. Peter Gillquist and the Evangelical Orthodox Church) also proved to be a bit disheartening. I am aware of what I thought was the story regarding their conversion. However, the author, Fr. Herbel, lets us know that if you are only aware of Fr. Gillquist's work "Becoming Orthodox," like myself, then you received a whitewashed version of history. It was sad to read how much heartburn could have been avoided in this conversion process had the Evangelical Orthodox Church taken different steps. Hindsight is 20-20 though., but it was refreshing that the author did not hold back in truth in the matter, and presented you the people as they were - warts and all.

If you are looking for a brief history of conversion and the shaping of the American Orthodox Church, Turning to Tradition will fit the bill. What I found most refreshing was that the author did not hold back the truth when it came to writing his book. He present you the people and their conversions as they happened - warts and all. What I didn't like about the book was how many pages were notes and indices. The book is 244 pages. The notes for the book start on page 159. That's 2/3 text and 1/3 notes. Overall, this is a solid book, but one that might have a limited audience of those interested in Orthodox American history.

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

Friday, March 21, 2014

Doctors of the Church (Our Sunday Visitor)

Doctors of the Church is a collection of audiences (or talks) given by Pope Benedict XVI during his papacy, which provides a biography and summary of the teachings of 32 Doctors of the Church. At the time this book was compiled (2011), there were 33 Doctors of the Church, and Pope Benedict XVI had yet to give a talk on St. Peter Chrysologous. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI declared two more people to be Doctors of the Church, John of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen, which brings our count up to 35.

But what exactly is a Doctor of the Church? They are certain saints whose writings and preachings are considered inspired by the Holy Spirit and that have contributed significantly to the formulation of Christian teaching. Looking at the Table of Contents in this book, I'm ashamed to admit that there are names on this list I do not recognize. There are of course familiar names like Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, and Ambrose. However, the names Robert Bellarmine and Lawrence of Brindisi stump me, so I immediately want to read about them. I am also drawn to reading about the Eastern Fathers, like Chrysostom, Basil, and Gregory Nazianzus.

Pope Benedict XVI didn't talk about all of these great men and women in chronological order, but the book is arranged that way. This provides the reader one way to read it, but you could also do like me and just skip around, depending on who you want to learn more about. I particularly enjoyed reading about St. Ephrem the Syrian. Even though this chapter was only a few pages, it made me want to buy a book of his hymns and dive into them. Here is a brief sample of one, "The Lord entered her  and became a servant; the Word entered her, and became silent within her; thunder entered her and his voice was still; the Shepherd of all entered her; he became a Lamb in her, and came forth bleating."

It takes a brilliant mind to know other brilliant minds, and Pope Benedict XVI can definitely be considered a brilliant mind. It's a shame how many Catholics are missing out on his writings and audiences. I thoroughly recommend this book and other books from Our Sunday Visitor, like The Apostles, Great Teachers, Holy Women, The Fathers Volume 1, and The Fathers Volume 2. Reading through these will provide you with a wealth of knowledge on the great men and women of our Faith.

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

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Gospel Time Trekkers Vols. 4, 5, and 6 (Pauline Books and Media)

Late last year, Pauline Books and Media released the first three books of their Gospel Time Trekkers series, and I was blessed enough to review them. Early this year, the final three volumes have been released. For those who forgot the plot of these books, they revolved around three siblings (Caleb, Hannah, and Noah) who are sometimes graced with the opportunity to travel back in time to Jesus' day. So far they have been to Bethlehem, Cana, and Gennesaret. Let's find out where they go in the next three.

Mystery of the Missing Jars is the 4th book in the Gospel Time Trekkers series, and the first one that involves a mystery. This particular volume takes place in Capernaum, where our three protagonists (Caleb, Hannah, and Noah) meet a girl named Sarah who is the daughter of Jairus. This is a reference to the miracle Jesus performed of resurrecting Jairus' daughter. Jairus in addition to being a synagogue official is a potter. Unfortunately, someone has stolen some of his precious pottery, and they must find out who before Caleb is completely blamed. Read the book to find out who did it.

There are many things I liked about this book, primarily that the mystery added a genre expansion to this kid's adventure series. I also enjoyed the fact that it teaches kids how scales, weights, and balance worked. In addition to learning this, your children also learn a little bit about clay and pottery. This 70+ page book is a great price and a great read for your young reader. 5 stars.

