Friday, May 30, 2014

The Little Oratory (Sophia Institute Press)

There is not one among us who couldn't stand to pray more and pray better. That is why thousands of books have been written on the subject of prayer. The Little Oratory is one of the latest ones to be released, and it is billed as a beginners guide to prayer in the home. But what exactly is an oratory? If it wasn't for the definition in the first chapter, I would had to have
Googled the word to know that it means a sacred space for prayer and private worship. Before telling us how to build this little oratory, the book first expounds on the Christian life and the importance of family life in the home.

The authors then give advice on how to order and organize the house, room by room. For example, the master bedroom is meant to be ordered and neat. It is okay to have a crib in it, but all the items for the baby including diapers and toys must be in a certain place, and not strewn about. That's nice in a magazine, but not always practical. I do agree with the authors when they say that the living room or den need not be centered around the television, and I also agree that shelves provide great assistance no matter what room of the house. We then begin the chapter of making and placing the home altar. Included in the chapter on "Making the Little Oratory at Home" is tips for linens, candles, prayerbooks, etc. All of these tips are fine, but I disagree with their section on iconography. The author's equate iconography to just another form of art and put it on equal ground with Western art, like Michaelangelo. Iconography is more than art, and it is not even about creating "beautiful art." Icons are prayer and designed to aid in worship. That is why they have specific rules when being written. They should also never be framed, as suggested by the authors. So yes icons are better than Western art and different than Western art.

The next few chapters deal with praying and reading Scripture. We are given an overview of the Liturgical Year and each individual season in one chapter. In the next chapter, the reader receives a crash course on praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Included in this chapter are the importance of the Liturgy of the Hours, as well as versions one can use online or buy. Unfortunately, there is no instruction on how to actually pray the Liturgy of the Hours, and this is not a prayer rule you can just pick up and figure out on your own. It's a bit complicated, and I would recommend the book The Everyday Catholic's Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours if you are serious about learning how to pray it. Chapter 7, "Devotion," details each month of the year and the special devotion associated with each, i.e., May being devoted to Mary. Chapter 8 discusses praying the Rosary and the value of it.

There are some closing chapters, which include difficulties you may encounter as well as encouragement to not only transform your home life, but to transform the world. The book then contains eight appendices. Some of them I found very helpful like "Devotion to Mary" and "The Sacred Heart." However, I found the appendix on the "Jesus Prayer" a bit troublesome. The authors were correct in what the prayer is and how the prayer is prayed, but they don't demonstrate knowledge otherwise in this prayer. There is a passing clause about people praying this prayer a set number of times, under guidance of a spiritual elder. However, they flippantly mention the breathing exercises associated with this prayer. This prayer can be very dangerous without supervision from a spiritual elder, especially when trying to adapt the breathing and postures that are associated with it.

Overall, I am very conflicted by this book. I found myself disagreeing with as much as I agreed with. There are parts that are absolutely brilliant and parts that I absolutely object to. So I guess I would recommend you to read this book carefully. You do not have to adopt everything mentioned in this book. If you find a section troubling or if something seems impractical to you, discuss it with your spiritual advisor.

This book was provided to me for free by Sophia Institute Press.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Keep Holy the Sabbath (Lighthouse Catholic Media)

Keep Holy the Sabbath by Dr. Tim Gray is one of the latest talks from Lighthouse Catholic Media. I've been a big fan of Dr. Gray over the years, as he wrote one of my favorite Catholic books of all time called Walking with God. He has also led several Bible studies for Ascension Press, which I haven't had the pleasure of participating in yet. Maybe one day though.

In his talk, Keep Holy the Sabbath, Dr. Gray begins by talking about the New Evangelization and Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Deis Domini. In this Apostolic Letter, Pope John Paul II encourages us to reclaim the Lord's Day, and he truly believed that this would be a fundamental aspect of the New Evangelization. Dr. Gray then references Catholic philosopher, Josef Pieper's work Lesiure: The Basis of Culture. He believed this type of leisure/rest could form a right ordering for all the things that we do. This is an argument for reclaiming the Christian Sabbath.

Dr. Gray then discusses how overly-connected we are, and that is painfully obvious to anyone if you ever go to a restaurant. So few people sit at the table and talk anymore without a smartphone in their hand, which they are checking every few seconds. He argues that this over-connection has made us under-connected, as we don't make real connections anymore. He illustrates this hustle and bustle lifestyle with a story of world-famous violinist Joshua Bell, who played for free in the subway on a Stradivarius. In the video, no one has the time to slow down and hear the music, because they are all in a rush. Only one child stops momentarily to listen before being dragged away by his parent. How sad for those people, and how sad for all of us that we cannot stop and appreciate beauty in this world due to our "too busy" schedule.

We are then treated to a history lesson starting with General Pompey, who conquered the Jews. He noted that they had a Temple with no images, a sea in which no body would sink, and lastly that there was a day of the week in which no one worked. He then goes back further to talk about Moses and the Exodus, and the original request of rest from work, not to let the Israelites be set free. He paints this picture to show us the culture that God had to free the Israelites from, a culture of constant working and no rest. That is not something most of us can imagine, because we have weekends. Instead, we fill our weekends with other tasks to keep us busy.

