Monday, June 30, 2014

Evangelizing Catholics (Our Sunday Visitor)

The New Evangelization is the latest buzz phrase in the Catholic world. Everyone is using it, and it seems like there's always a new Catholic book being written on the subject. Ralph Martin addresses the subject in The Urgency of the New Evangelization, and Cardinal Wuerl also had his say in his book New Evangelization: Passing on the Catholic Faith Today. In one of his latest books, Evangelizing Catholics, Dr. Scott Hahn has decided to weigh in on the matter as well.

The book is divided into three parts - The Call, The Response, and The Message. Part I - The Call goes into detail on what the New Evangelization is, including what it is; where/when it started and how its grown; how it is a Catholic reality; and how it is a mission for the whole Church. If you are familiar at all with the New Evangelization most of this information won't be new to you. It was interesting to read his description of three notable byproducts (read conversions) due to the New Evangelization. These three names are Abby Johnson (former Planned Parenthood worker, Kevin James (Hollywood actor), and Francis Beckwith (former President of the Evangelical Theological Society). Each came to the Catholic Church through different means, but all were results of the New Evangelization.

Part II - The Response shows different models and methods in the New Evangelization. The first two chapters in this section look at the Gospels and the Early Church for lessons. Dr. Hahn says that the "blueprint for the New Evangelization can be found in the Gospels of Matthew and John. These lessons include - 1. Proclaim a Person (Jesus), 2. Proclaim by Words and Deeds, 3. Proclaim the Church, 4. Proclaim the Fulfillment of the Covenant, and 5. Proclaim the Sacraments. After these two chapters are my favorite two chapters in the book. Chapter 8 puts the emphasis on evangelization beginning at home, and I wholeheartedly agree. Even if you go to weekly Mass and send your kids to Catholic schools, it is still up to you to instruct your children in the way of the Faith. Chapter 9 explains the different between a ministry (reserved for clergy) and an apostolate (reserved for laity). He also clears up the muddy waters of the role of clergy and the role of laity. Using St. Paul's example of being one body but different members, he lets us know that is not the eye's (clergy) job to be an ear (laity) or vice-versa. Feel free to substitute whatever body parts you want for that example. The point is we each have a part in the Church, and we shouldn't overstep our bounds and try to do what is not ours to do.

Part III - The Message talks about the subjects of sin, atonement, covenants, and love. In these chapters, Dr. Hahn not only lays out the content of the New Evangelization and puts it clearly that conversion is a lifelong process. There is no "once saved always saved." We must be ready evangelizers and ready to be evangelized. When it comes down to it, the New Evangelization isn't just about converting the "unsaved" but also about educating the faithful. The book closes with two realities - 1. everyone dies and 2. everyone who died lives on in heaven, hell, or purgatory. Where will you spend the rest of it? As with all of Dr. Hahn's books they make you think, this one is no different. If you have an interest in the New Evangelization, check out this book and the others mentioned at the beginning of this review.

This book was provided to me for free by Our Sunday Visitor. If you have found this review helpful, click here and hit Yes!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Truth and Life Dramatized Audio Bible: New Testament (Aquinas and More)

When I was discerning becoming Catholic and when I became a neophyte Catholic, I was purchasing Catholic books on Amazon like they were going out of style. Not every book labeled as "Catholic" on Amazon is authentically Catholic, though. During that time I made some great purchases, like The Lamb's Supper and Hail Holy Queen, both by Scott Hahn. Unfortunately, I also made some regrettable purchases like Richard P. McBrien's Catholicism, which is money I would have been better off flushing down the toilet. I wished and longed for a guide on who to buy, what to read, and a store that carries only products that adhere to the Church's teachings. It took me a while, but I finally found one in Aquinas and MoreAquinas and More is one of the few online stores that you can feel safe buying from, because you know exactly what you will get. They also have an excellent program for bloggers, called Tiber River, where they can get a copy of a recent Catholic book (or other product) for review. Today, I will be reviewing the Truth and Life Dramatized Audio Bible: New Testament, which Aquinas and More was gracious enough to send to me.

The Truth and Life Dramatized Audio Bible: New Testament is an 18 disc, 22 hour reading of the New Testament. The version of Bible used is the Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition (RSV-CE). Unlike traditional audio Bibles that just have one reader, this one has multiple voice actors, as well as music and background noise appropriate to the passage in the Bible. For example, when feeding the 5000 you hear a lot of crowd noise, because well 5000 people would make a lot of noise. Who are the voice actors? There are some major and minor Hollywood actors that you might or might not recognize depending on how much TV or how many movies you see. Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings and Rudy), Kristen Bell (Frozen and Veronica Mars), Malcolm McDowell, Blair Underwood, and Neal McDonough. I admit I got a little distracted from time to time in the Gospel of Matthew, with Sean Astin voicing the part of Matthew the Narrator. He has a great, yet distinct voice, so everytime he talks I had to make a conscious effort to focus on the Gospel and not say, "Hey that's Samwise Gamgee."

Before I discuss the recording, I would like to briefly talk about the packaging. The CDs are packed in three different sleeves, six discs to a sleeve.This isn't the ideal way to keep CDs from getting scratched, but I understand that it is more cost effective. I will give them credit to their package presentation though. Each sleeve unfolds into the shape of a cross, so I have to give them credit for their creativity there.