Courageous Quest adds a new twist to the Gospel Time Trekkers series. While helping their mom babysit a little boy named Garrett, the three children (Caleb, Hannah, and Noah) are transported back into Jesus' time. Remarkably, Garrett is transported as well. This time they are back in the town of Jericho. Like the other books, they are looking for Jesus, who is unfortunately in Jerusalem. They want to travel to look for him, but they can't because robbers roam the roads making them unsafe, and the trip would be too long for Garrett.

In true stubborn-kid fashion, one of them makes a poor decision and decides to venture out on his own. To find out which one and the consequences, you'll have to buy the book. Amidst the peril and danger in this book, your children will learn about two other Biblical figures who encountered Jesus. One of them is Bartimaeus, and the other is Zacchaeus. With Bartimaeus' restored sight, and Zacchaeus' tree-climbing ability, they make the perfect team to help locate the sibling who ran away.

Discovery at Dawn is the 6th and final volume of the Gospel Time Trekker series. It is hands down my favorite of the six too! In this book, our three protagonists (Caleb, Hannah, and Noah) make it to Jerusalem. They remember that this is where Jesus was last time they time-travelled, and hope that He is still there. What they don't realize though is that Jesus has just been crucified. They learn this sad news from none other than Jesus' apostles. However, all hope is not lost.

SPOILER ALERT: The title will tell you what happens, but I will go ahead and spell it out. The children are present when Mary Magdalene sees the resurrected Jesus. After sending Mary Magdalene to go tell the Apostles, Jesus addresses the children by name and gives them a mission to go tell people His message. They are then transported back to their own time. END SPOILER

After this, the children think back on their many adventures. They also finally figure out the secret to how and why they were able to time travel. That you will have to buy the book to find out though. Unfortunately, in discovering the secret, they fear it has closed off the possibility of future time-travel adventures. There are hints that there may be different kinds of adventures in the future, and I hope that the author, Sr. Maria Grace Dateno, will do a followup-series geared at kids 10+. This book like the other 5 volumes in the Gospel Time Trekkers series, deserves 5 stars.

These books were provided to me for free Pauline Books and Media in exchange for an honest review. If you found them helpful click here, here, and here and hit Yes!

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Light is on for You (Word Among Us Press)

Over the past several years, the Archdiocese of Mobile, which I am a member of, has adopted a program during Lent called "The Light is on for You." I'm not sure if all others dioceses have adopted it as well, but I know many have. The program is designed to give people more opportunities to go to Confession during Lent. I strongly support this program, because even though you only "have" to go to Confession once a year, you should make it a practice to go more frequently. The book I am reviewing today is also called The Light is on for You by Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

The Light is on for You begins by explaining our need for Confession. Cardinal Wuerl goes so far as to trace Confession back to the Garden of Eden and the Fall. God invited Adam and Eve to confess their sin to Him, and shortly thereafter He also invited Cain to confess to murdering Abel. He then explains how sin turns us away from God, but Confession is a call to conversion or turning toward God. In the next chapter, he then dissects the ultimate story of Confession in one of my favorite parables, The Prodigal Son.

The next several chapters cover the facts of confession. The reader will learn how come priests have the authority to forgive sins, how to prepare for confession, a step-by-step guide on how to make a good Confession, and the seal of the confessional. The final chapter was the most interesting to me. It described Confession as the sacrament of the New Evangelization, "because it offers us 'a new and personal encounter with Jesus Christ, as well as a new encounter with the Church.' We can always come home to God and to the Church."

I found this to be a very good, but basic book. If you are a devout Catholic, you probably won't find much new information in this book. However, I don't believe the devout Catholic is the intended audience. This book is trying to reach the inquirer, the fallen-away Catholic, and the Catholic who just shows up to get his card punched. The appendices, which walk you through an Examination of Conscience and the Sacrament are useful, and the chapters which explain what Confession is and does are edifying. The main message, however, is that there is a Savior and a Church waiting with open arms for you to come home and be forgiven. So find out when your local Catholic Church is having Confession, and go! After all, the light is on for you.

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

Friday, March 14, 2014

Thirty Steps to Heaven (Ancient Faith Press)

Is there a book on your shelf that has been there too long? One that you wish you could understand, but no matter how many times you pick it up, it just doesn't make sense to you? Sadly, I have a few books like that on my shelf. One in particular is The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus. Every Lent, I pull out my copy from Holy Transfiguration Monastery, and every year I get a few pages in and quit in disgust. Not this year! This year I have Thirty Steps to Heaven to help me!

