Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Francis Woke Up Early (Gingerbread House)

Francis Woke Up Early is written by Josephine Nobisso, the author of my favorite Catholic children's book ever - The Weight of a Mass. In this book, the author imagines what St. Francis of Assisi would have been like as a little boy? Probably inspired by the tale of Wolf of Gubbio, Francis Woke Up Early tells the tale of a young Francis encountering a she-wolf that had been prowling around and threatening the village. Using his gifts of love, generosity, and the special bond he has with animals, Francis is able to subdue the wolf.

Unlike Ms. Nobisso's other works, there isn't deep and hidden symbolism dripping on every page. It is merely an imagined story of a young saint-to-be. What really caught my attention with this book was the illustrations. Ms. Hyde's work is outstanding and will be sure to captivate you and your young readers! It has been a while since the website for Ms. Nobisso's works has been up and running. I hope she continues to write, especially since we are still waiting for her "tale of love," to complete her trilogy of faith (The Weight of a Mass), hope (Take it to the Queen), and love.

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

Monday, April 28, 2014

Jesus the Bridegroom (Lighthouse Catholic Media and Image Books)

I have discovered a new way to read deeper books that has helped increase my understand exponentially. Lighthouse Catholic Media (those CDs you see in the vestibule of your Church) has hundreds of great talks on CDs. Some of these talks, like Jesus the Bridegroom, coincide with books by the same name.  Today, I will be sharing my experience and review of Dr. Pitre's Jesus the Bridegroom, both the CD, from Lighthouse Catholic Media, and the book from Image Books.

Jesus the Bridegroom is a talk that is about one hour in length; given by Dr. Brant Pitre. Dr. Pitre's aim is to explain how Jesus is the Groom and we, the Church, are the bride. He refers to this as "the greatest love story ever told." Why? Because Jesus' love for us is so great that He gave us His Body and Blood in both the Eucharist and by dying on the Cross for us.

The talk begins with Dr. Pitre explaining that the Bible is like a Shakespeare comedy, because it ends in marriage. He informs us that the entire theme of salvation is nuptial. We see Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, married and one flesh. It then progresses to Moses and the Sinai Covenant. Dr. Pitre explains how God used covenants to prepare His people, Israel, for the divine wedding. Unfortunately, as we know, Israel was not faithful to this covenant and committed adultery. However, God does not abandon His wife, but still wants to save her. Thus, a new marital covenant, an everlasting covenant as referenced in Ezekiel and Isaiah, must be established.

We then move to the New Testament. Dr. Pitre points out that the first sign Jesus performs in the Gospel of John is the water to wine at the Wedding of Cana. This helps to further illustrate the nuptial theme carrying over from Old Testament to New Testament. He then takes the Last Supper and Crucifixion and breaks them open to realize truths I never saw before. For example, Jesus never drank the fourth cup at this Passover meal, thus the Passover was not finished until the Cross when Jesus said I thirst. It is also explained how the Crucifixion is the "wedding day" between Jesus and His bride and the marriage is consummated on the Cross. This really was an excellent introduction to the Bridegroom theology, and served as a great starting off point for Dr. Pitre's book Jesus the Bridegroom.

The book Jesus the Bridegroom is a more detailed version of Dr. Brant Pitre's talk with the same name. Using covenantal theology and an understanding of Jewish custom, Dr. Pitre walks us step-by-step through the divine love story of Jesus and the human race. We begin with the covenant at Mount Sinai where God made Israel His people. Then, we quickly and constantly see Israel fall away and break the covenant, in such instances as the golden calf and their constant forsaking of God to follow false gods.

After that, Dr. Pitre introduces us to the key players. Jesus, of course, is the bridegroom and John the Baptist is the best man. But a groom can't be a groom without a bride. This leads to what I consider the most interesting chapter in the book - "The Woman at the Well." Dr. Pitre compares the story of the Samaritan woman at the well to Old Testament references of women at the well. Isaac's bride was found by Abraham's servant at a well. Both Jacob and Moses met their wives at wells also. In fact, Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. With Jesus approaching this woman at the well, he is extending His love to not only Israel but the whole human race. After this we see Jesus establish a New Covenant at the Last Supper, where He instituted the Eucharist with the twelve apostles who were symbolic of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. We see the actual wedding day on the Crucifixion.

This is an absolutely amazing book. I grew up a good Southern Baptist. I knew my parables, particularly the one of the Ten Virgins, and thus I knew that Jesus was groom; we were His bride; and to always be on the lookout for his Second Coming. What I didn't know is just how deep; how rich the theme of Jesus as the Bridegroom ran not only through the New Testament, but the Old Testament as well. My mind is literally blown and I want to read this book again just to let it sink in further and pick up points I missed. Dr. Pitre is an amazing scholar and, I can't wait to see what he has in store for us next!

