Friday, January 31, 2014

Dark Passages of the Bible (CUA Press)

Dark Passages of the Bible begins by asking, "How can that be in the Bible?" This question, asked by many atheists, agnostics, and even some Christians, forms a brief introduction and starting point for this scholarly tome. We then dive into three problems in the Bible - 1. The Nature of God, 2. The Nature of Good and Evil, and 3. The Afterlife. Each problem or theme has ample Scripture passages that can be cited as evidence, and these passages read as troublesome for some. For example, regarding problem #2, "And that night the angel of the Lord went forth and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians; and when the men arose early in the morning, behold these were all dead bodies (2 Kgs 19:35)."

When reading gruesome passages like these, people are often confused as to why God would condone such violence. Interpretation, which I will discuss in the next paragraph, is key here. We must read passages like this in their full context, both in Scripture and the time period. God's plan for man is slowly accomplished, sometimes in spite of man's resistance. God doesn't want man's death, but their salvation. Unfortunately, some pursue their own destruction so vehemently that God allows them to be destroyed so that extensive damage isn't done to the rest of the population. I'm sure I'm not explaining it as well as Dr. Ramage, so please read his book for better clarity.

Chapter Two, "Benedict's 'Method C' Proposal," was easily my favorite chapter. In this chapter, the reader receives an explanation on the two main methods for Biblical interpretation. Method A focuses on patristic-medieval exegesis. All Scripture is inspired by God and thus interpretation is viewed through the lens of faith. This is my preferred method of interpretation. Method B is better known as the historical-critical method. This method removes faith from interpretation and goes for cold, hard facts. Both have their merits, and both have their shortcomings. Pope Benedict's Method C draws upon the strength of both to create a fuller interpretation method. It seems so obvious, but it takes someone with a great mind to execute it. The rest of this book demonstrates how Method C exegesis would work, specifically as it relates to the Nature of God, the Nature of Good and Evil, and the Afterlife.

People often speak of the genius of Pope John Paul II and his Theology of the Body. I personally hope and pray it won't be long before more people realize the genius of Pope Benedict XVI.. Dark Passages of the Bible definitely serves as a demonstration of his brilliance. This scholarly tome is not for the casual reader, but for serious students of the Bible and biblical interpretation. However, to understand Pope Benedict's Method C, this book, and ultimately the Bible, you must be in communion with the Church, as it is "the primary setting for scriptural interpretation." And while this book is not an easy read, it is definitely a rewarding one. So if you fall into the category of serious Bible student, you will want a copy of this 5-star book.

This book was provided to me for free by Catholic University of America Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here! For an interview with Dr. Ramage, please click here. And for some interesting articles by Dr. Ramage, click here.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Roast Mutton (The Hobbit Chapter 2)

Reading and discussing Chapter Two of The Hobbit was a bit tough for me. I've had a lot on my mind, so I'm wondering if I missed some things, or the chapter didn't speak to me as much as Chapter One. I will press on though!

When we last left our young hobbit, Bilbo was going to bed after a long night of entertaining dwarves and trying to avoid an adventure. Upon waking he sees a mess in the kitchen and faces the reality that last night wasn't some awful dream, and that he had an awful lot of cleaning to do. I think we've all had mornings like that. However, if we look at it from a spiritual perspective, then it's as if Bilbo is saying surely God didn't really want me drop everything and follow Him. I mean who will take care of all the daily things that need done if I don't?

Enter Gandalf, who has grown weary of Bilbo's excuses. After directing Bilbo to the letter on his mantle, and before Bilbo can come up with more excuses, Gandalf scurried him off. Some people choose to see Gandalf as a God or Christ figure when reading Tolkien? If you choose to see him as one, do you think this was a violation of Bilbo's free will? Yes, Bilbo still had the ability to say "No," but it doesn't seem like he had the willpower to do so.

The journey then begins. At first Bilbo is enjoying the adventure and thinking to himself that it's not as bad as he thought it would be. Of course that is because he was still in "hobbit-lands" with his creature comforts of tobacco, pocket handkerchiefs, and plenty of food. It is only when he was in an unrecognized land, the weather got worse, and they lost a great deal of supplies that Bilbo started to regret his decision. This particular passage spoke most to me. When God first calls us on an adventure, we're not generally going to have hardships to begin with. If we did, most people would immediately change their mind and abandon the adventure. However, as we continue on the adventure, things will get tougher, and we must ultimately decide to continue to follow.