Before I review, Thirty Steps to Heaven, I think I should clarify what The Ladder of Divine Ascent is for those unfamiliar with it. The Ladder is an ascetical treatise, intended for monastics, on how to obtain salvation. It was written in the 7th Century by Fr. John of Sinai (also known as Climacus, meaning of the Ladder), and is traditionally read by monastics every Great Lent. There are currently two versions in print. I prefer the one from Holy Transfiguration Monastery as it is a nice hardcover, has verse numbers and has other useful texts inside. The other version is printed by Paulist Press and contains an introduction by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, possibly worth buying just for the introduction. Fr. Papavassiliou, the author of Thirty Steps to Heaven, chose the Paulist Press edition for quoting in his book.

Knowing this about The Ladder of Divine Ascent, why would a non-monastic want to read this book? Better yet, how could he ever hope to understand it or apply it to his life? Enter Fr. Papavassiliou and his wonderful book, Thirty Steps to Heaven. Aimed at the non-monastic, this book takes excerpts from the thirty rungs of The Ladder and then applies them to one's daily life. The first thing I like about this book is how the author divides the rungs of The Ladder into seven sections:
  • The Break with the World
  • The Fundamental Virtues
  • The Spiritual Passions
  • The Physical Passions
  • The Spiritual Passions (continued)
  • The Higher Virtues
  • Union with God
Doing this not only provides logical breaks, but it also focuses the reader's mind on the goal of each section as they ascend The Ladder. I must admit that the first section alone, The Break with the World, was enough to knock me to my knees. These first three steps focus on detachment from the world, renunciation (or not longing from the world you just detached yourself from), and exile (or humility and not seeking glory in anything we do). After reading these steps, I experienced both a longing to climb these three steps and doubt on whether or not I was able to.

Another thing I appreciate about this book is that it can be read as a stand-alone book, not just in conjunction with The Ladder. With extensive quotes, an easily-read explanation of each rung, and a humble tone, Fr. Papavassiliou makes this difficult ascetical treatise available to the laity, like myself. I think the step that hit home the most for me dealt with talkativeness. "Talkativeness is the throne of vainglory on which it loves to preen itself and show off. Talkativeness is a sign of ignorance, a doorway to slander, a leader of jesting..." The quote goes on to further tell the evils of talkativeness, and all I keep thinking to myself is, Amen. Teach me intelligent silence, Lord.

I find myself picking up this book and re-reading the same step several times per day, letting more knowledge sink in each time. I will soon pick up The Ladder again, with this book by its side, and read with hopefully a little less frustration and a little more understanding. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to all, no matter if you are Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant. It is the perfect book for Lent, but can honestly be read at any time of the year. May we all ascend The Ladder which leads to Paradise. Also, be sure to purchase, Fr. Papavassiliou's next book, Meditations for Holy Week. There's a preview in the back of this book, and it looks just as awesome as Meditations for Advent and Meditations for Great Lent.

This book was provided to me for free by Ancient Faith Publishing in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Brother Francis Presents Born into the Kingdom (Herald Entertainment)

Born into the Kingdom is Volume 5 in the Brother Francis series. So far, this cartoon Brother has taught us about prayer, the Eucharist, Confession, the Rosary, and Christmas. This episode we learn about Baptism. We begin by seeing Brother Francis looking through an old picture album. This is appropriate and a good representation for children to associate with Baptism, as we become part of the family of God when we are baptized.

Next, we learn about Original Sin by going all the way back to Adam and Eve. This section doesn't pull any punches, and shows a very realistic and Biblically accurate representation of Genesis. It's nice when the Faith isn't watered down. We don't always give our children as much credit as they deserve when it comes to understanding the Faith.

The last section of the DVD walks you through the actual Sacrament. Since most Catholic children are baptized as babies, they will not remember theirs and might not witness the Sacrament unless they have younger siblings. This video walks them through the basics, including what the priest says, what the parents and godparents say, the prayer of exorcism, etc. Parents could learn as much in this section as their children. I loved Born into the Kingdom as much as I loved the previous episodes from Brother Francis. Be sure to check out Volume 6, The Mass, which was just released.