I highly recommend both the talk and the book if you want to know more about this subject. The talk serves as a good introduction and whets your appetite. The book fills in details that couldn't be covered completely in the talk. To read an interview with Dr. Pitre, click here. For another great talk by Dr. Pitre, check out Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist and the book by the same name!

The talk was provided to me for free by Lighthouse Catholic Media, and the book for free by Image Books. If you found the review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Genius of John Paul II (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers)

The Genius of John Paul II is a book by Richard A. Spinello. Mr. Spinello is a professor on ethics, social issues in management, and corporate strategy. As someone with an MBA, I was interested to see how someone with his background would touch on the moral wisdom of Pope John Paul II. In a few words, he did it both brilliantly and thoroughly. Drawing from the pope's encyclicals (primarily Fides et Ratio, Veritatis Splendor, and Evangelium Vitae), Spinello compares and contrasts these writings with philosophers both past and present.

Before explaining John Paul II's moral wisdom, Spinello begins by explaining modern "fundamental errors" in ethical thinking, such as relativism and proportionalism. He then discusses topics of faith and reason, the nature of the human person, the good, and ethics. Reading through this book one cannot help but see how the Church's views differ from those of the world. In Pope John Paul II's writings, which reflect the Church's teachings, emphasis is placed on humans being made in God's image; humans having a dignity and primacy above animals, and all human life being valuable. While some books of this nature would do nothing but explain and praise Pope John Paul II's writings, Spinello offers the reader dissenting views. This is invaluable, because not everyone you encounter in your everyday life will agree with you. Therefore, it is important to familiarize yourself with the arguments you could hear.

I had a tough time understanding all of this book, because I am not well-versed in philosophy or moral theology. It didn't help that John Paul II's writings also take some effort to grasp, due to his brilliant philosophical mind. It is for that reason that I found the chapter summaries to be invaluable in helping me understand some of the higher level concepts. This book did make me appreciate the genius that Pope John Paul II was though. It is no wonder he will be a saint, if not a doctor, of the Church soon. It also encouraged me to go back and try to read some of his encyclicals, particularly the ones mentioned above with this book as a detailed guide. If you are interested in the moral wisdom of the Church and John Paul II, I would recommend this book to you. Be sure to pair it with another Spinello work, The Encyclicals of John Paul II: An Introduction and Commentary.

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Saints and Friendly Beasts (Neumann Press)

Back in October 2013, TAN Books did something truly awesome and acquired Neumann Press. In doing so, TAN Books not only acquired a publisher that tripled their selection of children's titles, but Neumann Press also provides a comprehensive homeschooling line. For those unfamiliar with Neumann Press, they specialize in reprinting vintage children's books and homeschooling resources. Some of these series include, Angel Food for Boys and Girls, American Cardinal Readers, and Saints and Friendly Beasts (of which I will be reviewing two of today). Without further ado, here are my reviews.

Saint Martin de Porres and the Mice is a 6'' x 8" hardcover reprint of a 1960s children's classic. It is 45 pages in length with semi-thick paper, and it contains pencil sketches (classic to the 1960s) on almost every page. The book starts off explaining the rough childhood of young Martin. He grew up in a poor family in Peru in the late 1500s. His father left when he was young, and his mother was tasked with raising the children as a single mother. Martin always showed a kindness to all, but especially animals. He would feed and doctor all the hungry and sick animals of the world if he could. We continue on in this story and see Martin gain an education, apprentice as a barber-doctor, and eventually find his true calling as a Lay Brother of the Dominican Order. You may be asking, "What about the mice?" You'll have to buy the book to hear those wonderful tales.

When reading through this book, you will have to instruct your children about the era in which it is written. There are hints of racism that St. Martin must overcome for being black. The language with which St. Martin speaks also comes off uneducated. That doesn't make this book bad. It just means you can use it as a teaching tool for how people viewed black people, both in the late 1500s (when St. Martin lived) and in the 1960s (when this book was published.) I did enjoy the book, and I like the message of loving all of God's creatures, even those as tiny as the mouse. I also liked the message of overcoming obstacles in life, and keeping your soul "shining and white." If I had one thing to change, I would want the title on the spine of the book, so it's easy to pick out on a bookshelf. Highly recommended book for Catholic homeschooling families and those who want to learn more about St. Martin de Porres.