Lastly, I would like to talk ever so briefly about the trolls. It seems a shame to devote so little attention to one of the iconic scenes in The Hobbit, but time is running short for me. What I noticed mainly is that Bilbo makes some key errors in approaching the trolls. He did a fine job spying on them, but that is where it should have ended. Instead, he decided to try his luck at robbing them and failed miserably. Young Christians make this mistake when encountering Satan. We either are ashamed to ask for help or too proud. Both are grave errors and can be disastrous, even deadly.

So what did you think of Chapter Two in The Hobbit? Read along with me, and comment at the bottom. Also, tune in two weeks for my reflections on Chapter Three!

A special thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt who was generous enough to provide me with the 75th Anniversary Pocket Edition of The Hobbit.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Tour of St. Peter's Square and Basilica (Catholic Courses)

There are a few places on my bucket list that I want to visit before I finally keel over. My top three places, in no specific order are the Holy Land, Greece, and of course Rome. Until, I get there, though, I will have to settle for books and videos which describe the places and plan my journey for when I get there. For couch pilgrims on a budget, like myself, I would like to recommend a new resource from Catholic Courses called A Tour of St. Peter's Square and Basilica.

A Tour of St. Peter's Square and Basilica  is a masterful 8-lesson course led by Fr. Jeffrey Kirby. In Lecture One, Fr. Kirby gives a brief introduction to St. Peter's Square and the origins of Christianity. Lecture Two addresses St. Peter - the man from Scripture and his role as the Bishop of Rome and first pope. Lectures Three and Four gives a tour of St. Peter's Square. Points of interest in the Square include the obelisk, the fountains, the Apostolic Palace, the marker where John Paul II was almost assassinated, and lastly the insertion of Mary into the square overlooking it. Lectures Five through Eight, address both the original building and the renovation of the Basilica. It also gives a tour of highlights in the Basilica including the portico which contains scenes of St. Peter's life, the Holy Doors which can only be opened by the Bishop of Rome in Jubilee Years, the nave, and the altar.

Hands down, my favorite part of this was getting to see the Basilica up close and personal. Does it beat getting to see it in person? Of course not! However, it provides a cheaper alternative (not substitute) until you can save up enough money to go see it live. I know some of my audience has had the privilege of seeing it in person and might be wondering what this DVD series would offer to them. For starters, it could be a nice stroll down memory lane if it's been a while since your trip. It also gives you angles and closer looks of things you might have missed or didn't get to see as closely as you would have liked. My least favorite part of this series was the length of each episode. Each episode was roughly 20 minutes, and I would have liked them to each be closer to 30 minutes. It seemed like just as you were getting into an episode, it was over. So whether you're a lifelong pilgrim or someone still waiting to make their first pilgrimage, you will want to pick up this Catholic Course!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Jesus in the Gospels and Acts (Anselm Academic)

Jesus in the Gospels and Acts  is a 300 page textbook that doesn't read like one.  Dr. Scholz sets the stage by describing what life would have been like for Jesus and the Jewish people in His age. Topics discussed in this section included the divided Northern and Southern Kingdoms, the period of rebuilding following their exile, and the constant tension in the Jewish and Roman political landscape. We then dive into the heart of the book by walking through Mark, Matthew, Luke, Acts, and lastly John. They are arranged in this order, as this is the generally accepted chronological order of composition.

For each covered book of the Bible, Dr. Scholz provides key background information, such as authorship, audience, date of composition, and sources used in composition. One of the interesting things I learned from reading this book dealt with the sources and the source Q. I have always heard that Mark was the first Gospel written, so it is only natural that the other Gospels drew from Mark for inspiration. However, there is also belief in the scholarly world that there was another source of inspiration, Q, which, though it does not exist anymore, did contain sayings of Jesus. Many believe that Matthew and Luke drew inspiration from this source as well.

My favorite parts of this book were all the tables, timelines, and review questions. This kind of extra information is just what a textbook needs to keep it from being dry. One of my least favorite parts in this book was the final chapter, "Other Early Christian Gospels." In this section, Dr. Scholz mentions The Protoevangelium of James with two Gnostic works - The Gospel of Thomas and The Gospel of Judas. There is a section in this book, which briefly discusses Gnosticism, but mainly talks about how many modern scholars are trying to get the term discarded. I, for one, feel that more care should have been given in discussing Gnostic texts and a warning should have been given that these are in no way recommended reading by the Church. For that reason, I am giving this book 4 out of 5 stars.