I could go on and on about all the references that Dr. Gray makes to illustrate his point, but it's a talk you need to hear in its fullness, so you're going to have to buy the talk! If you are like me, you have a hard time resting on Sunday. It might not be paid work or your job, but you over-commit yourself when you should be resting. If you want to listen to an enlightening lecture that teaches us not only the history and theology of resting on Sundays, but also the practical value, I highly recommend this talk!

Be sure to keep listening after the lectures ends, because at the end of this talk is a brief sample lesson from Lighthouse Catholic Media's latest project Symbolon. I have only had the pleasure of viewing some sample videos from their website, but it looks pretty awesome! It has big names like Dr. Sri, Dr. Gray, and the Everts to name a few. They also have an intriguing and affordable subscription service for your local parish as well. For the price of $900 annually ($600 for the first year if ordering before June 30th), your ENTIRE parish gains access to the first 10 lessons on their computer, tablet, or smartphone. That's less than $2 a day in the church's budget. To see a sample, check out the video below!

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Church of Mercy and Mercy in the City (Loyola Press)

I love receiving books from a publisher I've never worked with before. It's kind of a high, because there is the anticipation of not knowing what to expect. Different publishers have different audiences they tend to focus on with regards to what they publish. Some publishers are geared more towards academics, and some are a little fluffier for the laity. Some focus on Scripture, and others devote a great deal of resources to producing books for our children. Then, there are those publishers who try to reach all audiences and refuse to be put into a box. I'm not sure yet what box, if any, Loyola Press can be put in, but I'm excited to share two of their latest books with you today.

The Church of Mercy is the latest book with a compilation of talks given by Pope Francis. Each book (by many different publishers) have chosen to address a certain audience. For example, Ignatius Press recently released a book on sin and humility, and Our Sunday Visitor has released one on hope and another on love. Loyola Press has chosen to focus on the theme of mercy. Drawing on talks given in 2013, this book addresses topics such as the Gospel, the Poor, advice for Pastors, and Mary. Each talk is designed to draw people closer to Christ who is the giver of mercy.

The parts which spoke to me the most were Part Two: A Poor Church for the Poor and Part Seven: The Choice of the Last. In these chapters, we see the heart of Pope Francis' papacy so far, the marginalized of society. He says, "Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society." He also says, "The Church must step outside of herself. To go where? To the outskirts of existence, whatever that may be, but she must step out." These are just a sample of the depth of wisdom and love that Pope Francis contains.

If you're looking for an idea of what Pope Francis had to say his first year as pope, this is a very good starting place. Though you could find these talks online (if you looked hard enough), they would not be so neatly assembled and categorized all in one place. Another perk for this book is that you don't have to read it in order. Pick a topic that is interesting to you or speaks to you and read that. Then, move on to the next topic that speaks to you. Then, after you get done with this book turn to a practical layperson's guide on mercy entitled Mercy in the City.

Mercy in the City is a book that I received by mistake. In fact, it was a book I wasn't even sure I wanted. I had never heard of the author, Kerry Weber, and I generally make it a practice not to read a Catholic book unless I've read the author before, or it has a ringing endorsement from someone I trust. Well, as the old saying goes, "You can't judge a book by its cover," and I shouldn't have been so snobby toward this book.

Mercy in the City is more than just a guide on how to live out the Corporal Works of Mercy in your day-to-day life, it is one young woman's personal journey through Lent as she attempts to live them out. For those unfamiliar with the Corporal works of mercy, they are feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; shelter the homeless; visit the sick; visit the imprisoned; and bury the dead. The book is written in a casual tone with a first-person point of view and reads like a running diary. This makes it a more welcoming and inviting read, especially for younger adults.

Chapter 11 "In which I ignore a homeless man and converse with a homeless man" spoke the most to me. I, like most people, am not comfortable with homeless people and how to help them. I was raised to not make eye contact and politely decline giving them money when asked. The reason for this is the stereotype that they will just spend it on alcohol and drugs. Well, Ms. Weber not only shows us how it is possible to feed hungry, she also teaches us not to compartmentalize our lives. We cannot adopt the attitude of, "This is when I deal with homeless people, this is when I feed the hungry, and then I am done."

This book was a pleasant surprise to read. Ms. Weber put her Lenten journey out there for the world to see. She covers not only her quest to complete the Corporal Works of Mercy in her busy life, but also includes personal bits about her life including friends, dating, etc. Upon finishing this book, which won't take long because it is a quick read, you are left with a sense of hope...hope that there are more people like Ms. Weber in the world and hope that you too can perform the Corporal Works of Mercy more fully and more frequently. I'd recommend this book to the 20-30 something Catholics of the world.

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

Friday, May 23, 2014

God of the Old Testament (Catholic Courses)

If you love learning about your faith but are on a budget like me, then you look for inexpensive ways to grow in your faith. Maybe your public library has a decent Catholic book selection. (Mine doesn't unfortunately). Maybe, there are great classes that go on at your Parish. I know mine offers several, and I try to attend when my schedule permits. I'm still waiting for an online Catholic university to offer a free class per semester to audit, but until then, we have Catholic Courses. And while we still await the release of the long-awaited Dante's Paradise, they are still producing quality studies like the one I am reviewing today entitled God of the Old Testament.