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

Monday, March 10, 2014

Jesus: A Pilgrimage (Harper Collins)

Within the Roman Catholic world, there exist a few "celebrity priests." I generally have mixed feelings on the "celebrity priest," as it is something that can lead to scandal if the priest is not properly grounded in the Lord. You might be asking, "Who exactly qualifies as a celebrity priest?" Fr. Pavone and Fr. Pacwa are the first that come to my mind due to their extensive work on EWTN. Three more recent additions to the ranks include Cardinal Dolan, Fr. Barron, and Fr. Martin have been added to this list though. I first learned about Fr. Martin watching "The Colbert Report," and I wasn't sure how I felt about him at first. I have since warmed up to him after reading several of his Harper Collins' works, A Big Heart Open to God and Jesus: A Pilgrimage, the latter of which I will be reviewing today.

Jesus: A Pilgrimage begins with an introduction that clearly lays out what the book is and more importantly, what the book is not. I point this out because, I generally go in with preconceived notions of what I expect or want from a book. Fr. Martin is quick to point out that this book is not a theological discussion on who Jesus is, nor is it a Bible commentary. This book, however, is a look at Jesus, as we see Him in the Gospels, through the viewpoint of Fr. Martin's education, experience, and a recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land. If we keep this in mind when reading the book, we can give it a proper review.

Each chapter is laid out in the same format. Fr. Martin first mentions the place he is going to visit. He then describes the journey there. Details from this include the actual process of travelling to the location, scenery along the way, and bits of the culture and environment he encountered. Then, comes the heart of each chapter - his reflections. Mixed with theology, history, tradition, and Fr. Martin's wisdom and wit, we put ourselves in the exact moment and location of Jesus and try and picture what it must have been like for both Jesus and those around Him. We then end with the Scripture passage which served as the basis for the site Fr. Martin visited.

The most interesting chapter in this book to me was entitled, "Nazareth." In this chapter Fr. Martin talks about the "Hidden Life" of Jesus. This term refers to the period of Jesus' life, age 12-30, that is absent in the Bible. Fr. Martin, like many, are drawn to this period of Jesus' life because they imagine it is a lot like our lives. "None of us is going to be preaching and performing miracles – at least not as Jesus did – but all of us live everyday lives, as Jesus did in Nazareth, being taught and cared for by our parents, loving and squabbling with our families, playing with our friends, learning what it means to be an adult, and in time earning a living." I never thought of Jesus in this light, but it does make sense. In this chapter, I also learned about just how small and poor Nazareth was. Knowing this, it really puts into perspective the disparaging remarks people make regarding Nazareth. It also shows you the environment Jesus grew up in, and influenced his parables.

Fr. Martin is an excellent storyteller. He does a fine job painting pictures of the places he visited, and he draws out details in the Gospels that one could easily miss. There were, however, parts of this book that I didn't enjoy. The beginning annoyed me a little when he waffled about wanting to go to the Holy Land. (Really what Christian, wouldn't want to see the place of Jesus?!) I also got bored in the beginning reading about the trek to get to each of their destinations, and would think to myself, "Hurry up and get there." However, I eventually accepted that that was the nature of this book as a personal pilgrimage. It would be incomplete to ignore the journey and focus solely on the destination. Those complaints aside, I still enjoyed the book. It was quite interesting to see Jesus, the Gospel passages, and the modern day Holy Land through the eyes of Fr. Martin.

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

Friday, March 7, 2014

Encountering Jesus in Word, Sacraments, and Works of Charity and A Concise Guide to Catholic Social Teaching (Ave Maria Press)

It's another two review day here at Stuart's Study. I'm not a fan of this format, but sometimes the books are just too plentiful that if you don't review two at a time, you'll never get to them all. Tough problem to have, right? Poor me. I have too many books. In all seriousness though, these two books are available from Ave Maria Press and are both quick but profound read that will help us grow in our understanding of the Catholic Faith.

Encountering Jesus is a brief 100 page book by the same author, Fr. Peter J. Vaghi, as the Pillars of Faith (4 Volume Set). Broken into three parts, Fr. Vaghi tells us how we can encounter Jesus in Word (the Bible), Sacraments (specifically Baptism, Penance, and the Eucharist), and Charity. Weaving these three elements together, we get a clear message of what the New Evangelization is, and we also get a blueprint on how to draw closer to Jesus.