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

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Gospel of Luke: Chapter One

Luke Chapter 1
1:1-4 – Prologue
1:5-25 – The Annunciation of John
1:26-38 – The Annunciation of Jesus
1:39-45 – The Visitation
1:46-56 – The Canticle of Mary
1:57-66 – The Nativity of John
1:67-80 – The Canticle of Zechariah

Answer as many questions as you can. Write down other questions you might have, or interesting things you learned and read that are not covered in the questions.

Questions for Interpretation
1. Verse 5 – What does the name Zechariah mean? What does the name Elizabeth mean? What is significant about them being from the tribe of Aaron?

2. Verses 6-7 – What other important women in the Bible were barren? Barrenness was regarded as punishment for sin according to Jewish people. Why did God allow righteous Zechariah and Elizabeth to be barren?

Interesting note: Being chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord was something that could only happen to you once in your life, if ever. Therefore, it was not mere chance or coincidence that Zechariah was chosen, but Divine Providence.

3. Verses 8-11 – Compare these verses with Revelation 8:3-4.

Interesting note: It must be terrifying to see an angel, because the first thing they always tell the people is to not be afraid.

4. Verses 13-15a – What does the name John mean? What is significant about John not drinking wine or strong drink? What other Old Testament figures took this vow?

5. Verses 15b-17 – Compare these verses to Malachi 3:1a and 3:23-24.

Interesting note: John the Baptist and Elijah even dressed alike wearing a hairy garment and leather belt. See 2 Kings 1:7-8 and Matthew 3:4. They both had the same mission to of trying to get the people to repent and turn to God.

6. Verses 18-20 – Besides the answer to his prayers, what gift did Gabriel offer to Zechariah, which he was oblivious to? Why did Gabriel make Zechariah mute?

Interesting note: The people were amazed at how long he stayed in the sanctuary, because they thought he had offended God, and God struck him dead. Also, we have to assume that Gabriel visited Elizabeth as well and told her of God's plans. Otherwise, it would have been an interesting note Zechariah wrote to Elizabeth telling her why he can't talk and that they are to have a son.

7. Verse 26 – What is the six month referring to?

8. Verse 27 – What is significant about Joseph being from the house of David?

9. Verses 26-38 – How is Mary’s questioning of Gabriel different than Zechariah’s? Compare and contrast the two annunciations. (Luke 1:11-20 and Luke 1:26-38)

10. Verse 41 – How was John able to identify that Mary was filled with the Messiah?

11. Verses 42-45 – Compare these verses to 2 Samuel 6:9-11, 14-16. What item pre-figures Mary in this passage? Why is this significant?

Interesting note: The old Ark of the Covenant contained the 10 Commandments (the word of God inscribed in stone), Aaron's rod, and manna. The new Ark of the Covenant contained Jesus who is the Word of God in flesh, the true High Priest, and the Bread of Life. No one knows what happened to the Ark of the Covenant after Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and the First Temple. However, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims to possess it. That is why you will find a replica of the original ark in every Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

12. Verses 46-56 – Mary’s gives God praise for three things. What are they? Read 1 Samuel 2:1-10, and see how Hannah’s song is similar to Mary’s.

13. Verse 59 – According to Jewish numerology, the number 8 symbolizes salvation and new beginnings. What does the number 8 mean to Catholics? (See Catechism 2174.)

14. Verses 60-64 –Why was Zechariah’s voice restored?

Interesting note: Why didn't Elizabeth just tell the people that God said to call him John or that Zechariah said to call him such? Why were they amazed that Zechariah also wanted to call his son John?

15. Verses 68-79 – What images stand out to you as significant in Zechariah’s canticle?

16. Verse 80 – Read Isaiah 40:3. Why do you think John went to go live in the desert until his ministry?

Interesting note: John the Baptist would have also been one of the male children Herod ordered to be killed (the Holy Innocents). According to tradition, Elizabeth and John fled to the desert and a mountain opened revealing a cave to hide them in. Herod’s soldiers came to Zechariah looking for John, but he refused to give up their location, so they killed him at the Temple altar (Luke 11:51). Elizabeth died while John was still a child, and it was said that an angel ministered to him until the time of his ministry.