Dr. Paul Niskanen is the presenter for this Catholic Course. He begins by explaining and dismissing common misconceptions people have about the Old Testament. For example, he makes it a point to explain that all of the Bible is not history and that reading it like a history textbook won't make any sense. He also talks about the negative bias most people have of God in the Old Testament. Many people see God as vengeful and fill of wrath but there are numerous Old Testament passages that discuss His love and mercy. We then dive into the three ways to read the Old Testament - Literalist (Fundamentalist), Secular (Liberal), and Catholic (Embracing the Whole).  He then goes on to talk about languages and translations, using coffee as an example. Different countries (like Italy) translate coffee as one thing and see it as a completely different thing. The same can also hold true when trying to understand the Bible. However, we also have to take into account the culture the Bible was written in and the genre of book we are reading.

Disc Two Lesson Three finally looks at actual texts in the Old Testament. St. Augustine believed that you could learn about every Christian doctrine in the opening chapters of Genesis. While Dr. Niskanen doesn't completely agree with St. Augustine, he does believe that you can learn a great deal about who God is and who humanity is. He then walks us through all the days of Creation. Lesson Four talks about the importance of names and more specifically the Name of God. For reference, Dr. Niskanen refers to the book Exodus when Moses met God in the Burning Bush. It was very interesting to hear his explanation on the name of God, which is Yahweh; how we started referring to God as Lord (or Adonai); and the mistranslation that resulted in the word Jehovah.

Hands down, Disc Three was my favorite disc. In Lesson Five, Dr. Niskanen discusses covenants found in the Old Testament. He does this by using the book of Leviticus to explain what a covenant is and how it differs from a contract or a promise. Lesson Six focuses on one of the most important Biblical covenants - the Davidic covenant. Using the first account of the covenant in 2nd Samuel, he contrasts it with the Sinai Covenant. We also get a brief lesson in Hebrew poetry when the Davidic covenant is recounted in the book of Psalms. I LOVE reading and hearing people talk about covenantal theology, and I feel each time I learn a little bit more and things begin to make better sense and click. Disc Four wraps up the lesson by showing God's love and God's compassion in the Old Testament. As I said earlier, these are traits people don't often associate with God in the Old Testament, but we must remember God is unchanging. Our view of Him changes, but He never does. He is always all-loving and all-merciful.

Dr. Niskanen has a sense of humor you don't expect when it comes to theology professors, especially Old Testament ones. He makes references to both "The Sound of Music" and cartoon legend Homer Simpson, and he also makes jokes about being a Bible Man superhero with an arch-nemesis of Marcion. Sense of humor aside, what you really notice in these DVDs is the love that Dr. Niskanen has for the subject matter, God, and the Catholic Church. So if those 46 books in the front half of your Bible have always intimidated you, or you just want to learn more about the Old Testament in general, this is the Catholic Course for you. For a brief preview, check out the video below:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Adventures of Pinocchio (Sterling Publishing)

If you want the next generation of adults to love reading, you have to instill that love in them when they are children. Unfortunately, that task is much harder than it used to be, due to all the distractions that exist now. From television to video games, smartphones to tablets, books are fighting an uphill battle. Thankfully, there are still publishers out there who believe in printing quality books to engage your children's imaginations. Sterling Publishers is one of those companies, and today I am reviewing the book The Adventures of Pinocchio.

The Adventures of Pinocchio is the latest release from the Sterling Illustrated Classics line. It is also my first experience with this line of books, so I wasn't sure what I'd be getting in terms of book quality. Most children's hardcovers that I own are generally 8.5" x 11" with about 30 or so glossy pages. This book, however, is 8" x 9.5" with 200+ thick pages and a ribbon to mark your place. When you take off the dust jacket, you see an imprint of carpenter's tools on the front of the book. This is a minor thing, but I feels it adds a touch of class to the book. It also shows an attention to detail that many publishers lack. Opening the book literally caused both mine and my wife's jaws to drop. There are rich illustrations on every page. The illustrator, Robert Ingpen, who I learned has done all the books in this series, went above and beyond in his duty. He also provides an explanation at the end of the book of why he chose to illustrate the way he did. Mr. Ingpen provided an exquisite picture at the beginning of every chapter to entice and invite children into the story to learn what is going to happen in the story.

As for the story, where do I begin? I admit to being ignorant to the story of Pinocchio. I have seen the Disney movie several times, and I always just assumed that it was based on some sort of Grimm or Anderson fairy tale. In actuality, the story was written by Italian author Carlo Collodi in the late 1800s. There are various aspects in this story that one will recognize from the Disney movie, like Gepetto, the Talking Cricket, the desire to be a real boy, etc. However, the book is a bit darker. For example, Gepetto is not some kindly old man but quick-tempered and prone to explosions. Pinocchio, himself, doesn't start off completely innocent (as in the movie), but is mischievous from the beginning and downright mean as he kills the Talking Cricket in Chapter 4.