As for the actual recordings, allow me to present some notes I made while listening. Each chapter is on its own individual track. This is great because it makes for easier navigating. Unfortunately, the book of the Bible and chapter number isn't announced at the beginning of each track. If you are listening through a book straight through, you'll be thankful because that would be distracting. If you are listening to a few a day, then you will be wondering what chapter you are on when you resume your CD on the track it stopped on from the previous day. Some people will find the background music and noise distracting. It didn't bother me, but I can see how it would bother some people, especially because every so often, it did get a little loud/overpowering. The voice actors were also hit or miss. It was great to hear different voices for different people in the Bible, as it helped some passages to really come alive. However, some voices (Neal McDonough as Jesus in particular) really started to get on my nerves after a while. Mr. McDonough spoke like with a bit too much overemphasis and his emotion level or tone just felt off half of the time. It made you wish that instead of getting Hollywood actors that they had just hired experienced audiobook recorders.

Overall, I found the CD set to be quite enjoyable. Was it perfect? No. Could it have been better? Yes, with a few changes in voices and some other tweaks. Would I recommend it? Yes, because there are few Catholic audio Bibles out there, and this one comes with an imprimatur from the Vatican! Will I get the Old Testament one if they ever produce it? Yes. Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Angel Food for Boys and Girls (Neumann Press)

Angel Food for Boys and Girls is a four-volume set of hardcover books that span over 100 pages each. The books were written by Fr. Gerald T. Brennan. "Fr. Brennan was a pastor in New York, beloved by the children in his parish, to whom he told delightful stories. At the urging of friends, he published many of his tales in numerous popular books" I was stunned to learn that he was from New York as the Angel Food for Boys and Girls is written in a folksy way with stories that sound like they came from a simple country parish priest. I guess I would compare it to if there was a priest on Andy Griffith. These stories are what I would classify as modern day parables for kids. However, since they were originally published in the 1950s, I'm not sure many people would still call them "modern." At the end of every volume is an "Index of Topics" that correspond to lessons found in the Baltimore Catechism.

The title of the first story in Volume One, entitled "The Devil at the Door" had me a little worried, but once I started reading it, I learned that it was about a child on Halloween. Fr. Brennan used the example of wearing masks on Halloween to demonstrate how we all wear masks every day. He went on to say that even though we can hide behind our masks to others, God always sees the real us. Another story I enjoyed was "A Box of Hail Marys." This story told about a woman who went to Heaven on Mary's birthday. She felt bad about not having a gift for her, but her gift "arrived before her." She had said three Hail Marys a day for her whole life, and that was her gift to the Virgin Mary - a box of Hail Marys.

Each story is about 3 to 4 pages long with 28 stories in Volumes One and Two, 31 in Volume Three, and 34 in Volume Four. It's hard to pick a favorite story in this set, as Fr. Brennan paints wonderful pictures in your head, all while teaching you a lesson. That might be the beauty of these stories. Your kids won't know they are being taught a lesson until it hits them in the end. All the lessons aren't preachy, though. Yes, there is a fair share of things not to do, but there is also a lot of emphasis on building a relationship with God, Mary, and the saints. This is refreshing, because we as Catholics don't tend to emphasize having a personal relationship with God, when that is what God wants. He wants us to be able to call on Him at anytime for anything, not just when we are in trouble or need something. Another wonderful aspect of these books, is that the stories have neither protagonists that are all young children. Your children will have examples from children their own age as well as examples of adults too. That is important, because it means that the lessons aren't just for a specific age range of children. In fact, I think I got as much out of these stories as the children did if not more.

So whether you are a new parent or a seasoned pro, you will want to invest in these books. They are also useful for teachers and catechists, and with the "Index of Topics," I mentioned earlier, you can supplement a lesson plan with a story from these books. As someone who reads A LOT of books, I'll be the first to tell you that there are a ton of books out there that will be competing for your child's attention, many with questionable morals and values. We need more books like the Angel Food for Boys and Girls, as well as other titles from Neumann Press, to help combat this current trend. I know both I and my children will enjoy these books for years to come, and with the high quality of these books, I'm sure my grandchildren (God-willing) will enjoy them too.

These books were provided to me for free by Neumann Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Seven Big Myths About Marriage and Making Gay Okay (Ignatius Press)

I have to admit that sometimes when I read Ignatius Press books I feel a bit dumb. Ignatius Press does a quality job in publishing books by authors (like Pope Benedict XVI) books that make you think, think really hard. That is why I always take a little bit longer to read their books, to re-read their books. They are so packed with knowledge and wisdom that you are afraid you will miss something if you speed through them. The two books I am reviewing today, The Seven Big Myths About Marriage and Making Gay Okay are no different.

The Seven Big Myths About Marriage is the second book written by Dr. Christopher Kaczor (rhymes with razor) that follows the "seven myths" approach. The first was, The Seven Big Myths About the Catholic Church. In his book on marriage (co-written with his wife, Jennifer) he begins by describing four types of people based on the happiness they pursue - the hedonist, the egoist' the altruist, and the altruist of faith. To explain them briefly, the hedonist finds happiness in bodily pleasure. The egoist is happy when "winning." The altruist seeks happiness in love of others, and the altruist of faith find their happiness "in loving and serving God and the image of God found in every human person." I never thought people could be explained so easily, but the four classifications fit. Now, we have to remember that we can be any of these four types at some point in our life, sometimes on the same day. However, the ultimate aspiration is clearly the altruist of faith.