Questions for Reflection
1. Verses 11-13 – Have I ever had prayer answered after I had given up hope and stopped praying?
2. Verses 14-15 – When did God select me for his service? How have I been equipped to carry out my service?
3. Verse 29 – How have I reacted when I have experienced God’s special favor or call? How did it change the way I think of myself?
4. Verse 35 – What does it mean to me that Jesus is the Son of God?
5. Verses 36-37 – When or how do I place limits on what God can do? Or what God can do for me?
6. Verse 45 – How eager am I to embrace the word of God? How is Mary a model for me?
7. Verses 46-55 – How can Mary’s prayer serve as a model for my prayers?
8. Verses 70-72 – How have I experienced God’s mercy and love?

The reflection questions were taken from Bringing the Gospel of Luke to Life by George Martin and used with permission from Our Sunday Visitor. For commentary and more reflection questions, purchase the book. It's great!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Catholic Family Fun (Pauline Books and Media)

Catholic Family Fun. At first glance, it seems like those words don't all belong together, or maybe it's the answer to a Before and After puzzle on Wheel of Fortune. In reality, this is a book from Catholic super-blogger Sarah Reinhard. I first heard of this book in 2012, but I am ashamed to admit, I didn't do much with it until recently, because I didn't have a family yet. Presently, my family is still small, and my 9 month old son isn't capable of appreciating these activities yet, but I know our whole family will in the coming years.

Catholic Family Fun is divided into four parts - "Are we Having Fun Yet?," "At Home," "Out and Around," and "Faith and Fun." In each of these sections, you will find ideas to help your children spice up a boring day as well as grow in their faith. Some of the activities included are singing silly songs, creating skits, scavenger hunts, and Eucharistic adoration. Almost all of the activities are low in cost and low in prep time. This is a big selling point as you don't want to sink a lot of time and money into an activity that your kid might show no interest in.

Maybe I'm holier-than-thou or maybe I'm just looking for a way to increase in holiness, but I really liked the "Ways to Serve" chapter. As Sarah points out at the beginning of this chapter, "Service was the core of Jesus's ministry, and it is integral to who we are as Catholic Christians." Let's look at her ideas for pregnancy centers. She suggests hosting a diaper drive at your church where people can donate diapers. You could also do a fundraiser where you pass out baby bottles and get families and friends to fill them up with dollars, coins, and checks. I've seen that work at my mom's Baptist church. What's great about these ideas is that they are both fun AND helpful. It is also a way to include not only your family, but the Church family as well. So whether you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, or catechist, you will find this 5-star book to be invaluable for many years.

This book was provided to me for free by the author in exchange for an honest review. Check out the Facebook and Pinterest pages for Catholic Family Fun for new ideas for you and your kids! If you found this review helpful, please click the link and hit Yes!

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Acts of the Apostles: Spreading the Word (Ancient Faith Publishing)

There is no book that I love more than the Bible. For this reason, I have always loved Bible commentaries, even back in my Protestant days. I want to know and understand God's Word to the best of my ability, and I can only do that with the help of minds greater than mine. Currently, I am collecting and reading two sets of Bible commentaries - one Catholic and the other Orthodox. Today, I will be reviewing the the latest Orthodox volume called The Acts of the Apostles: Spreading the Word.

The Acts of the Apostles: Spreading the Word is the twelfth volume in The Orthodox Bible Study Companion Series. The series is not intended to be an in-depth word-by-word study, but instead an approachable study you can use either solo or with a group. Fr. Farley begins by explaining that the Acts of the Apostles was written by St. Luke to explain to Theophilus four apologetic points - 1. The Church was not politically suspect; 2. The Church is a legal religion and the True Israel; 3. The Holy Spirit guides the Church; and 4. Gentiles are welcome in the Church as it is God's will. After this introduction, he then dives into the commentary for Acts of the Apostles.

Like every volume in this series, Fr. Farley gives the reader both Scripture and commentary. The commentary provided is scholarly yet approachable. With some passages, he takes time to highlight key words and give their Greek equivalent and meaning. This helps take the passage to a deeper level than one could obtain by just reading the Scripture alone. As helpful as this is, especially for someone like me who is trying to learn Greek, I found the excursuses (or expositions on topics) even more enlightening. A few of the topics addressed in these expositions were the Resurrection of Jesus, Ascension of Jesus, and Lessons from St. Paul's Aeropagus sermon. Each mini-essay gives the reader an extra level of depth, and, since they are asides, the reader has the option to go deeper or just stick with the commentary.