A lot of parents might not be okay with this darkness and trouble the young puppet gets into. I would not be one of those parents though. This is a book that is heavy in allegory, and it is why some people view Pinocchio as an epic hero. Like other epic heroes, Pinocchio must travel to hell, but he ultimately comes back with greater knowledge and compassion. In doing so, he finally achieves his life-long goal and becomes a real boy. There are many versions of The Adventures of Pinocchio on the market. However, Sterling Publishers is the one I want on my shelf; the one I will read to my children time and time again; and one I will wholeheartedly recommend to others. Be sure to look for other titles in their Illustrated Classics line, because they really do a wonderful job of making the story come alive!

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

Monday, May 19, 2014

Christ Our Compass (Franciscan Media)

I'm ashamed to admit that I have been sitting on this book for too long. It ended up in a pile that wasn't my normal review pile, and I just lost track of it. So without further ado, here is my review of Christ Our Compass.

Christ Our Compass is a twelve chapter book which hopes to provide the reader with a guide for making moral choices using Part Three of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as its reference. For those unfamiliar with the Catechism, Part Three focuses on "Life in Christ" and is further subdivided into two sections - "Man's Vocation: Life in the Spirit" and "The Ten Commandments." With the Catechism as his backbone for this book, Fr. McBride devotes the first four chapters to Part Three Section One and the last eight chapters to Part Three Section Two.

In each chapter, he then highlights three things the Catechism asks us to do. For example, in Chapter Two, "Church as Mother and Teacher," Fr. McBride tells us to "1. Link morality and worship. 2. Appreciate the teaching authority (the Magisterium) of Church leaders. 3. Become a missionary of moral witness." While all eight chapters that focused on the Ten Commandments were enlightening, the chapter which I found the most interesting was Chapter Five, "Rediscover the Christian Sabbath." Fr. McBride begins by telling us the depressing statistics that only 23% of self-identified adult Catholics attend Mass every week. He further goes on to state that any given week, you'll find 31% of Catholics attending Mass, and that this a DRAMATIC drop from 62% in the 1950s. His three key teachings in this chapter are "1. Honor the day of rest. 2. Understand why Sunday Eucharist is essential. 3. Participate more fully in the Eucharist." Number Three really hit home with me. We can't look at Sunday as just an obligation/burden or something to check off. We are getting to see, hear, and receive Jesus. We should LOVE to go to Mass, not dread it.

Like all of Fr. McBride's books, this was to the point and full of wisdom. What is especially helpful in this book is that at the end of every chapter, he provides at least three ways to grow in knowledge and at least three ways to grow in faith. These six-plus ways are not only opportunities for reflection, but growth if you are brave enough to act on the question and make a change for the better. With the ever-growing threat of moral relativism, our youth and young adults are under attack. That is why I believe this book would make a great gift for those graduating high school or college and embarking on the next chapter of their lives. It is also is a useful guide for adults who are looking for simple answers to questions like, "What is a just war?" or "Why is euthanasia wrong?" I definitely recommend this book.

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

Friday, May 16, 2014

Luke - Brazos Theological Commentary (Brazos Press)

When it comes to picking which commentaries you follow along with when reading your Bible, you can never be too careful. I have a couple of multi-volume Bible commentaries that I trust:
Even with these four, I am always on the lookout for more commentaries. Recently I have been introduced to Brazos Theological Commentary. Unlike the commentaries above, Brazos commentaries are not written strictly by Catholics or strictly by Orthodox or strictly by Protestants. I'm not sure how I feel about this, but I am willing to give the series a shot on a book-by-book basis. Today, I will be reviewing their commentary on Luke.

The Brazos commentary on Luke by David Lyle Jeffrey is one of the more recent volumes in this series, but the first one I have had the chance to study and read. I must admit that I have never heard of Dr. Jeffrey, and it was the endorsements of Scott Hahn and Matthew Levering that sold me on this being a worthwhile volume in a series, with which I am unfamiliar. It turns out that Dr. Jeffrey "is known as a medievalist and as a scholar of biblical tradition in Western Literature and art." He is also a professor or literature and humanities at Baylor. This shows in the way he approaches his commentary on Luke.

The first thing I noticed about this commentary is the format. Almost every commentary I own, has the Scriptural text at the top of the page or in a block quote before the commentary. This one does not, so you will need a Bible to reference specific passages when studying with this book.. Dr. Jeffrey opts for three versions of the Bible - King James (KJV), New King James (NKJV), and Revised Standard (RSV). I'm not a fan of the first two, but that's a personal preference. The second thing I noticed was that unlike other commentaries, this isn't a verse-by-verse commentary. I have mixed feelings on this. On the one hand, I'm used to the verse-by-verse format. On the other hand, sometimes you can get lost in the minutia of interpreting each word or each verse that you miss the forest for the trees.

It's hard to fully analyze and review a commentary, so instead of attempting this monumental task, I am just going to talk about one passage in Luke that I always enjoy reading and how Dr. Jeffrey discusses. When it comes to the scene of Gabriel appearing to Zacharias, Dr. Jeffrey points out that Gabriel's name means, "power of God" or "emissary of God." He also points out that he only is mentioned four times in the Bible, but each time it contains a messianic message. He also references places Gabriel appears outside of Scripture like 1st and 2nd Enoch and the Qumran scrolls. He then goes on to compare and contrast Zacharias' doubt with Abraham's doubt and how Abraham was humble and doubting, but Zacharias was more brazen and bold in his unbelief. Dr. Jeffrey calls on many sources in this one passage of Luke, such as St. John Chrysostom and Venerable Bede. He also dissects the language and shows how beautiful in symbolism and wordplay the original Greek is. This plethora of opinions (including Aquinas, Calvin, etc.) and examination of language pervades the entire book and adds a richness to it that other commentaries on Luke do not have.