The introduction would have been enough wisdom for me in the book, but it continues by getting to the meat of the book, which are the "seven myths about marriage." They are:
  • Love is Simple
  • Marriage is a Fifty-Fifty Contract
  • Love Alone Makes a Marriage
  • Cohabitations is Just Like Marriage
  • Premarital Sex is No Big Deal
  • Children are Irrelevant to Marriage
  • All Reproductive Choices are Equal
Each myth has its own chapter devoted to it and begins by telling you the myth, which is immediately followed by "the reality." For example, the myth "Marriage is a Fifty-Fifty Contract," is rebutted with, "Marriage is a 100 percent-100 percent covenant." Since I'm already married and a firm believer in Natural Family Planning (NFP), I was not the intended target for some chapters, i.e., cohabitation, premarital sex, or reproductive choices. The first three chapters all spoke powerfully to me though and are ones that I have considered both on a superficial level and a deeper level at varying points in my life, but they really helped make things click. His description of the different types of love and friendship in "love is simple" are a good reference point for the married and unmarried.

One could assume from the title that this book is intended only for married and soon-to-be married people, but I say this a book for all. If you are a pastor or priest, especially one involved in marriage preparation, you will find this book invaluable. If you have friends who try to argue that love is love and all types of "marriage" should be legalized, you will find great arguments on what truly makes a marriage and how it is different from some state-issued contract that people try to declare is a "marriage." If you are a parent, who has budding teenagers or soon to be college students will find useful information as well. In a nutshell, buy this book; read it; and re-read it. You won't regret it.

Making Gay Okay is a book that attempts to explain the pervasive homosexual culture that has been penetrating the United States in the past several decades. Robert Reilly begins his book by looking at the culture war. He demonstrates how people are becoming more accepting of homosexuality, gay "marriage," and the rationalization and subsequent "victimization" of homosexuals. He then looks at marriage and gay "marriage" under the lenses of nature, philosophy, biology, and morality. 

The second section of the book details all the different institutions in which homosexuality is getting a toehold. In this book, he points out the Boy Scouts, military, foreign policy, education, and parenting. As a young parent who has to raise children in this growing and changing world, these examples were poignant which made me stop and think. It's a scary climate, the children of this next generation will be growing up in, and it's even scarier the amount of things we will have to shield our children from.

This was a well-written and well-argued book. Many will try and claim this book is bigoted or hate-filled, but it is simply presented from a traditional perspective. I can't say that it was a book I sought to read, but it was enlightening to read. I feel more informed on the subject matter, and feel like I have some good counterarguments next time I am put in a situation where people are attacking me for my belief in traditional marriage. If you are interested in this topic, you will find the book fascinating. If not, you're probably better off checking the book out at the library or just ignoring it completely.

These books were provided to me for free by Carmel Communications. If you found these review helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Saint Peter (Ignatius Press)

Saint Peter is one of the latest DVD movies from Ignatius Press. They have done a great job releasing movies that Catholic want to see, including some on recent popes like John Paul II, John Paul I, Pius XII, and on saints and future saints like St. Augustine and Blessed Mother Teresa. These movies usually have an established actor or actress as the leading role, which helps carry the film and give it the kind of credible performance that separates it from movies like Flywheel or Facing the GiantsJohn Paul II had Jon Voigt and Cary Elwes; Pius XII had James Cromwell; and Saint Peter has Omar Sharif.

Unlike other movies, which use the Gospel accounts as their focus, Saint Peter draws primarily from the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus has just been crucified, resurrected, and ascended into Heaven. With growing persecution from Jews and Romans, the followers of Jesus need a leader, and that man is Peter. Peter faces constant doubt and feelings of inadequacy. He was the man who betrayed Jesus. What makes him worthy to lead now that Jesus is gone? We see this struggle time and time again in the movie. Sometimes, he needs encouragement from others like Mary or John. Other times, he thinks back to words Jesus said to him for guidance. These flashbacks add a nice Gospel element to the movie, and present an interesting juxtaposition of Peter in Acts with Peter in the Gospels.

No biblical movie is going to be 100% like reading the Bible. There will be parts you love, parts you hate, and parts that you love and hate. I will try to touch on each of these. One part I liked about the movie was how closely the dialogue followed Scripture. There were times you felt like you could just read along with Acts of the Apostles. I also loved Omar Sharif. At first, I was like, "Why is Peter so old?" Thankfully, I love iconography so when looking at icons of Peter, I was quickly reminded that he indeed was old, as he is always pictured with grey hair and beard. Some people I watched this movie with didn't like how "weak" Peter came off in the movie, so I reminded them of this G.K. Chesterton quote:

“When Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its cornerstone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward – in a word, a man. And upon this rock He has built His Church, and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it. All the empires and the kingdoms have failed, because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link.”

What I didn't like in the movie were some of the liberties taken with the story. There was a scene in the market where Jesus appeared to Peter that was completely fictitious and unnecessary. And without giving away too much, the family of a minor figure from Acts, Cornelius, felt like storyline for the sake of making a storyline. You're not going to like every actor in a movie, and this one was no different. In fact, the minor characters are what I'm most conflicted about. Some did outstanding jobs, and others not so much. Paul, John, and Jesus's mother, Mary were both superb and looked the part. Mary Magdalene looked a little too modern. Matthias came off a bit like a jerk with his adamant disdain for Gentiles. And I'll never understand why Jesus has to have blue eyes.