I have been waiting for this one to come out for a few years since one should read Luke and Acts together, and it did not disappoint. Fr. Farley is very astute when he refers to the Acts of the Apostles as both a door and a bridge. It is a door because it gives us a small glimpse of what the Church was like in the First Century, and it is a bridge because it connects the Gospels to the Epistles. If you want to understand Acts better, then this is the book for you. I wholeheartedly recommend it, but I recommend that you purchase it with The Gospel of Luke: Good News for the Poor. Stay tuned in 2014 for the final volume of the New Testament entitled The Epistle to the Hebrews: High Priest in Heaven.

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

An Unexpected Party (The Hobbit Chapter 1)

Welcome to my first every other Wednesday installment where I provide my spiritual reflections on The Hobbit. Before I start, I would like to put some disclaimers out. These are my personal reflections. They are not the textbook analysis of what each chapter means, but instead how certain sections struck me or made me feel. This will also not be a thorough reflection on every section of every chapter. I will address sections that spoke to me. I have to admit I was nervous starting these posts. I was afraid that I would read a whole chapter of The Hobbit and have no more than five words to say about it. Thankfully, with Chapter 1 at least, that was not the case.

The mere description of Bilbo's hobbit-hole was enough to make me pause and reflect on my own "hobbit-hole." Like Bilbo, my family is blessed to live in a beautiful house complete with "panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs." We also have "bedrooms, bathrooms, cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted to clothes), kitchens, dining rooms." However, do I have too much? If God said to me, sell all of this and your house, how would I respond? Would it be a struggle for me like the rich young man in Mark 10:17-31?

Then, after a brief description of Bilbo's parents (and hobbits in general), an unexpected visitor arrives. We know this visitor as Gandalf, and in this particular scene he seems to be a Christ-figure. Bilbo is very hospitable to the stranger, much more than I would have been, but that quickly changes when Gandalf invites him to go on an adventure. What would I have said or done had I been in Bilbo's shoes? Would I have accepted his invitation to adventure? Perhaps, a better question...What do I say to God when He asks me to go on an adventure with Him? Am I willing to step out of my comfort zone and follow Him? Would I have been so willing to drop my nets on the shore like Peter, Andrew, James and John in Mark 1:16-20?

Bilbo, clever hobbit that he is, points Gandalf elsewhere in hopes of being rid of him. "You might try over The Hill or across The Water." This reminds me of Moses and the Burning Bush in Exodus 3 and 4. God gave Moses a job to do (or an adventure to go on if you'd like to look at it that way), but Moses kept coming up with excuses for why he couldn't and in Exodus 4:13 said, "If you please, my Lord, send someone else!" How often am I like Moses or Bilbo in turning down adventures out of fear and not wanting to put myself on the line?

Lastly, Biblo tells Gandalf, "Sorry I don't want any adventures, thank you. Not today. Good morning! But please come to tea - anytime you like! Why not tomorrow? Come tomorrow! Good-bye!" I couldn't think of a Scripture reference for this, but it reminds me of the thought of putting God in a neat little box. We want God in our lives, just like Bilbo on some level wants Gandalf in his life. However, we want God in our lives on our terms. We want to say, "This is God. I understand Him to be X, and never Y. He's here when I need Him, and when I don't I put him away on a shelf until the next time I need Him." God does not work like that though, so don't even try it!

So what did you think of Chapter One in The Hobbit? Read along with me, and comment at the bottom. Also, tune in two weeks for my reflections on Chapter Two!

A special thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt who was generous enough to provide me with the 75th Anniversary Pocket Edition of The Hobbit.

Monday, January 13, 2014

St. Peter's Bones (Image Books)

Relics play an important role among people in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. While they are by no means necessary for salvation, they do aid some people in attaining salvation. How? Christianity was founded 2,000 years ago. Some can accept all the teachings of Sacred Scripture and Tradition on faith alone. Others need some tangible form of proof to help them believe. Relics can provide just such tangible proof for some people.  The relics of Jesus, like His cross or manger, are held in highest regard, followed in importance by relics of His Mother Mary. Beyond that, St. Peter's relics are held in high esteem, especially his bones. The legend of St. Peter's bones has fascinated me for some time, so I was thrilled to receive a copy of  St. Peter's Bones to review.