Saint Germaine and the Sheep is also a 6" x 8" hardcover reprint of a 1960s classic. It is 48 pages in length with semi-thick paper, and it contains pencil sketches (classic to the 1960s) on almost every page. The book starts off with children gathering around a young shepherdess named Germaine and asking her for a story. Germaine was born with a skin disease and a withered hand in Pibrac, France in the late 1500s. Despite her unattractive appearance, the children who love her and her stories don't notice, because she is so beautiful on the inside. Unfortunately, her mother died at a young age and her father remarried a nasty woman who was mean to Germaine. To make matters worse, villagers accused Germaine of false piety with the logic that a pious person would not be ugly. How wrong they were.

Being a shepherdess was mostly rewarding for Germaine, but she missed being able to go to Mass often. Eventually, she decided she just had to go to Mass, and she found a way to keep the sheep safe while she went to church. You'll have to buy the book to find out how. This went on for a while, and she grew holier and her step-mother and the villagers grew nicer toward Germaine. Your children will learn many lessons from this book, but two stood out to me most of all. The first lesson is to always put God first in everything. The second lesson is to not judge someone by outward appearances. I have nothing negative to say about the content of this book, but like the other books in this series, I wish that the title were written on the spine. That small lament aside, I still highly recommend this book for all Catholic families.

These books were provided to be my by Neumann Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found the reviews helpful, please click here or here and hit Yes!

Monday, April 21, 2014

On a Mission: Lessons from St. Francis de Sales (Servant Books)

On a Mission: Lessons from St. Francis de Sales begins by describing some of the hardships St. Francis de Sales encountered on his missionary journey to the Chablais region of France. From having to live in a "safe house," to travelling by night in cold weather to perform his priestly duties, to sleeping in a tree with vicious dogs at the base trying to tear him to shreds, St. Francis de Sales did not have an easy job as a priest. Like St. Paul, whom Mr. Madrid mentions later in the book, St. Francis de Sales had a hard life as an apostle for Christ. However, both persevered and continued on their mission. That is one of the recurring themes in this book. No matter how tough it gets, God will give you strength to complete the mission He has given you.

We are then given other examples of apostles for the Lord, including St. John Vianney, St. Francis Assisi, St. Francis Xavier, Frank Sheed, and Pope Francis. )It seems Mr. Madrid is a big fan of the name Francis.) Some lessons for witnessing you will learn from these great men include cultivating humility, finding common ground, never make assumptions, and asking vital questions. He also makes his own personal recommendations for Catholic reading to "get up to speed your knowledge of the Faith." After all, you cannot very well teach or spread the Faith, if you do not understand it yourself. Some of these works include the Bible, the Catechism, Handbook of Catholic Apologetics, and Theology for Beginners. There are countless other books he could have mentioned, but I didn't find myself disagreeing with any on his list.

This is a solid book on what it means to be an apostle for Jesus. Not only do you get great lessons on what to do and more importantly, what not to do, you also get concrete examples from some great men of the Faith. I will admit that parts of it came off a bit "Protestant," particularly the story of Sonny in Chapter 2. But perhaps it feels Protestant to me, because witnessing for Jesus is a main tenant of Protestantism, but Catholics never talk about it and shy away from it. Just remember that God doesn't call the equipped; He equips the called. And we're all called to be apostles for Jesus. We as Catholics cannot continue to try and excuse ourselves out of the role of witnesses anymore. If you're looking for a down-to-earth guide for being a witness, this is it.

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

The One-Minute Aquinas (Sophia Institute Press)

I have a confession to make. I have never read much of St. Thomas Aquinas. I tried early on after my conversion, but his writing was too deep and too abstract for me that I quickly set it aside and never returned to him again. I have another confession to make. I'm not terribly disappointed that I haven't returned to his writings. St. Thomas Aquinas was a brilliant saint, and regarded by many as one of the smartest men ever. However, I know I still don't have the patience to slowly read through St. Aquinas. Therefore, I had trepidations when I received The One-Minute Aquinas to review.

The One-Minute Aquinas is Dr. Vost's attempt to make St. Thomas Aquinas' writings understandable to the masses. Instead of using the line-by-line approach of walking through the Summa Theologica, Dr. Vost instead focuses on important questions Aquinas answered in his writing. Topics include, but are not limited to, salvation, the Trinity, sin, free will, and evil in the world. The beauty of this book is that you can choose to read it from beginning to end or simply skip to topics, which are of interest to you. I chose the latter approach.