As a former Protestant, I am well-versed in how to encounter Jesus in Scripture, and as a convert, I have had experience drawing closer to Jesus through the Sacraments. However, I never considered charity as a way to accomplish this. That is why I chose that section as my favorite section. Using the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Last Judgment, Fr. Vaghi paints a picture of what true charity is and what it reveals. He says, "True charity, after all, is that which opens persons to knowledge of the Great Mystery: that of the Father's love for man in Jesus Christ, found concretely in and through someone else." If we see Jesus in the faces of those who need our help, the world would be a better place. It's easier said than done, I know. If you are looking for a short but powerful book on how to improve your relationship with Jesus, this is the book for you!

A Concise Guide to Catholic Social Teaching lives up to its name and then some! In this revised edition, Fr. Kevin McKenna touches on topics of social justice such as human dignity, rights of workers, and care for the poor, just to name a few. Under these umbrella labels, we can dive deeper and see specific issues. For example, Life and Dignity of the Human Person includes issues such as racism, capital punishment, and abortion. Fr. McKenna carefully and succinctly addresses all of these issues, using Church documents released by popes and bishops.

With recent talks in the news about increasing minimum wage, it was interesting to read what the great minds in our Church had to say about the rights of workers. However, these sections discuss more than unions and a just or living wage. They also discuss relationships between employer and employee, relationships between wealthy and poor nations, and the dangers of consumerism. Though the media chooses to ignore each of these sub-points and focus solely on sensational journalism, they are important as well and should be brought to the table.

Fr. McKenna has a masterful way of dissecting complex papal documents, like Evangelium Vitae or Caritas in Veritate, and explaining them in readable chunks. As great as the chapters are, the appendices are equally wonderful! I especially like the "Homily and Catechetical Message Guide." In this first appendix, the reader gets a list of Mass readings for all three years and which ones correspond to which issues. For example, the readings for the Feast of the Ascension fall under the category of "Dignity of the Human Person." In summation, I would recommend this book to all priests and any laity with an interest in the social teachings of the Church in a clear and concise manner.

These books were provided to me for free by Ave Maria Press. If you found the reviews helpful, click here or here and hit Yes!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Lent at Ephesus (DeMontfort Music)

We're living in a Golden Age of Catholic media right now. Hundreds of Catholic books are being published every year. Companies like Ignatius Press are releasing high quality movies on Mary, Augustine, Peter, etc. Word on Fire. Fr. Barron. Catholicism! Ascension Press is producing quality Bible and faith studies for people young and old. Brother Francis is catechizing our young ones via cartoon. And LAST and certainly NOT LEAST, we have singing nuns belting out BEAUTIFUL music that keeps hitting #1 on the charts AND staying there for weeks, if not months. Today, I am privileged to be a part of the blog tour for the latest CD from the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, entitled Lent at Ephesus.

I first learned of this album from Carmel Communications, and ever since I received the news of its upcoming release, I knew I had to own it! Lent at Ephesus is another masterful album from the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. Who are the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles? They are a group of nuns living a religious life in a Benedictine Order. They take their lead from Mary and her hidden life at Ephesus. Church Tradition holds that she went to live with John the Beloved Apostle in Ephesus after Jesus died. Since this group of nuns have a devotion to Mary at this time in her life, all of their albums are labelled "at Ephesus."

When comparing it to the Advent at Ephesus album, one sees that there is substantially more music in this album - 7 songs more to be precise. The songs are sung in an a-capella style, with a nice blend of English and Latin songs. The quality of the voices and audio are heavenly, and the choice of songs is divine. I also really love the sleeve note, as it contains the words to all the songs they sing. This is helpful for following along, learning them yourself, or teaching them to your children. This CD will be replacing Mater Eucharistiae in my car to help me on my Lenten Journey and keep my mind in a holy place even while I'm surrounded by the hustle and bustle of others. With an Advent, Christmas, and now a Lent CD, the only items missing from the sisters' collection are an Easter album and an Ordinary Time one.

If you'd like to see more about the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, you can check out the video below. Clicking here, will allow you to hear samples of the CD and purchase it. EWTN will also run a 30-minute HD special entitled “Lent at Ephesus” featuring some never-before-seen sights and sounds of The Benedictines of Mary for the Lenten season at 6:30 p.m. ET Friday, March 14 and 6 p.m. ET Tuesday, March 18. Be sure to check it out, buy their albums, and transport yourself to heaven!