St. Peter's Bones is a brief book in which Thomas J. Craughwell leads the reader on a journey to find the bones of St. Peter. The book begins with Pope Pius XII's authorization of a thorough excavation of the area under St. Peter's Basilica know as the Vatican Grottoes. From there, the book rushes the reader off on a whirlwind adventure which details Biblical descriptions of Peter the man, historical accounts of St. Peter's bones being lost due to invasion, the dig that occurred in the Grottoes, and the analysis of the results.

Even though we ultimately know that St. Peter's bones were discovered since Pope Francis recently had them on display, parts of the book still had you on the edge of your seat. The passages that most captured my attention dealt with the excavations. As a kid, I grew up wanting to be Indiana Jones and discover Biblical artifacts. Reading this book and the descriptions of the tombs they uncovered was fascinating. For example, one of the tombs had an inscription that read, "Peter, pray to Christ Jesus for the holy Christian men buried near your body." I can't imagine the feeling of exhilaration from discovering this inscription, or the heartbreak when it faded away due to damp atmospheric conditions.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about this book. The content was top notch, but the style of writing was a little scattered to me. Mr. Craughwell's storyline jumps back and forth between the Bible to ancient history to the explorations and excavations that occurred in the 1940s, all seemingly within the same breath. I would have preferred a more orderly approach. For me, the book would have been easier to read had Craughwell talked about Scriptural Peter first and covered that topic thoroughly before moving on to Constantine building St. Peter's Basilica, other historically relevant events, etc. That personal preference aside, this book is still a worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in St. Peter, archaeology, or relics.

I received this book for free from Image Books in exchange for an honest review. Also, for a limited time (until January 31st), if you buy a copy of this book from a retailer, Image Books will send you another copy for free. Click here for more details. As always, if you found this review helpful, please click the link, and hit Yes!

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Big Heart Open to God (HarperOne)

It's been several months since a controversial 12,000 word interview with Pope Francis was published by America Magazine. The media had a field day with it. As opposed to reading the whole interview, journalists extracted bits and pieces and interpreted them to suit their own agenda. Harper Collins has recently published the interview in book format, under the title of A Big Heart Open to God to read at your leisure.

A Big Heart Open to God  is an interview with Pope Francis by Father Antonio Spadaro. This interview was conducted in person over the span of three meetings during August 2013. Like all good interviewers, Fr. Spadaro had a list of questions to ask his interviewee. However, he instead chose to go off-list and asked, "Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?" opening up a level of humility in Pope Francis that we don't often see in global leaders. It takes the Pope some time to answer, but he replies, "I am a sinner," and "I am one who is looked upon by the Lord." We don't often think of the Pope as a sinner, but he is human too. And if the pope can acknowledge his sinfulness, we should be more keenly aware of our sinfulness.

Other topics addressed in this interview include the Jesuits, the role of the Church, Vatican II, and women's place in the Church. When this interview hit the papers, many media hubs extracted isolated comments about the woman's role, and  there was much speculation that Pope Francis favored the ordination of women, but let me assure, he did not say that at all! He did say that women are vitally important to the Church, and we must do a better job defining their role and allowing them to work within their roles. After the interview, this book includes reactions and responses to the Pope's words from people like Cardinal Dolan, Richard Rohr, and Karen Sue Smith. Unfortunately, most of these were not interesting to me, as they seemed lackluster in comparison to the interview that preceded them.

What I did appreciate was the spiritual reflections presented by Fr. Martin at the very end of the book. The reflection questions were both practical and fruitful, and it helped take the interview to a deeper level for me. Overall, I'd give this book 4 out of 5 stars. If you missed out on this interview when it was first published, or if the idea of staring at a computer screen that long to read it was unappealing to you, then I'd recommend this book for you.

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

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Man Cleansed by God (TAN Books)

I have to admit that I am a non-fiction snob. In fact, 99.9% of everything that I read is non-fiction. It's not that I hate ALL fiction works, just most of them. If I am reading fiction, it is probably historical or religious in nature, or at least written more than 50 years ago. I guess that makes me a snob regarding new fiction too. With all that in mind, I have a marvelous fiction book to introduce you to, or perhaps re-introduce you to, if you read it back when it was first released in 1959. It is called A Man Cleansed by God: A Novel Based on the Life of Saint Patrick, and it is written by John Edward Beahn.