Overall, this was a very good movie. Was it perfect? No, but like I said earlier, no movie ever really is. It was solid though, and emphasized Peter the man, Peter the leader, the Early Church, and the Eucharist. I would recommend it to everyone, but warn that if you watch it with children you might have to have them close their eyes for some violence (gladiator fights) and ultimately Peter's death on the cross. For a preview check out the video below. If you are interested in watching, but not owning the movie, check out Ignatius Press' new streaming program by clicking here. It's like Catholic Netflix.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cathedral and Castle (Houghton Mifflin)

David Macaulay is a masterful author, illustrator, and more importantly teacher. Using his background of architecture, which he received from Rhode Island School of Design, he created pen-and-ink drawn books, such as Cathedral, City, Pyramid, Underground, and Castle and inspired many of today's architects and engineers. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has revised and released two of these books, Cathedral and Castle, in full color format. I was fortunate enough to be granted some review copies and would like to share my thoughts with you today.

Cathedral is an 80 page hardcover, dust-jacketed, full-color reprint of the 1973 classic with the same name that is designed for kids ages 10 to 14. It takes place in France circa 13th through Century and involves the building of a Gothic cathedral in the fictitious city of Chutreaux. William of Planz is a fictitious architect tasked with the building of this monumental structure.The first architectural drawings we see are the floor plan, in traditional cruciform shape and a cross-section of the building. Each of these drawings is labeled to help teach your children both parts of a church (like nave and apse) and architectural techniques (like vaulting and flying buttresses).

We then learn about how things were built in the 13th Century. In a word, it was slow! It took many men, including masters, apprentices, and general laborers. It also took simpler tools, which your children get a glimpse of, such as levers, mallets, chisels, augers, etc. Despite the slow-going of work, buildings built then are, in my opinion, better constructed and more beautiful than today's buildings. Throughout the rest of the pages, your children will gradually see the building begin to take shape and life! Mr. Macaulay not only shows and tells you how parts of the cathedral go up, but he explains the reasoning behind it. He even goes so far as to show you stained glass being made and the cathedral bells. He also does a nice job of showing the realistic side of this kind of construction. He doesn't pretend it all happens overnight, but shows that apprentices are poor and during winter months have to take jobs "beneath them" like general laborers, or worse the bishop dies. Death was commonplace with projects of this scale, but Mr. Macaulay adds a nice touch by having the bishop being buried in the cathedral instead of the crypt. At the very end is a helpful glossary of terms, which can be good for a quiz or just learning for the sake of learning.

As Catholics, my whole family enjoyed reading this work and seeing all the effort that went into creating beautiful churches like the ones that still exist in Europe. As an architect, my wife particularly loved this book for all the details. It definitely puts a bit of images and words to, "What kind of work does Mommy do?" If you are looking for a book that is as beautiful as it is brilliant, I wholeheartedly recommend this book. Not only will your kids love it, but you will too. And who knows, it might inspire the next generation of architects, and engineers.

Castle is an 80 page hardcover, dust-jacketed, full-color reprint of the 1977 classic with the same name that is designed for kids ages 10 to 14. Like Cathedral, this book takes place in the 13th Century, only in England instead of France. The fictitious castle being built is located in Aberwyvern and is "based on several castles built to aid in the conquest of Wales between 1277 and 1305. The first thing we learn in this book is location. Location is THE rule in modern-day real estate, and it held true for Castles back then. That is why the fictitious engineer "chose a high rocky outcrop that extended into the water." This provided a natural defensive advantage. We then see a floor plan for the castle and the town that was located near the castle.

Unlike Cathedral, this book shows a more detailed illustrations of the laborers, both skilled and unskilled, that went into architectural feats of this magnitude. We see diggers, carpenters, quarrymen, masons, etc. and the tools they used for each of their crafts. You will see some repeat information in this book, like the section that mentions how to protect the walls and stone from cracking in the winter. Thankfully, this repeat information is minimal, and you see fascinating original material, like the fact that walls to the castle and the town were constructed at the same time or the different defense mechanisms built into the structures of the castle. You'll read about drawbridges, learn what arrow slits and murder holes are, and even learn some of the day-to-details after the castles was built, i.e., water cisterns and cesspits (place human waste goes). He even talks about a battle that put the castle construction to the test.

I thoroughly enjoyed Castle, and highly recommend it. One could argue it could be more geared towards boys than girls, because when one thinks of castles and knights, you think boys, not girls, but I implore you to encourage all your children to read this book. It is not only educational, but fun as well! Here's hoping Houghton Mifflin Harcourt continues to re-print these great works in color.

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

Monday, June 16, 2014

Orthodox Constructions of the West (Fordham University Press)

Christian East and Christian West have been at odds with each other since The Great Schism, if not sooner. There has been finger-pointing, name-calling, and general animosity between these two divisions. We have made great strides in talks of ecumenism thanks to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and recent Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. However, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding and misconceptions on both sides. The title I am reviewing today seeks to clear up some of these misunderstandings and misconceptions.

George Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou have edited and produced a series of books called Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought, from Fordham University Press. Their latest book, Orthodox Constructions of the West, is a collection of talks given at a conference in 2010 with the same name, and addresses the way Eastern Orthodoxy see Western Catholicism. Contributors to this work include an Orthodox archbishop, Orthodox priests, a Jesuit priest, professors of theology, etc. Some of the topics included are present-day relations between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, unleavened bread, reading of St. Thomas Aquinas, and primacy and ecclesiology, to name a few. The beauty of books like this is that it is like attending an actual conference. You look at the schedule (or Table of Contents with a book) and decide which talks you want to attend (or articles you want to read).