One chapter that particularly caught my interest was "Your Soul and its Eleven Passions." Thomas Aquinas divided the passions into two main groups - "concupiscible appetite, fueled by love, whereby we have affinity for good and are repelled by evil; and the irascible appetite, which motivates us to remove difficult obstacles to the attainment of what we love." In the concupiscible appetite category are the passions of love, desire, joy, hatred, aversion, and sorrow. And in the irascible appetite category are the passions of hope, despair, daring, fear, and anger. The chapter then goes on to offer a remedy for sorrow and later it contrasts anger and hatred. In this latter subject, he shows how both anger and hatred are wrong, but states that "hatred is more incurable than anger." It really makes you think twice before you casually say that you hate someone.

Getting to the heart of Aquinas' writings and making them accessible for the average person is not an easy feat, but Dr. Vost does a fine job...and in under 300 pages! Included in this book are flow charts and tables to help better illustrate ideas more clearly than just reading through paragraph after paragraph of text. There is also a bit of humor in little asides called "Dumb Ox Box." Some topics in these boxes include "Is it a sin to be boring?" and "Is it a sin to drink wine?" Though I wasn't the intended audience for this book, I see the merit in this book and think that it will have mass appeal to seminarians, philosophy majors, or just those who want to better understand the Angelic Doctor. If I ever feel the need to try and read St. Thomas Aquinas, this is the first book I will reach for.

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chosen: Your Journey Toward Confirmation Blog Tour

As a convert who married a cradle Catholic, my Confirmation experience was much different than my wife's experience. She was confirmed with a group of her classmates, people she knew, in 8th Grade. I was confirmed on an Easter Vigil in my 20s, with a group of people I didn't know. What's more is our children have the potential to have a different experience than both of us. Our archdiocese has bumped the age of Confirmation back to 11th Grade to encourage children to have a more active part in their salvation. There is also the hope that we won't have a high disappearance rate from adolescence to adulthood. Unfortunately, the change happened before guidelines and teaching materials were developed. FORTUNATELY, Ascension Press has developed just such a program for Confirmation called Chosen!

As someone who reluctantly taught 7th Grade Religious Education before (and lived to tell about it), I know first hand how tough it can be to reach teens. It takes knowledge of the Faith, love of the Faith, and a dynamic personality to keep them engaged and interested. Therefore, I knew that in order for Chosen to succeed, it would need an amazing line up of young, dynamic Catholic speakers. Well, how do the names Jason Evert, Chris Stefanick, and Leah Darrow (just to name a few) strike you? Can you say JACKPOT?! Ascension Press did a marvellous job selecting a veritable Who's Who of awesome Catholic speakers for this project!

I also love that this series is filmed both in the U.S. and internationally. It reminds me a bit of Fr. Barron's Catholicism series in this regard. Your teens will be transported to places like Rome and New Orleans (Sorry Brian Butler, but New Orleans didn't invent Mardi Gras, Mobile, AL did!) all while learning the tenets of the Catholic Faith. But what will they be learning you ask? With 2000 years of history, there is an unending wealth of knowledge they could learn. Chosen, however, focuses on topics that matter both to teens and in the grand scheme of life. They'll learn about God, Jesus, Mary, Salvation History, the Sacraments, and even Chastity!

Each lesson (24 in all) is only 15-25 minutes long. At first, I was like, "This isn't enough time to teach all the beauty that Catholicism has to offer." After having some time to think about it, I now see that when I was their age 15-25 minutes can feel like an eternity. So it makes total sense to keep the videos, brief, powerful, engaging, and lively! I tried to put myself in a teenager's shoes and figure out which video would have spoke the most to the teenage version of me, but then I realized that was foolish. Teenagers, like all people, have different interests and different tastes. So I just decided to pick what spoke the most to me now and that was the last two videos, "How do I build the kingdom?" and "Where do I go from here?" The answers to these questions were pertinent for both teenagers and adults. We all need to become great; become more like Jesus, and do our job to bring people to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith!

Apart from the great videos, there are also great workbooks and guides. I've used Ascension Press' study programs before, and they always deliver high quality resources. They went the extra step this time though. Normally, you get a Leader's Guide and a Student Workbook. However, with Chosen, there is also a Parent's Guide AND a Sponsor's Guide. With this all-encompassing approach, everyone in the process is involved and educated, not just the child being confirmed. This program is not a one-size fits all magic pill that will fix all your Confirmation woes, but let's be program is. This is definitely a valuable tool that can be utilized by all, and your parish would do well to invest in it. I know I will be recommending this to our Director of Religious Education (DRE) and all DREs I know in my Archdiocese.