A Man Cleansed by God draws on facts and tradition associated with the life of St. Patrick. Using this information and mixing in creative story-telling, Mr. Beahn constructs an exciting biographical novel that makes St. Patrick's tale come to life. He begins by telling of a young 16 year old Patrick, watching the Roman army training. Patrick had a great desire to become one of these infantrymen, but God had other plans for his life. His town was raided by pirates and he was sold to slavery in Ireland. Though, he eventually escaped six years later, he would one day return there as a bishop, and become one of the most important saints in Ireland, and the world.

What I liked best about this book is it showed the struggle of St. Patrick. After being kidnapped, it took a lot of prayer and love for St. Patrick to forgive his captors and return to the land he was taken to, Ireland. Instead of holding onto that anger, though, and seeking revenge, he listened to God and let forgiveness come into his heart. This is an excellent life lesson for children and adults alike. Too often we think that saints are born that way. And while there are some people who are holy their whole life, for the most part, saints have their own struggles and demons to overcome as well. Therefore, we should all strive for sainthood and truly believe that it is attainable through the grace of God.

The book is a very easy and engaging read that will capture audiences from teenager to adult. I can already think of one Irish nun to whom I am going to recommend this book. However, I would go as far as to say that it should be required reading in a Catholic high school or homeschool program.  I feel Mr. Beahn did a nice job of sticking to the heart of the tradition associated with St. Patrick while incorporating facts from St. Patrick's autobiographical work, "Confessions." I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone, and that's coming from someone who generally hate fiction. I can't wait to read the other 3 books he wrote, about St. Anthony. St. Thomas More, and St. Francis de Sales.

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

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Gospel of Luke: Introduction

Today, I start with my introductory lesson to Luke. Multiple Bibles, books, and websites are being used by myself to lead this story, including but not limited to Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, Anselm Academic Study Bible, The Eastern - Greek Orthodox Bible: New TestamentJesus in the Gospel and ActsBringing the Gospel of Luke to Life, Agape Bible Study, and The Gospel of Luke: Good News for the Poor. With that out of the way, let's get started.

Who was St. Luke?
  • Born in Hellenistic city of Antioch
  • Studies included Greek philosophy, medicine, and art
  • Became a professional physician
  • Preached with St. Paul in Rome
  • After St. Paul's martyrdom, he preached throughout Italy, Dalmatia, Macedonia, and other regions.
  • He wrote both a Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.
    • His patron was probably Theophilus, the governor of Achaia
  • Some give him credit for contributing to the Epistles to the Hebrews.
  • Is credited with being the first Christian iconographer. His first icon was of the Mary the Directress. (See below for what a 16th Century icon looks modeled after the original)
  • In his old age, he visited Libya, Egypt, and then returned to Greece.
  • He was hanged at age 84 from an olive tree in the town of Thebes.
    • His relics are divided into three places
    • His tomb is located next to the tree and it has the rib closest to his heart there.
      • The tomb still works miracles, with myrrh appearing on tomb on 12/22/97.
    • His body is in the Abbey of Santa Giustina in Padua
    • His head is in the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague
  • His feast day is October 18th.

If you found this interesting, and would like to read more of the notes from my introductory lesson, send me an email by clicking the button below, and I'll be glad to forward you my notes. I won't make you do this for every lesson. It's just that the rest of my lesson involves tables and charts that I couldn't copy over prettily into Blogger.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Bringing the Gospel of Luke to Life (Our Sunday Visitor)

There are some days where I feel completely lazy - that I accomplish nothing for the entire day. Then there are other days where I wonder if I have bitten off more than I can chew. For example, I have volunteered to lead a Bible study on the Gospel of Luke this year, without a DVD to do most of the work for me. Thankfully, there are great Bibles and books on the market that can help me in my preparation. One of the main books I will be using to help lead my study is called Bringing the Gospel of Luke to Life by George Martin, and it is available at Our Sunday Visitor.

Bringing the Gospel of Luke to Life is a nearly 700 page tome in which George Martin takes the Gospel of Luke and breaks down its meaning, verse-by-verse. Why 700 pages? Well, Luke wasn't exactly short of words either, as he recorded some of the longest chapters in the Bible. In this book, Mr. Martin uses the NAB translation of Luke and places it in his book prior to the commentary.