The first article I would like to briefly highlight is "Perceptions and Realities in Orthodox-Catholic Relations Today." In this article, Jesuit priest, Robert Taft. He begins by declaring his belief that the Orthodox Church is the Apostolic Church of the East and the sister church to the Catholic Church. This is a belief I wholeheartedly agree with and espouse. He then proceeds to list the faults of the Jesuits, particularly in Ethiopia and India and the Catholic Church with regards to Uniate Churches (Eastern Catholic Churches, who are in union with Rome). By doing this, he is following the New Testament Example of removing the log from your eye before addressing the splinters in your brother's eye. He then calls to fault the Orthodox on certain matters. The whole point of this essay is not to point fingers though, no he ends with a call to unity through "ecumenical scholarship and theology." This type of scholarship does not seek confrontation, but understanding, but can only be done by both sides letting down their guards and listening to the other side in terms of critique.

The other article I would like to discuss is "Primacy and Ecclesiology." In this brief article, John Panteleimon Manoussakis begins by discussing the problem of antipapism and whether or not the Orthodox Church needs a primus. He then discusses the arguments against primacy, such as Christ being the head of the Church and Ecumenical Councils being the highest institution of authority, and why he disagrees with them. For example, no one would argue against the office of bishop as the head on a local level. He then explains how the Orthodox anti-pope attitude has created a void in Orthodoxy that has tried to be filled with various divisions of authority, i.e., autocephalies and autonomies. He even goes so far as to call antipapism a heresy. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by this chapter and did not expect him to argue so adamantly in favor of the need for primacy in the Orthodox Church.

Though I only highlighted two of the articles in this book, that is not to say that the other articles are without merit. If you are interested in ecumenism or Catholic-Orthodox relations, this is going to be a must own for you. It has further enlightened me on topics (mentioned above) of which I thought I knew a bit, and it has completely opened my eyes to topics I didn't even consider (before reading this book) as important in East-West relations. I am pleased to have it in my possession, and can easily give this book 5 stars.

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

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Reason Open to God and The Garden of God (CUA Press)

Education is something dear to my heart. Though I am not a formal teacher, I take pride in educating others. Whether it is Monday through Friday on the job site, Sunday morning catechesis, or instructing my son daily, I love to help others learn and learn as well. Our previous pope, Benedict XVI, also had a lifelong love of learning and education. This can be seen in his book A Reason Open to God, which is a collection of essays, speeches, homilies, etc. he gave on the subject of education. Sections in this book include: The Problem and the Urgent Task Ahead, Faith and Reason; Freedom and Truth; Education and Love; Pedagogy and Learning; The Church - Education in Faith and Community; Culture and University; Science, Technology, and Theology, and Caritas and Mission.

I particularly enjoyed the section entitled "The Church - Education in Faith and Community," which was actually the longest section in the book. In one 2011 address, Pope Benedict quotes Vatican II by saying that, "Christian education has as its principal purpose this goal: that the baptized, while they are gradually introduced the knowledge of the mystery of salvation, become ever more aware of the gift of the Faith they have received,...and be conformed in their personal lives according to the new man created in justice and holiness of truth." This seems like a deep statement to ponder, but put simply he is telling us that we must continue to learn and grow in the Faith and not stop once we have received the Sacraments of Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation. Also in this section, Pope Benedict reminds parents that they are the first people responsible for teaching their children the Faith. That seems like a no-brainer, but as someone who has been a catechist for several years, it seems that more and more parents are calling on the Church to be the first, if not only, responsible party for teaching the Faith. The Church is most certainly there to assist in the matter, but parents and family have to put in the time as well.

This book will come off as intimidating to some people due to size (300+ pages) and subject matter. However, there is something in this book for all Catholics. Whether you are a priest, professor, teacher, catechist, parent, or just a lover of education, you will find something that will benefit and edify you in this book. The editor of this book did a masterful job gathering, compiling, and sorting each of these talks. He didn't shy away from anything Pope Benedict said either, as he also included the infamous Regensburg lecture. For those who don't remember or know, this was where Pope Benedict described Islam as violent and inhumane. My only complaint with the volume is that the index didn't have a list of every speech organized by date, in case one wanted to easily reference a particular speech. This complaint aside, this is a 5-star book and one that belongs on the desk of every priest and teacher.

The Garden of God resembles A Reason Open to God in presentation and format. It is another collection of addresses, speeches, homilies, etc. from Pope Benedict XVI, which Catholic University of America Press (CUA Press) has released. I'm not sure why, but I actually expected it to be a book he wrote and not a compilation of his words, so there was initial disappointment. However, that disappointment quickly dissipated when I started reading the book. The book is divided into three parts - Creation and Nature; The Environment, Science, and Technology; and Hunger, Poverty, and the Earth's Resources. CUA Press improved the Table of Contents (TOC), compared to the TOC of A Reason Open to God, by listing each address' title. This makes for easier navigation should you have a talk that you want to reference or read again.

Pope Benedict discusses many facets of ecology (like alternative energy), specific places (like the Amazon River or the Arctic) and events in history (like Chernobyl). I had a hard time picking a favorite section or address in this book. A lot of them spoke to me in different ways. In one homily, Pope Benedict discusses God as a "Creator Spirit." He says that "we cannot use and abuse the world and matter merely as material for our actions and desires; that we must consider creation as a gift that has not been given to us to be destroyed, but to become God's garden." In a 2010 message for the World Celebration of Peace, he references his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, he explains that, "The environment must be seen as God's gift to all people, and the use we make of it entails a shared responsibility for all humanity, especially the poor and future generations. The last bit I will share with you is too long to quote, but in it he says that Creation as a whole is not more important than humanity. However, that does not give us the right to use it as our dumpster and prevent future generations from reaping its benefits as well. I could list countless other quotes and information I gleaned from this book, but there is not enough room.