Despite the unique approach (not form-critical, nor philological, nor verse-by-verse), this was still a solid commentary on the Gospel of Luke. It is clear from reading this commentary that Dr. Jeffrey cares very deeply about this book of the Bible and the message within it. For those unfamiliar with Luke, that message is found in Luke 1:1-2 - "to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us." I cannot say that this will be the primary commentary I reference when reading Luke, it has earned a place on my bookshelf with other commentaries I reference. And I will definitely reference this again and again, especially when the Church's calendar rolls back around to reading primarily from Luke. I look forward to investigating other volumes in this series as well to see if they are just as good or better.

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

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Hittite Warrior (Bethlehem Books)

History was never my strongest subject in school. I made As and Bs, but I was bored the ENTIRE time. Boring textbooks. Long lists of people and dates to memorize. To people who enjoy that sort of thing, I applaud you. It has never been me and will never be me. That's why homeschooling is an appealing option for my family. You can pull from more sources than just textbooks, like living books or historical fiction. One such company, Bethlehem Books, is doing a masterful job targeting the homeschooling crowd with their impressive catalog of reprinted "historical fiction, adventure tales, biographies, and family stories." Today, I will be reviewing one of their popular books entitled Hittite Warrior.

Hittite Warrior tells the story of a teenage Hittite boy named Uriah-Tarhund. He came from a people who ruled the "northern world" and the Egyptians ruled the "southern world." His father was a lord and kinsman of the chief province of Arzawa. One fateful day, in the 13th year of the reign of the king, his father and he embarked to Hattusas to pay tribute. Little did he know that trip would end so tragically. While on his journey, his mother and sister were killed. His entire province was decimated and many were killed. Three years later his father died, but not before making Uriah promise to travel to Canaan and live there. Travelling with a caravan, his decision to save the life of a young trader named Hannibaal took him to Tyre where he made a friend named Jotham, a Hebrew. This friendship set him on a path that would change his life forever.

The book is based during the time of the Judges, which was roughly 1200 B.C. If you have read through the Old Testament book of Judges with your children, they will recognize the two important names of Deborah and Barak. Deborah and Barak are the two judges who defeated the Canaanites in Judges 4. They will also recognize the song of Deborah from Judges 5. They will also learn a bit of geography. There is a tiny map in the front that serves as a basic guide for the region of the book, but they can further their knowledge by having an atlas or world map and track the journeys of Uriah. Your children will also be exposed to different societies, religious practices, and customs of these ancient people. For example, they will learn about an ancient Ammonite god named Moloch who required the sacrifice of a young child to appease him.

This is an A+ historical fiction novel for children 10 and up. I, a 30+ male, had a hard time putting this book down and read it in one weekend. While I would argue that this book is more geared towards a male audience, girls might enjoy it as well. What I really loved about this book is the era and region it was written about. So much historical fiction based in ancient times focuses on Egypt or Rome and that's it. Ms. Williamson chose a neglected but equally important region and delivered a masterpiece. I am very pleased with Bethlehem Books' Living History Library series and cannot wait to dive into another book. Be sure to check out other books from this author, particularly God King.

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

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Way of Humility and Education for Choosing Life (Ignatius Press)

It's a double Bergoglio book review kind of day here at Stuart's Study. Ignatius Press has recently released two books by Pope Francis (then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio), entitled The Way of Humility and Education for Choosing Life. I was fortunate enough to be granted review copies of each of them. My initial thoughts are, "Where have these writings been all this time?" It's a shame that his words were not translated and printed when he was still a Cardinal, but I am eternally grateful they are available now, and I will continue to enjoy them and read them as long as they keep printing them.

The Way of Humility is a 100-page book, which contains meditations from Cardinal Bergoglio dating back to 2005. It is divided into two parts with the first part addressing the topics of Corruption and Sin and the second part addressing self-accusation. Each part consists a series of mini-meditations that span 2-3 pages and contain sub-topics of the larger topic. For example, there is a meditation on Making Comparisons in the larger topic of Corruption.

In the first part, Corruption and Sin, Cardinal Bergoglio begins by defining what corruption is and distinguishing it from sin. He states that one can be sinful without being corrupt, but that sin can eventually lead to corruption. He also explains characteristics of corruption, like self-containment and ignorance of one's own corruption. Using a very blunt and easily understood metaphor, he states, "Corrupt people do not notice their own corruption. It is the same as when people have bad breath: they seldom realize it themselves. Other people smell it and need to tell them." He then goes on to explain about comparisons and judgment. Using examples from the New Testament like the Publican and the Pharisee, we see how the Pharisee used both comparison and judgment and can see that this was not just a one-time sin, but a heart that had been corrupted. I found his meditation on the corruption of the four groups of Jewish people in Jesus' day to be the most fascinating section of this part. In these brief pages, he brought to light how the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and even the Essenes had some form of corruption in their heart.