If you'd like to see a trailer for Chosen, check out the video below:

In case you missed any of the previous blog tour days, here you go. There's interviews, giveaways, and great perspectives from some of the world's best Catholic bloggers.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Behold the Mystery (Word Among Us Press)

Each season that passes I get dozens upon dozens of books to review. Some are requested by me. Others are sent in the hope that I will review them. I generally like to request the books I review, because I know and trust the author's. Occasionally though, I am pointed toward an author I have never heard of and wish I had heard of them sooner. Mark Hart is one of those authors. Those of you who already know him, know what I am talking about. Those who don't...well, let's just say,  he's not called the Bible Geek for nothing. Today, I am pleased to be reviewing his latest book, Behold the Mystery.

Behold the Mystery is a ten chapter, 200 page book on the Mass. Using the Bible as the backbone for this work, Hart explains the significance of topics such as tradition, priesthood, and community, to name a few. At the end of each chapter are four questions for both reflection and discussion. These can be used privately or in a group study, but each question really makes you stop and think. At the end of the book are two useful appendices. One appendix contains Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), which are good for answering common questions of objections people have related to the Mass. The other appendix, "Ten Ways to Get More out of Mass," is solid gold advice, which  I hope to take to heart and apply each time I go to Mass.

Chapter Five on priesthood was hands-down my favorite as it provided both Biblical background for the priesthood and an eye-opening reality of the current priestly vocation. He writes, "The priesthood of Jesus Christ is an exercise in self-mastery and is rooted in deep mystery. It is enigmatic and often misunderstood. It has both a practical and a mystical dimension – earthly in its demands and ethereal in its directives." In this chapter, he describes the priest as a servant, as the sacrifice, and as a sinner. We too often put our priests on pedestals, but we have to remember that they our human too. This ties into his last major point of helping our priests. He says that we not only need to pray for them daily, whether we like them or not, but also assist them with other parish duties. For example if you have a finance background, offer assistance in that way. "The best way for our priests (and religious) to keep their primary vocations primary is for them to be healthy spiritually, mentally, and physically."

Behold the Mystery is a book that reflects its title so eloquently. Though it contains a step-by-step walkthrough of the Mass, this book is so much more than that. Mark Hart has poured his love of Christ and the Mass He instituted on these pages. While he hopes that the reader will grow to understand the Mass more fully, he also hopes that he will grow to love the Mass more fully as well.This is a great read for young and old, alike. I would recommend it for RCIA candidates, especially, but there is so much truth in here that will benefit cradle Catholics as well.

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

Friday, April 11, 2014

Why John is Different (Scepter Publishers)

Over the past several years, I have belonged to a Bible Study group that studied the Gospel of John and immediately followed that with the Book of Revelation. We primarily used the Agape Bible Study, which was hit or miss for me. I was looking for a Catholic book on John and/or Revelation that I could read and reference. Fortunately, I finally found the book I was looking for in Why John is Different. Unfortunately, the Bible Study is almost over. Nevertheless, I am still pleased to own this book.

When I requested to review a copy of Why John is Different, I thought I would be getting a book that explains how and why the Gospel of John is different from the three Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. However, what I actually got was that and so much more. The author, Fr. Juan Chapa, not only covers John's Gospel in this book; he also addresses John's three Epistles and the Book of Revelation. For those unfamiliar with Fr. Chapa, he is the current director of the Navarre Bible project. The Navarre Bible project is a great Bible series that includes the RSV text, commentaries, and explanations of the text. If you are a serious Catholic Bible student, you'll want that series. That's another review, though.

Why John is Different begins by putting the works of John in their historical context. Fr. Chapa examines the Johannine community; Christianity in the First Century; and the background for John's writings, like conflict with Judaism and the emergence of Gnostic thought. He then dives into the meat of the book, which is broken into three parts - The Fourth Gospel, The Letters, and Revelation. As to be expected, the Gospel receives the most attention in this book with 7 of the 10 chapters devoted to it. The first three chapters discuss authorship and apostolic testimony; similarities and differences between John and the Synoptics; and the overall content and structure of the Gospel.

We then jump into the meaty parts of the book with chapters 4-6. These chapters cover the signs Jesus performed, Jesus' famous discourses, and Jesus' Passion. I particularly enjoyed reading about the Bread of Life discourse. This passage in John 6:26-59 is a hotly debated passage. Oddly enough proponents of Sola Scriptura try and pass this off as Jesus speaking metaphorically. For those of us blessed enough to belong to a rich Tradition of the Catholic Church, it is clear that Jesus is speaking of the Eucharist. Fr. Juan Chapa says, "Jesus shows that he now is food not only as the Word of the Father (the teaching of God) but insofar as his flesh and blood are food for mankind. After recapitulating the previous ideas of the discourse (see 6:48-50); he affirms that he is the Bread and gives himself as Bread to be eaten."