We are very blessed to have had Pope Benedict XVI leading our Church between the likes of other great popes, Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis. One can tell from reading this book that Pope Benedict had a great interest in ecology, and more specifically human ecology. In fact, he was sometimes referred to as the "Green Pope." What is truly remarkable is that Benedict reigned during the same time as Ecumenical Bartholomew I, the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the "Green Patriarch." If ecology or environmentalism is an interest of yours, I recommend Pope Benedict's The Garden of God and Patriarch Bartholomew's books Toward an Ecology of Transfiguration and On Earth as in Heaven.

These books were provided to me for free by Catholic University of America Press. If you found these reviews helpful, click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Glory Stories Volume 1 and Inside the Sacraments Episode 1

Glory Stories Volume 1 is the first in a series of CDs produced by Holy Heroes. In this, approximately 30 minute presentation, your children will learn about two saints, Blessed Imelda Lambertini and St. Juan Diego. I understand how the canonization process works, but I am amazed Blessed Imelda isn't a saint yet. Maybe, she is happy and humble being blessed, or maybe we should pray harder for her intercession. Anyhow...

In this CD, your children will hear the story of the selected saint's life, what they did that made them a saint, and after the story, you hear what they are the patron saint of and when their feast day is. For example, we learn that Blessed Imelda entered a monastery at a very early age. She longed desperately to receive the Eucharist, but was unable to because during her life, the age of First Communion was 14. She eventually was allowed to receive earlier than age 14, and after receiving Jesus, she died. It sounds sad, but she died with the one she loved. The other saint, St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe is one that most of us know, so I won't rehash that one. There are coloring pages associated with the CD too that help kids put pictures to the story. For example, you can see St. Juan Diego's coloring pages here. This was a great production as it wasn't just one person reading a story, but dramatized with different voices for the characters. It was truly enjoyable for kids and adults! Be sure to check out other volumes in this series here!

Inside the Sacraments: Episode One - The Holy Eucharist is a DVD that is made and presented "by kids - for kids." In this almost hour long presentation, your children will learn a TON about the Eucharist. They learn about Moses, the plagues, and Passover. They learn about manna from heaven, which was a prefigurement to the Eucharist. They also learn what the word prefigurement means, which is a term most adults couldn't define. We also see the Bread of Life discourse, the Last Supper, and other Eucharistic passages in the Bible.

The format for this video can be described as cheesy at best. The knowledge was there and some of the visual (like how much is an omer of manna actually is) was very useful. Other times though the video was silly. There were posterboard puppets, kids dressed up as superheroes, etc. This is the adult in me, so take the complaints for what they are worth. Some kids (probably younger) ones will giggle or find it charming. Other kids (probably older ones) will eye-roll the whole video and probably tune out the message, which is a shame because it is a good message. There is also a gaggle of girls in this presentation, which some boys might find uninviting or intimidating. I know it wasn't intentional, but it's how boys' brains work sometimes. I will be interested to see if there is an Episode Two, how it has improved in terms of quality, etc.

These products were provided to me for free by Holy Heroes in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Gift: Discovering the Holy Spirit in Catholic Tradition (Paraclete Press)

What does the Catholic Church teach on the Holy Spirit? What are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit? How does the Holy Spirit work in the Catholic Church? Dr. Schreck, professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville, answers all these questions and more in one of his latest books, The Gift: Discovering the Holy Spirit in Catholic Tradition. The book spans seven chapters (by design, I'm sure) and is approximately 150 pages.

Chapter 1 talks about the Person of the Holy Spirit. Chapter 2 discusses devotion to the Holy Spirit. Chapters 3 and 4 address the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Holiness, respectively. The next two chapters particularly stood out to me and were the ones I found the most interesting. Chapter 5 discussed the Gifts of the Spirit. In addition to discussing the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, Dr. Schreck also explains how "the Holy Spirit is the Gift of God who is God." He then explains the difference between Baptism and Confirmation. In Baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit, but in Confirmation "the faithful are equipped for their apostolate." This chapter is followed by Chapter 6, which discusses the Church, the Holy Spirit, and Mary. A particularly fascinating section explains the difference between Mary and the Holy Spirit. This seems like a no-brainer of a distinction, but it clears up some common misconceptions Protestants have regarding Mary. The last chapter discusses the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church today.

Overall, this was a very well-written book. In it, Dr. Schreck includes numerous references and quotes from saints, popes, the Catechism, etc. There has been a lot of talk about the New Evangelization. However, we tend to overlook the fact that if we are going to have a New Evangelization, we must have a new Pentecost. The only way to accomplish that is to constantly pray for the Holy Spirit's intercession. That is why, as Dr. Schreck points out, that all prayers to the Holy Spirit begin with the word "Come." So in the opening words of the Veni Creator Spiritus, "Come, Creator Spirit, Visit the minds of those who are yours; fill with heavenly grace the hearts that you have made."

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

Friday, June 6, 2014

Living in the Father's Embrace and Holy Spirit, Make Your Home in Me (The Word Among Us Press)

I'm always on Amazon looking ahead at future publications and awaiting the latest books to come out. With so many being published every year though, I am bound to overlook some out of carelessness. Thankfully, my marketing contacts look out for me and suggest books that I might have overlooked. That book I overlooked is Living in the Father's Embrace by: Fr. George Montague. Fr. Montague is a contributor to the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series. Today, I will be reviewing this book as well as his book Holy Spirit, Make Your Home in Me, just in time for Pentecost.