In the second part, On Self Accusation, Cardinal Bergoglio draws from reflections of St. Dorotheus of Gaza to illustrate his point. The meditations state that "Self-accusation requires uncommon courage in order to open the door to discovery of things we do not know about ourselves and let other people see beyond our facade." He also stresses that self-accusation calls us to a communal way of life and not an individual one. He also states that self-accusation is an act of humiliation that leads to humility. Cardinal Bergoglio then includes direct instructions from St. Dorotheus for the remainder of the text. Though, this second part of the book seems more geared to religious, there is definitely truth in here for laity as well. Overall, this was a thought-provoking and soul-examining book. If you are looking to become humbler, read what Cardinal Bergoglio has to say.

Education for Choosing Life is a series of messages given by Cardinal Bergoglio to educators in Argentina. One can clearly see this in the personal message he has for them about the recent "suffering, confusion, and indignation," they had suffered. However, just because the talk is geared towards a certain group of people doesn't make the message any less valid for a wider audience, particularly educators worldwide.

There are three main messages in this book. The first message is that teaching is an act of hope. In this first message, he proposes four things to teachers - 1. Speak the truth, 2. Align with the Christian value of fraternal solidarity, 3. Look for the best in schools, and 4. Propose models of life to the students. The second message is to be a country that educates students. By this he doesn't mean just making them useful citizens, cogs in the big machine of industry. No, he wants teachers to educate students who will transform the country and the world! The third and final message focuses on raising mature people. By doing this past mistakes can hopefully be avoided and a better society can be built. Apart from these three main messages, one can see a clear unifying theme of life and what it means to be human in this book. Cardinal Bergoglio wants to raise a generation of Catholic youth who will love the world and change the world for the better.

This is an excellent book for principals, teachers, catechists, parents, or anyone involved with educating the next generation. As I said earlier, the message may have been delivered to a specific set of people, but it is timeless and rings true no matter where you are in the world. What I found most helpful was that each chapter ended with prayers, reflections and questions to spur us to action. The reader can reflect on these solo or in a group, so if you choose to buy this book, buy two - one for you and another for a colleague. It might just be the spark that helps set the world on fire for Christ. May we all strive to instill in ourselves and the youth the love of Christ that alone can transform the world!

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

Friday, May 9, 2014

Introduction to the Spiritual Life (Ave Maria Press)

Introduction to the Spiritual Life is another title from Ave Maria Press' Christian Classics imprint. Like other books from this imprint, we are presented with a fresh translation of an old text that is designed to help us grow in our Catholic life. I was unfamiliar with the author, Louis Bouyer, so I did some research and discovered that he was a French Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism in 1939. Due to his intelligence, he was relied upon during the Second Vatican Council for the topic of liturgy.

In this book, Bouyer examines several aspects of the spiritual life including Tradition, Scripture, Prayer, Sacraments, and even Asceticism. To give you an idea of what this books discusses and the detail that it goes into, the chapter on prayer is broken down into many subsections. In one such section, he compares vocal prayer with mental prayer, expounds upon the Liturgy of the Hours, compares and contrasts meditation and contemplation. He even goes so far as to discuss the Ignatian Method of Prayer and the Sulpician Method of Prayer. I was familiar with the Ignatian Method, but the Sulpician Method was news to me. It is primarily for clerics, but is "summed up in three celebrated formulae: Jesus before my eyes, Jesus in my heart, Jesus in my hands." It sounds beautiful, but it's definitely out of my realm for prayer at the moment.

The most interesting chapter to me was Chapter 7, which focused on lay spirituality. "For the Christian, the circumstance in which he finds himself placed become a sign of the will of God as this is clarified by the teaching of the Gospel." Some of the expected topics discussed here include work, marriage, and parenthood. However, he also touches on fasting, almsgiving, and moderation. He also rightly points out that we must take our spouse and children into consideration when it comes to the practices we choose to take up. We can't take up something that might be beneficial for us if it will be a detriment to others. Very sage advice there that I plan to remember and take to heart.

Drawing from the teachings of the saints, both Eastern and Western, Bouyer provided us with a very detailed book for laity and religious on how to live the Catholic life. I wouldn't call it light reading, as it spans over 400 pages. However, I would call it straightforward reading, as he is very clear in this book on how to grow more closely to Jesus. This book will hold a special place on my shelf and will be one I revisit time and time again in the future as I continue to grow (hopefully) in my journey with and toward Christ. Five stars. Be sure to check out other titles from the Christian Classics imprint, like Origen's On First Principles and Basil Moreau: Essential Writings.

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

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Stations of the Cross and The Joyful Mysteries (Holy Heroes)

The Stations of the Cross from Holy Heroes is an hour long CD that contains two versions of The Stations of the Cross on it. Unlike other recordings, this one is by kids and for kids. Yes, you will hear an adult narrator for some of the introductory material, but that's about it. I admit that the adult in me wanted the narrator, Jim Morlino, to do the whole thing as he has a great voice. (It reminded me a bit of Mr. Whitaker from Adventures in Odyssey for any former Protestants out there.) However, your kids would probably space out if it was just another adult talking and praying, and this is a CD for kids.

