Friday, May 29, 2015

Orpheus in the Underworld (TOON Books)

Orpheus in the Underworld is the second volume from TOON Books in their Greek mythology graphic novel series by Yvan Pommaux. The first one was Theseus and the Minotaur, which I had the pleasure of reviewing last September. The tale of Orpheus is one that mythology buffs, like my wife, will recognize. I, however, needed a refresher course, and this book proved to be just the ticket. Orpheus was the son of the king of Thrace and Calliope, who was one of the nine muses. After he was born, Calliope had to return to Mount Olympus to entertain the gods, so she asked Apollo to give Orpheus his lyre. Orpheus' musical talent was natural and passed down from his mother. One day Orpheus was performing and fell in love with Eurydice. They were married, but she died very early. He therefore decided to follow her down to the underworld and try and bring her back. You'll have to buy the book to see if he succeeds!

Overall, the illustration style was very pleasing to the eye. The story was a mixture of narration blocks and character interactions with the traditional bubble text. A pleasant surprise for me was that the complaints I had about Theseus and the Minotaur were not present in this book. There was a love story, but the story didn't have sexual overtones like in Theseus. The story stayed true to the original myth and didn't try to change it or make it modern, which I always appreciate. Lastly, there were phonetic pronunciations of the hard to say Greek names; an index of characters and places; and even a further reading list! I highly recommend this book, and I can't wait to see what the third volume will be in this series!

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Following Egeria (Ancient Faith Press)

When I first received the book Following Egeria, I wasn't sure what to make of it honestly. I thought to myself, "What kind of spiritual discipline is this Egeria?" I trusted the publisher (Ancient Faith Publishing) and am a fan of the author (Lawrence Farley), so I decided to give the book a chance. Looking at the back of the book, showed how foolish I was to WHO, not what Egeria was. Egeria was a nun from the 4th Century. While she was alive, she made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and kept a diary of her time there. Fr. Lawrence Farley decided to follow in some of her footsteps and recorded his travels in this book.

The places visited by Fr. Farley include Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Judea, Bethany, and Galilee to name a few. Each chapter begins with a quote from Egeria on what she saw when she was there. Fr. Farley then offers his personal reflections on the location, provides Scriptural descriptions of what occurred there, and historical changes that occurred through the centuries. The most interesting chapter for me was "Recovering the Via Dolorosa." In this chapter, Fr. Farley attempts to find the true path that Jesus would have walked from His condemnation by Pilate to His Crucifixion. In this chapter, he debunks the widely accepted Via Dolorosa by telling us stop by stop which churches are wrong n their claims of what happened. For example, the Ecce Homo Basilica is not where the Roman soldiers played dice for Jesus' belongings.

I have read several books on Holy Land pilgrimages in the past year, and I will probably continue to read them until I make it there myself. The concept for this book was unique in that Fr. Farley tried to follow in some of the steps of Egeria. However, I would have preferred if the book was presented in the same order as Egeria's travels. I also think this book could have been better if it came with some pictures that Fr. Farley took. This would have the book more living and breathing. Overall, I'd give this book 4 out of 5 stars. It was interesting, but it could have been much more. I would recommend it, but I would recommend reading Egeria's diary as well, either online for free or purchasing from Amazon.

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!

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Catholic Almanac and Would you Baptize an Extraterrestrial? (Image Books)

Image Books is a publisher I'm pretty loyal too. When I first started my blog, they were one of the companies that took a chance on me and provided me with free review copies of books. I don't always agree with everything that they publish, but I could say that about each and every publisher. Today, I am going to be featuring two of their Fall 2014 books, and yes I am embarrassed it took me this long to review them. The two books are The Catholic Almanac and Would you Baptize an Extraterrestrial?.