This book is the perfect text for those looking to dive deeper into the writings of St. John. Represented symbolically as the eagle, St. John's writings "soar to the heights of the divinity, just as the eagle soars upward to the sun." With this book, you will understand not only how John's Gospel (and other writings) differ from the Synoptics, but why they have the insight and theology they do. It should be noted, however, that this is not a verse-by-verse explanation of these writings. You will therefore want to pair this book with a trusted Bible commentary, like the Navarre Bible to get the full effect. So if the writings of John have ever puzzled or intimidated you, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of this book and be intimidated no more!

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

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Our Holy Father the Pope and John Paul II: The Journey of a Saint (Magnificat and Ignatius Press)

It's the second week in April. Holy Week and Easter will be here you know it. The Sunday after Easter (now known as Divine Mercy) promises to be an awesome celebration in Rome. Why? Pope Francis will be canonizing two holy men - Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. To celebrate this important day and to educate our young Catholics on the office of Pope and Pope John Paul II in particular, Magnificat and Ignatius Press have released two gorgeous hardcover books - Our Holy Father, the Pope and John Paul II: The Journey of a Saint.

Our Holy Father, the Pope is an illustrated-hardcover book that introduces your children to the papacy and four influential popes (not counting Peter). The first half of the book is dedicated solely to St. Peter. In these sections, your children will learn about who Peter was, how he got his name, and how he became the first Pope and Bishop of Rome. Your children will also read abbreviated Scripture passages in which Peter appears, including him walking on water, him denying Jesus, and him being given the keys to the Kingdom. They will also learn about his martyrdom and being crucified upside down.

The next part of the book focuses highlights four important popes - Clement I, Leo the Great, Pius X, and John Paul II. Each page includes a brief biography of who they were before they became pope, why they were important popes, and their feast days. These were all good choices, and there are dozens that could have been chosen in addition to these four. In fact, I wish they would have highlighted more than four, but there is a limit on how many pages you can put in a book. The last section explains what the pope does, where he lives, and how the new pope is selected. With watercolor-like illustrations on every page and a thorough guide to the papacy, your children will be educated about who the pope is in no time. 5 stars!

John Paul II: The Journey of a Saint is another exceptional graphic novel illustrated by Dominique Bar. You might recognize the name, as he illustrated Saint Bernadette: The Miracle of Lourdes and Saint Joan of Arc: Quest for Peace. This graphic novel actually begins with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. In the following year, Karol Wojtyla is born. We then get a glimpse of what looks like a typical childhood - a boy who plays sports, loves adventures, and goes to school. Tragedy soon strikes though when 9-year old Karol's mother dies at the young age of 45. We then see Karol growing up in Poland and having to deal with World War II and Communist Russia.

About halfway through the graphic novel, the papal election occurs and Karol becomes Pope John Paul II. We then get to see aspects of his papacy that made him so popular, including his many trips to other countries, World Youth Day, the multiple saints he canonized, and just his love of people. We see a lighter side of the Pope who still goes skiing with friends, and we see a near tragedy in an assassination attempt. Most importantly though, we see Jesus in everything that John Paul II said, did, and lived. Apart from the compelling biography, the illustrations were astounding! Dominique Bar did a magnificent job aging Pope John Paul II. Toward the end of this graphic novel, you could see the pain on the pages. It was like re-living his last days again.

I don't have enough good things to say about this book. As a fan of graphic novels, I found myself reading it and re-reading it. I was so absorbed I did not want to put it down. This book would make a perfect gift for teens or children who barely remember or never got to know who Pope John Paul II was. He is a prime example of a recent man who became a saint and an excellent role model. Although this book is designed for children, I see an audience for it with young adults as well, especially those who grew up with Pope John Paul II as the only pope they knew. It's also hardcover, so you know it will last for years to come! 5 stars!

These books were provided to me for free by Ignatius Press in exchange for honest reviews. If you found these reviews helpful, click here and here and hit Yes!

Monday, April 7, 2014

New Beginning, New Hope (Our Sunday Visitor)

It's been a little over a year since Cardinal Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis. Since that historic election, the media (both secular and Catholic) have had this man under a microscope. Secular media has twisted his words, such as, "Who am I to judge?" in an attempt to push a liberal agenda. Catholic and secular media have turned every day actions of humility, like embracing the sick or going to Confession, into epic acts that no one has ever done before. The media sends the message anytime they praise Pope Francis that Pope Benedict was in some way lacking, which is patently false. Therefore, I would like to invite you to turn off the TV, stop listening to what others are saying about Pope Francis, and read or listen to what Pope Francis is saying! One way to do that is by reading New Beginning, New Hope.