For starters the kids are very reverent and speak clearly. I wasn't sure how it would fare with them doing the bulk of the praying, but they did a fine job. I really enjoyed all the background noises. It would be considered something similar to a "dramatic reading" of the Bible. If you close your eyes, it's like you're there. I LOVED that they included the Stabat Mater at the end of every Station in the longer version. I'm a big fan of that tradition with praying the Stations and the voices singing it were beautiful. I appreciate that each Station is on a separate track for easy navigation. I also loved the Introduction and How to Pray Opening Track, as it makes for a perfect resource for school, homeschool, or Sunday School. However, one thing did bug me about the Introduction. It says something to the effect of you start The Stations of the Cross with an opening prayer. However, they don't have this opening prayer in the longer version (or else i missed it). You can hear an opening prayer in the shorter version for radio, but then you don't get the Stabat Mater. So that's one of the few, if only things I would change about the CD. If your kids need a book to pray along with there is a prayer book available here and a coloring book for the younger ones here! Overall this was a great CD though, and I highly recommend it.

The Joyful Mysteries also from Holy Heroes is the first of four CDs released by them, which teaches your children to pray the Rosary. Like The Stations of the Cross, this CD is recorded by kids and for kids. Though, I'm not sure of the age range for the children praying, it definitely goes from young to tween or teenager. Each Mystery comes with an introduction and Scripture meditations. That means that before every Hail Mary, you and your family will hear a verse or two related to the Mystery. This is a true Scriptural Rosary! The entire Rosary takes about 30 minutes to pray, which is standard, and at the end is a brief history lesson about The Miracle of Lepanto and the role of Rosary in this naval battle.

At times, some of the younger children are hard to understand. You, the parent, and your kids probably know the words to the Hail Mary, but if you are using this as a teaching tool, it can be a bit distracting and unhelpful. I'm conflicted on the inclusion of the Spanish version being included on this CD. On the one hand, it's cost-effective and can be used by both English and Spanish speakers. On the other hand, I wish they had done an abbreviated version of the Rosary, like they did with The Stations of the Cross. This would be especially helpful for younger children who can only sit still for 15 minutes and not a full 30 minutes. If not a shorter version, perhaps they could have included two sets of Mysteries per CD (like Joyful and Luminous on one and Sorrowful and Glorious on the other). Had they done this, they still would had to have make 4 CDs (2 for English and 2 for Spanish), but families would only have to buy 2 CDs, not 4. This is still a great family CD worth investing in, and I will definitely look into completing my set.

Be sure to check out other great selections from them, including Glory Stories, which tell about different Saints and some of their DVD movies, like the new Inside the Sacraments: The Holy Eucharist! I'll be reviewing a Glory Story and the DVD I just mentioned on my blog soon. Also, be sure to check their site daily for their Deal of the Day, where you can get some of their great products at a better price! These CDs were provided to me for free by Holy Heroes in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Ascetic Lives of Mothers and One Flesh (Ancient Faith Publishing)

Mother's Day is next week. Every year, it gets harder to figure out what to get your mother or wife. Flowers are overpriced and candy only lasts so long. How about getting them a book or two this year? Today, I'll be reviewing two books from Ancient Faith Publishing. One is dedicated strictly to mothers, and the other is dedicated to marriage. Consider picking up one or both for the woman in your life, and some flowers or candy, because women still like those things too. Onto the reviews!

The Ascetic Lives of Mothers is an intimidating title. My wife took one look at the book didn't like the word ascetic in it. Thankfully, the author, Annalissa Boyd, explains how motherhood is like asceticism on the first page. "Like the ascetics, mothers find themselves in a situation that requires their utter devotion, self-denial, daily emotional exercises, facing extreme challenges and much prayer." She follows this up with the two "rules" of motherhood. 1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. 2. Love your neighbor as yourself. We then are presented with the virtues needed for motherhood (and life in general) - Humility, Liberality, Chastity, Mildness, Temperance, Happiness, and Diligence.

We then get to the meat of this book - PRAYER! Chapters Two through Nine provide mothers with prayers for every occasion. There are daily prayers; prayers in times of trouble; prayers for the sick, dying, and dead; confession and the Beatitudes; prayers of blessing and thanksgiving; prayers through the stages of motherhood; prayers for godchildren and "bonus" children; and prayers for the future. You might recognize or know a lot of these prayers, but Mrs. Boyd did a nice job of compiling them and organizing them in one place for easy reference when words escape you. She also includes ample Scripture passages and quotes from the great saints before us with many of our prayers, which I greatly appreciated. I also loved that scattered throughout the book are brief biographies on saints who were mothers, like St. Anna, St. Elizabeth. and St. Sophia to name a few.

This is a solid book on prayer and full of prayers. In fact, one could argue that this book is unoriginal. However, I would say that is not a bad thing, as originality can lead to heresy. And sure, you could find a lot of these prayers in other prayer books or online, but they aren't specifically geared for mothers, nor are they thematically arranged.  So while I might not be the target audience for this book, I can see the value in it. This would make a great birthday, Mother's Day, or just because gift for your mother and/or wife.