Living in the Father's Embrace is a 130-page book that contains twenty chapters on the love of God. Each chapter is written with stories that reflect the overall message of the given chapter. Some of these stories are about other people, like Chapter 1, which recounts the reunion of POW Lt. Robert Stirm and his family. Others are personal in nature and reflect on the relationship Fr. Montague had with his father and how it affected his view of God the Father. At the end of each chapter is a prayer and three reflection questions that invite us to ponder the love of God.

It would be too easy, but true nonetheless to say that Chapter 2 related to me pretty accurately. In this chapter, Fr. Montague discusses the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He astutely points out that we can be both sons, the one who is in need of forgiveness and the one who refuses to forgive, at different points in our lives. The part of the elder son is the saddest of the two though, because in choosing not to forgive, he is made a prisoner in his own heart. The chapter which really tugged at my heartstrings was Chapter 5. In this chapter, a mother recounted the children's forgiveness and love of God the Father her children felt after the biological father sexually abused the daughter and abandoned both daughter and son. This chapter was hard to read, but it showed the beauty of children and their willingness to forgive and open their hearts to love again, by God's grace of course.

So many of us claim to have a personal relationship with Jesus, but we tend to ignore God the Father. We either see Him as inapproachable or only reach out to Him when we are in desperate need of assistance. Fr. Montague challenges us in this book to witness the love shared between God the Father and God the Son, aka the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, we are invited to experience the love God the Father and all the Trinity have for each of us. He also invites us to build a personal relationship with God the Father. Though it may not be easy, especially for those who have been hurt by biological Fathers, it is a sweet love that is full of mercy and forgiveness.

The Holy Spirit is the most neglected and forgotten member of the Blessed Trinity. We turn to God the Father when we are in desperate need of help (even though we should turn to Him more), and Jesus is our go-to Person with whom we all claim a personal relationship. Yet, the Holy Spirit gets no love. We think about Him briefly when children are baptized and confirmed and on the Feast of Pentecost, but other than that He's ignored. Fr. Montague looks to correct this in his book Holy Spirit, Make Your Home in Me. Using the Bible as his guideline, Fr. Montague hopes to lead us to know the Holy Spirit more and experience an outpouring of the Gift of the Spirit.

Each chapter is a homily or meditation, which focus on some key attribute or description of the Holy Spirit, like Dove or Fire. A chapter I found to be particularly illuminating was the one entitled Paraclete. In this chapter, Fr. Montague illuminates the idea that "paraclete" implies personhood. Jesus said that One was coming after Him who was like Him. We don't often think of the Holy Spirit as a person, just some "spirit," but He is just as much a Person in the Trinity as God the Father and Jesus. I also enjoyed the chapters which discussed the gifts of the Spirit, particularly the third chapter on this topic. In this chapter, Fr. Montague explains the different types of gifts, which are word gifts and service gifts. He elaborates on what these gifts are, and how to tell if one is doing a job or a ministry.

This was an interesting book and not exactly what I was expecting when I requested this book. It is clear that Fr. Montague has a strong relationship with the Holy Spirit and relies on Him constantly in His ministry of priesthood. Because of this strong relationship, Fr. Montague feels compelled to tell us all about the Holy Spirit in the hope that we too will develop an active and strong relationship with the Holy Spirit. So if you would like to know how to make the Holy Spirit more active in your life, I recommend this book to you.

These books were provided to me for free by The Word Among Us Press. If you found them helpful, click here and/or here, and hit Yes!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

My First Classical Music Book and My First Orchestra Book (Naxos Books)

Another month has come and gone, and the books keep pouring in at Stuart's Study. Sometimes, I (and I'm sure my wife) feel like we are going to have to add a wing to the house just to house all of our books. It is a great problem to have, though, and one I wouldn't trade. Starting this blog has not only exposed me to a world of Catholic books I never would have known about, but it has also exposed me to a world of children's books too. It has also helped restore my faith in some of the publishing world to know that there are still publishers out there who print quality books for kids, and not Twilight or other garbage series. Naxos Books is one of those publishers, and even though they don't specialize in publishing children's books, they have released two recently that are worth checking out.

My First Classical Music Book is large hardcover book written by Genevieve Helsby and illustrated by Jason Chapman. The book begins by discussing what music is and where you can find it in our everyday lives. One place we see music utilized is in TV and movies. The book uses legendary American composer John Williams as their example. Though, I know Williams primarily from Star Wars, the book uses his work from the Harry Potter film as their example. The book then instructs your children to other places they hear music including dance, weddings, theatres and concert halls.

Next, in the book they will learn about famous composer through the ages. Such composers they will learn about include Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and the recent John Adams. You will notice that this isn't every possible composer, because my favorite, Handel, was not listed. Nevertheless, it is a good introductory list. Each composer receives two pages of facts, illustrations, and a brief description of their music. For example, Tchaikovsky's music is categorized as ballet music. The final section is dedicated to instruments. The author takes us through each family of instruments (strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, and keyboard) and gives us about a paragraph of detail (either description of the instrument or who played the instrument really well or both) related to each individual instrument. This is a great section as it introduces your child to instruments they might never have heard of before, and might pique their interest in learning their first instrument or an additional instrument.