New Beginning, New Hope is a collection of homilies and General Audiences from the first few months after Pope Francis' election in 2013. The book begins on Palm Sunday and concludes on Pentecost Sunday, so you get homilies for Holy Week to the end of Easter, with the exception of Ascension Thursday. When reading through these talks, one can see clear themes of joy, newness, and hope. Pope Francis says on Palm Sunday, "Do not be men and women of sadness: a Christian can never be sad! Never give way to discouragement!" He then encourages us to remember our joy is in Christ, and to not despair when problems occur, because that is when the Devil tries to enter our lives.

Another section that stood out to me was his Easter Vigil homily. In his message, Pope Francis ponders the myrrh-bearing women and what they must have felt when they arrived at Jesus' empty tomb. Referring to Jesus' Resurrection Pope Francis says, "Newness often makes us fearful, including the newness that God brings us, the newness that God asks of us...We are afraid of God's surprises...Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives!" These are powerful words, which we would do well to meditate on. This leads to the final message I gleaned from this book on hope. "The Risen Lord is the hope that never fails, that never disappoints (cf. Rom 5:5). Hope does not let us down - the hope of the Lord!" We must not put our hope in earthly things, but in the Lord. That is the only way we can be assured that we will never be disappointed.

If you are looking for a book to read this coming Holy Week and Easter, I recommend New Beginning, New Hope. Each chapter ranges from two to five pages in length, so you won't find yourself frantically reading pages trying to keep up with it, so you finish by Pentecost Sunday. And the best part is that it contains the actual words spoken by Pope Francis, not some sound byte taken out of context. Then, once you've completed this book, read another! I recommend Only Love Can Save Us. This is another set of homilies and talks Pope Francis gave, but these were collected from before he was pope.

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

Friday, April 4, 2014

Promise and Fulfillment (St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology)

Promise and Fulfillment is the 8th Volume in the Letter and Spirit series. For those of you unfamiliar with the Letter and Spirit series, it is an annual journal series of Catholic Biblical Theology with Dr. Scott Hahn as the editor. I am proud to say that I own all released volumes, and the first thing I do when I receive the volume is flip it over and read the list of contributors on the back cover. Like the volumes before it, Promise and Fulfillment contains articles by Dr. Hahn, Dr. Edward Sri, Dr. Sean Innerst, and Dr. Brant Pitre to name a few. I knew from those names alone that this Volume was not going to disappoint.

The whole of this volume addresses the Old Testament and New Testament, how they relate to each other, and how the New Testament fulfills the Old Testament. For example, Dr. Pitre talks about Jesus' Messianic Wedding Banquet and compares it to a banquet thrown by King Hezekiah in 2nd Chronicles. Dr. Sri discusses the Marian typology of Mary as Daughter Zion and Queen Mother. Both of these can be found in numerous Old Testament passages. Particularly of interest to me in this article was the idea of Queen Mother. I have recently learned that in ancient times, because the king had numerous wives, but only one mother, the mother was in fact the queen, not a wife. For that reason, Jesus' queen would be His own mother, Mary. Explaining this to Protestants might open their minds and hearts more to Mary and hopefully erase some of their prejudices.

It's hard to pick a favorite article in this volume as each was well-written and full of high theology. However, I did enjoy reading Dr. Leroy Huizenga's article, "The Tradition of Christian Allegory Yesterday and Today." I learned about the School of Alexandria and their use of Christian allegory several years ago and have been fascinated by it every since. Unfortunately, most Christian scholars look down on allegory, so it was refreshing to read a modern-day defense of it. Dr. Huizenga wasn't saying that we should abandon all other forms of interpretation, nor was he saying to use only the the historical-critical method. Instead, he advocates use of the four senses method described in the Catechism paragraphs 115-119 and shows the use of allegorical interpretation in the West from Sts. Irenaeus, Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas. He also spends some time highlighting allegorical passages in the New Testament, particularly Luke 24:13-35, which deals with Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

Promise and Fulfillment may only be 245 pages, but it packs a punch. You can tell that each article was carefully researched and written to provide the reader a detailed link between the Old and New Testament. Like the previous volumes in this journal series, it is worthy of a 5-star rating. However, it is not for the beginning Catholic to pick up and read. This food is spiritual meat for the advanced Catholic looking to grow deeper and more fully in his understanding of the Catholic faith. Therefore, if you pick up this journal, I recommend a slow and careful chewing so that you may fully digest every word.