In addition to providing commentary in his book, Mr. Martin includes several other useful resources in this book. He provides references to complementary Scripture passages. This is especially helpful when comparing passages across Gospels and seeing how they differ. It is also helpful if you want to flip to the Old Testament passage to which Luke refers. The provided reflection questions are also very useful when studying Luke. There are 32 reflections for the first chapter of Luke alone! This is especially helpful for individual or group Bible study. The last resource I mention is also my favorite, the "Background" sections. These sections provide great information for understanding the culture and history during Jesus' day.

Unlike some commentaries, which can get so deep that you feel like you are drowning in theology, this one is very readable. Even though I have not read every page in this book, I can say without a doubt that it is a 5-star book. I plan on using it as one of the main texts to lead my Bible study this year, and feel free to stop by my blog every other Wednesday for notes from my Bible study. If you don't have time to use this as a group study, make a resolution to read Luke this year, and use this book to help you understand it better. At least pick up a copy for when Year C rolls around. After you work your way through this book, you could also pick up its companion book, Bringing the Gospel of Mark to Life.

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

Friday, January 3, 2014

Pillar II: Sacraments (Ascension Press)

Welcome back to Stuart's Study and my first review of 2014. On January 1st, I issued a challenge to my readers to use this year to grow closer to God. There are many ways to accomplish this this, including reading the Bible, praying the Rosary, and reading Catholic books. I would also suggest joining a local Catholic study group or forming one if there isn't one close to where you live. Today, I will be reviewing a great study from THE source for Catholic studies, Ascension Press. It is called Pillar II: Sacraments from their Pillars series, which is a series of studies on the Catechism.

In Pillar II: Sacraments, Dr. Sean Innerst picks up where he left off from the previous study, Pillar I: The Creed. The focus of this second installation is on the liturgy and the sacraments. We learn that God created the world for worship. That's not to say that we are supposed to ignore the unfortunate or ignore evangelization; these two things have their place. However, our ultimate purpose as Creation is to love and worship God our Creator. After establishing the primacy of worship, Dr. Innerst then focuses on the significance of the number seven in the history of Israel and its status as a covenantal number. This leads us to an introduction of the Mass and Sacraments as covenant fulfilments, which memorialize Christ's saving work.

Sessions Two and Three focus on Liturgy, both the history and the actual celebration of it. Sessions Four through Eleven are where we dive into the Sacraments individually. Lastly, Session Twelve discusses sacramentals and funerals. It's hard to pick one section that was the most useful or interesting, as each section builds off the other and proves to be edifying. However, if forced to pick a session, I would cheat and pick the two sessions on the Eucharist. The outlines of the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist were illuminating, and the comparison that shows the Jewish Temple fulfilled in the Mass was astounding!

Dr. Innerst is a superb teacher for this series. His mix of knowledge and presentation make it feel like you are receiving instruction from a trusted elder in the Church, like they did in the days of the New Testament. This is an A+ study on the Catechism, but like Pillar I in this series, it is not one you enter into lightly. There will be a lot of reading and a lot of praying with this study. You can choose to halfway participate and just show up for the DVD sessions, but you will not get even half the benefit you would get from doing the readings as well. Now, I have the hard part of waiting for Pillar III to be released! I can't wait to see what Ascension Press has in store for 2014, but I know it will be awesome!

I received this study for free from Ascension Press in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all my readers! Instead of posting something long book review today, I just wanted to let you all know of what I had planned for the coming year as it relates to my blog.

  1. There will still be book reviews on Monday and Friday. While the majority of my book reviews will continue to primarily be of Catholic books, I hope to be able to continue to review one Catholic children's book, one Orthodox book, and one book that I find beneficial to homeschoolers.
  2. Wednesday I will be adding two new alternating segments. One segment will be my personal reflections on The Hobbit. The other segment will contain the notes of the Bible Study I am leading on the Gospel of Luke. I anticipate both taking a year to complete, so I hope y'all stick around and make lots of comments!
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope everyone has a blessed year, and I also hope that everyone has a concrete resolution to draw them closer to God in 2014. My resolution is to read through the entire Bible, which I will be using my GoBible to assist me. I'll see you all on Friday!