One Flesh is an examination of marriage and sexuality in the Orthodox Church. It is written by Fr. Lawrence Farley, who is also the author of the Orthodox Bible Study Companion series. He begins the book by questioning and examining why popular culture believes the Church has such a negative view of sex. He also points out the popular argument of almost all our Saints being celibate, and wonders why so few married people are venerated and honored as Saints. Yes, there are notable examples like Sts. Mary and Joseph, Anna and Joachim, Elizabeth and Zechariah, to name a few, but a large group of "married" saints chose to live instead as brother and sister than as husband and wife.

Fr. Farley then turns to the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Church Fathers, and some Church Councils for a look at how each treats and views sexuality. For example, in the Old Testament he investigates the two Creation stories and the story of the Fall in Genesis. Looking over the text and examining it both in English and the original Hebrew, Fr. Farley concludes that the Old Testament has a positive view of sexuality. In his chapter on the Old Testament, he also cites Jacob's love for Rachel as an example of romantic love. In his two chapters on the New Testament, he examines repeat themes that occurred in the Old Testament and original themes to the New Testament. Some new themes include the equality of spouses, mutual authority of spouses, and consecrated virginity.

I really enjoyed and appreciated the chapter on the Church Fathers, as I have a deep love for Patristics. Fr. Farley does an excellent job presenting both the views of Eastern and Western. To sum up his findings, the Eastern Fathers valued celibacy over marriage. Marriage was considered acceptable, but it had to be a lawful marriage; the partners had to practice periods of abstinence; and sexual activity was reserved for procreation, not pleasure and fun. Western Fathers had a pretty low view of marriage and sexuality. Some even referred to sex between a husband and wife as "voluptuous disgrace, frivolity, impurity." And while Augustine did write a piece in defense of marriage, he still believed original sin was passed on to children through sexual activity of the parents, because all sexual activity originates from lust. Reading through some Patristics, it's no wonder people think the Church has such a low view of sexuality.

Fr. Farley closes with practical conclusions we can draw from marriage and sexuality, which you'll have to buy the book to read as they go a bit in depth. He also briefly explains why "marriage" between two men or two women is not a real marriage at all. This was a very enlightening and fascinating read. I wasn't entirely sure it was going to be my cup of tea, but the honest treatment of the subject matter and the views from both the Christian West and Christian East made it very fair and unbiased. If you are looking for a book to read on marriage and sexuality from an Orthodox perspective, this book is for you.

These books were provided to me for free by Ancient Faith Publishing. If you found the reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Face to Face with Jesus and God is With Me Always and Everywhere (Pauline Books)

Face to Face with Jesus is a short book, which contains spiritual reflections that Archbishop Forte gave before a large audience during Lent 2012. In this "exercises for everyone," he reflects on Jesus' life as presented in the Gospel of Mark. He chose the Gospel of Mark because it is the oldest Gospel; the shortest Gospel; and because the Gospel is a life journey, a progressive journey, and a paschal journey. In this work, Archbishop Forte wants to address what evil in our lives we must rid ourselves of, what choices we must make to fully give our lives to Jesus, and what practices must we put into our lives to be a source of light and love for others.

The first chapter of the book details Jesus' baptism, His temptation in the desert, and the day he spent in Capernaum. In these three passages, we can see Jesus as the Son of God and one who must be sacrificed for us. We see the ongoing struggle between Satan and God. And we see Jesus preaching, teaching, and healing. In the second chapter, we see the prophecies of Jesus' Passion, the Garden of Gethsemane, and His Crucifixion. It is in these passages where we see Jesus freely accept His Passion and death. We also see that by Jesus dying, He has granted us life eternal. The third and final chapter addresses the empty tomb and the mission of His followers post-Resurrection. Like Jesus' disciples then, we must freely accept the new life He offers us and share that message with everyone.

Though this book is only 70ish pages, it packs quite a punch. Archbishop Forte did a masterful job extracting the message of Mark and making it available and understandable to all. While, I believe this book would best be read during Lent, you could read it at anytime. This book is "a manual for Christian living." In it you will find freedom from self; to purify your heart from world attachments; and to not fear death. I would like to close with a quote. "To live is to learn how to die; those who live for love, shall die in the love of the living and holy God."

God is With Me Always and Everywhere is a little hardcover children's book that teaches your children about God's presence. It is from the same author who brought you The Queen and the Cross and The Saint who Fought the Dragon. The book starts with Baptism, where a baby first becomes the child of God and then follows children in everyday situations, including school and interactions with siblings. It also teaches children the importance of the Virgin Mary and angels, particularly their guardian angel, in recognizing God's presence.

Your children will learn about God's unending and unfailing love for them. Even when children make mistakes, and they will, they will be assured that God still loves them, wants to forgive them, and will be with them always (if they let Him be). I appreciated the poetic way the words rhymed and flowed on the pages to make for easier reading. I also really like that this book is multi-ethnic, making it so that children of all races can relate to the pictures in the book. If you are looking for a book that emphasizes to your children the importance of forming and keeping a relationship with God, then look no further than God is With Me Always and Everywhere.

These books were provided to me for free by Pauline Books and Media. If you found these reviews helpful, click here and/or here, and hit Yes!