This book was provided to me for free by the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Meditations for Holy Week and The Miracle of the Red Egg (Ancient Faith Publishing)

Another month has come and gone, and we are at the beginning of April. Where did the time go?! Not only is my son almost 1 year old, but Easter is rapidly approaching as well! Today, I have two Orthodox books to share with you. One focuses on Holy Week and is aimed for adults. The other focuses on Easter, and while intended for children, is suitable for kids and adults alike! Without further ado, here are the reviews.

Meditations for Holy Week is the third book in Fr. Vassilos Papavassiliou's "Meditations" series, with the previous two being Meditations for Great Lent and Meditations for Advent. The book is divided into two parts. Part I is "The Bridegroom Service," which covers Great and Holy Monday through Great and Holy Wednesday and Part II is "The Lord's Passion, Death, and Resurrection," which covers Great and Holy Thursday through Great and Holy Pascha.

The book is rich with hymns and readings from the liturgical services of Holy Week, which Fr. Papavassiliou meditates on to draw us deeper into this most sacred week of the Church year. Many will focus on Thursday through Sunday as this is where the "joyful sorrow" reaches its pinnacle with the Crucifixion and Resurrection. That is perfectly fine. There are sections in this book that all Christians, not just Orthodox, would do well to read, particularly Chapter 9 "The Suffering Servant." Many Christians and non-Christians have the wrong idea about Christ's words, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Fr. Papavassiliou first explains that this was a cry of pain. Christ was both fully divine and fully human after all, so to imagine that He experienced no pain on the cross is absurd. We then receive the explanation of Christ's words. He was not despairing, but instead was praying or reciting Psalm 21/22. This psalm is a prophecy of His Crucifixion, but it is not a psalm of despair. Christ was not murdered, but freely sacrificed His life for our salvation.

Despite the depth and beauty of Thursday through Sunday, I felt myself being drawn more to the meditations for Monday through Wednesday. As a Roman Catholic, we don't focus on these days much in our liturgical year. They just kind of blend into Lent until Holy Thursday arrives. For that reason, it was interesting to read how the Orthodox celebrate during this time. I was truly fascinated by the Parable of the Ten Virgins and the theme of Christ as the Bridegroom. Since the Bridegroom theme is one that focuses on Christ's Second Coming, we don't usually make the connection of Lent and Second Coming. However, we must be reminded that "The Suffering Servant will come again as Judge, and so we are exhorted to repent that we may not be shut out of 'the bridal chamber' of Christ (the Kingdom of heaven)."

This is the perfect meditation book to get you through Holy Week and is a worthy companion piece to Meditations for Great Lent. Fr. Papavassiliou once again shows himself to be a brilliant mind. He conveys the beauty of the Church seasons in easy to understand language and does so without watering down the message. We can only hope that he continues this series and give us a Meditations for Pascha or Meditations for the Twelve Great Feasts. Five stars.

The Miracle of the Red Egg is another fabulous children's book from Elizabeth Crispina Johnson. Drawing on tradition, Ms. Johnson explains the story of Mary Magdalene and the first "Easter egg." For those unfamiliar with the story, it centers around Mary Magdalene attending a feast hosted by the unbelieving Emperor Tiberius. Unable to contain her joy of the Resurrected Jesus, she tells guests seated near her, and word quickly reaches the ears of the Emperor. In disgust and disbelief he proclaims, "Do you see this egg? I declare that Jesus can no more have risen from the dead, than this egg could turn blood red." To everyone's amazement, the egg did turn red.

The book is an absolute treasure. It makes a perfect and unique Easter gift for your children instead of peeps and chocolate bunnies. There are beautiful illustrations on every page with what I would describe as colored pencil sketches. Additionally, at the end of the book, your children will see icons for Pascha and Mary Magdalene. There is also the Kontakion of Mary Magdalene and the Blessing of the Eggs. So if you're sick of the Easter Bunny or just want your children to have a more religious meaning behind Easter eggs, you'll want a copy of this book. If you are interested in dying your own eggs red, be sure to check out Ancient Faith Publishing for a $6 kit to get your eggs a deep, rich color. Also, be sure to check out Ms. Johnson's other books, And Then Nicholas Sang and What Do You Hear, Angel.

These books were provided to me for free by Ancient Faith Publishing in exchange for an honest review. If you found the reviews helpful, please click here and here and hit Yes!