There are a lot of things to love about this book. The illustrations are cartoon in style, which will appeal to the younger reader. The words are in a large print and there is an appropriate amount on the page. By this I mean that there aren't huge chunks of text, but a good representation of illustration and text on the page. My favorite part, though, is the accompanying CD. You will want to have a CD player nearby while reading this book to your child, because almost every page has a track that corresponds to it. For example, when learning about the woodwind family, your child will hear a selection of Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf." They can also just listen to the CD by itself at anytime. This is a 5-star book and the perfect introduction to classical music for elementary to middle school grade children. I think I enjoyed it as much as kids will!

My First Orchestra Book is the "sequel" to My First Classical Music Book. It too is written by Genevieve Helsby, but the illustrator for this volume is Karin Eklund, not Jason Chapman. This book begins a bit odd. Your child is introduced to a troll named Tormod who travels down from his mountain to discover more types of music. In his travels, he discovers the orchestra and serves as your guide through the book.

The primary focus of this book is families of instruments. Where My First Classical Music Book gave you a brief introduction to these families and instruments, this book provides you with more details. Also, unlike the first book, only the string, woodwind, brass, and percussion families are discussed. There is no mention of the keyboard family. Like the first book, though, there is an accompanying CD with tracks to play corresponding to different pages. Every section begins by describing the common characteristics of a particular family. For example, in the woodwind family, the instruments they all have a long tube-like shape and they all have reeds. Each of the instruments detailed in each family is given two pages with details on how the instrument sounds and how many are generally found in an orchestra. At the end of the book are details on what a conductor is as well as some "part-time" orchestra instruments like the harp.

This was a good follow-up book, and leaves me wondering if there will be a third in the series or just these two. I have some minor gripes about this book. I didn't like the troll story/guide, but that could just be me being a stodgy adult. I also preferred the illustrations in My First Classical Music Book better. They just felt a little more whimsical and inviting to me. Those complaints aside there were parts of this book I really loved. I particularly appreciate the way the author presents the material to children. She makes it fun and easily understood. She also does a masterful job picking out the appropriate songs for each instrument. What I really appreciated related to the CD and the song choice was that you get 2 tracks for almost every instrument. You get to hear what the instrument sounds like by itself, and then you get to hear what a group of the same instrument sounds like together. This creates a lasting impression on the reader, and will hopefully build a love for music and the orchestra in them that they want to take up an instrument, or at the very least go see some shows.

These books were provided to me for free by Naxos Books in exchange for an honest review. If you found the reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes! Also be sure to check out their website for other books, CDs, etc. related to Classical Music!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Angels and Saints Review and Giveaway (Image Books)

Scott Hahn is one of the greatest converts to Catholicism in modern history. His conversion story Rome Sweet Home alone has led many to the Faith and many more back to the Faith they left. This work alone would be enough to cement his legacy, but he has written a great many other notable works, including The Lamb's Supper and A Father Who Keeps His Promises, to further expound on the faith and teach converts, cradles, and reverts alike. Lately, Dr. Hahn has been publishing high theology works, which challenge us to grow in our faith and progress from spiritual milk to spiritual meat. Dr. Hahn has returned with a new work entitled Angels and Saints, which is a return to his way of writing that helped so many of us grow in the faith so many years ago.

Angels and Saints begins with a personal story of Dr. Hahn and his family travelling in Assisi when he and his children were younger. One of his children had just had an emergency appendectomy, but the doctor said he would be okay to go on the pilgrimage. Predictably, the child was fine at first but had complications while in Assisi, and his condition became life-threatening. Doing the only thing he knew how to do, Dr. Hahn prayed all night and thankfully the child recovered miraculously. The remainder of Part I of the book explains what saints are, titles the Church bestows on holy men and women on the path to sainthood, what saints do, and a brief description of what angels are and names for the different types on angels.

In Part II, we are treated to twelve chapters with each one focusing on a specific individual in Heaven. We see great men and women like St. Michael the Archangel; Mary, Queen of Heaven; and even Old Testament great, Moses. I will be focusing on one of my favorite saints, St. Jerome. Dr. Hahn begins with a brief description of St. Jerome's early life, his genius at an early age, and his places of study. He then details the path that led him to the priesthood and eventual composition/translation of the Vulgate. The most fascinating part of this chapter discussed St. Jerome's circle of friends/students. They were mostly women, but he taught them the Bible, Biblical languages, and Biblical exegesis that some even surpassed him in some of these categories. He challenged them and they challenged him, and all grew in their wisdom and love of Christ. It was a perfect example of steel sharpening steel and proof that saints don't get to Heaven alone, but with the help of others. The chapter closes with a passage from "Against Vigilantius" and has the brilliance and sharp tongue St. Jerome was famous for.

The other eleven chapters focusing on specific holy individuals are just as brilliant as the one on St. Jerome. Dr. Hahn then closes the book by bringing us back to Assisi to discuss family and salvation and calling us all to be saints. I can't imagine how tough it was for Dr. Hahn to narrow down his choice of saints for this book. He picked some big names in the Western Church, like St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. I wish there would have been a few more Eastern saints, aside from St. Irenaeus of Lyons. It would have been great to read about St. John Chrysostom, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, or one of the Cappadocian Fathers. This does not lower my review of the book though. It is still a 5-star book, and a welcome addition to any Catholics library. If you are interested in obtaining a copy of this book, please enter the giveaway below. To read an interview with Scott Hahn by my friend Sarah Reinhard click here.

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