The Catholic Almanac is more than a book. It is a daily journey through American Catholic history. Each of the 365 days highlights a specific Catholic person and something that ties them to that specific date (birth, death, ordination, etc.). For example on January 15, 1844, the Indiana Legislature granted Fr. Edward Sorin a college charter, and that was the birth of Notre Dame. The beauty of this book is that there are both famous and ordinary people highlighted in this book; people who were great Catholics and people who had some general connection to Catholics. Some of the names in this book are John F. Kennedy, Al Capone, and Jack Kerouac to name a few.

The book is what I call an appetizer book. It whets your appetite, gets you interested in a specific person/subject, and hopefully leads you to read more about the specific person/subject. The best use of this book I see is in a Catholic classroom or a homeschool setting. It is also just an interesting read if you are a history buff. Just so we're clear, this book is not a devotional, but it is a book you can read after your daily devotional (if you are the daily devotional type). Another minor pet peeve of mine is that there is no February 29th. I know it only comes up every four years, but it would have been nice to have unless nothing interesting was found for that day. Four stars!

Would you Baptize an Extraterrestrial? is a unique book in conversation style between two Jesuits, Brother Guy Consolmagno and Father Paul Mueller, who work on the research staff at the Vatican Observatory. The fact that the Vatican has an observatory is pretty awesome in and of itself. There are six conversations in all:

1. Biblical Genesis or Scientific Big Bang?
2. What Happened to Poor Pluto?
3. What Really Happened to Galileo?
4. What Was the Star of Bethlehem?
5. What's Going to Happen When the World Ends?
6. Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?

Questions Four was most interesting to me, as I have read many explanations on the Star of Bethlehem before. Brother Guy and Father Paul address most of the planetary alignment theories and the possibility of the star being a nova or supernova. They never tell you what the answer is, because honestly they don't know the answer. Instead, they show you that science is able to provide a lot of possible explanations to something that so many people doubt. (I personally believe that it was the Holy Spirit and not a physical star, but to each their own.) This book isn't going to give you simple black and white answers to these complicated questions. Instead, it is going to invite you to stop trying to separate and compartmentalize science and faith from one another and look at these questions in light of both. This is just one of the ways the Catholic Church is more beautiful than Protestantism. We aren't a "one or the other" church, but a "both and" church.

Overall, I would give this book four stars. It is intelligent, but accessible. It is clever, but conversational. At times when they went off topic to talk about pizza or whatever, I found myself wishing they would stick to the matter at hand, and that is why I took a star away from it. These men, however, know what they are talking about, so I can see this broadly appealing to a wide audience. It might not answer all your questions, but it will open your mind and make you think more, which is never a bad thing.

These two books were provided to me for free by Image Books in exchange for an honest review. If you found the reviews helpful, click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Pope John XXIII

Pope John XXIII, also known as the Smiling Pope, was a pope elected to be a caretaker. No one expected him to do much, being elected shortly before his 77th birthday, but they were wrong. In 1962, four years after his election, he called the Second Vatican Council, the most recent ecumenical council to date. He was recently canonized on April 27, 2014 alongside another great pope in Pope John Paul II. After Pope John XXIII's canonization, two books came out to celebrate this great man's life and legacy. Today, I would like to tell you about both of them.

The Story of Pope John XXIII is a graphic novel illustrated by Joe Sinnott. For those of you unfamiliar with Joe Sinnott, he is a comic book artist (primarily an inker) who is known for his work with Marvel, primarily the Fantastic Four. To those of us comic book lovers, his work is legendary. In 1962, he began work on The Story of Pope John XXIII. Last year, through a Kickstarter campaign, they were able to bring these comics back to life in a beautiful 10" x 15" hardcover.

The story is divided into nine chapters or issues. The first chapter discusses what John XXIII was like as a pope. Reading through this section, we get a better insight into what kind of leader he was. You can also see a lot of similarities between his papacy and those of John Paul I and Francis. By this, I mean that he cared about the laity and went out of his way to interact with them, talk with them, and bless them. The other chapters of the book covers Pope John XXIII's life both as a child and as he moved up the ranks from priest, to bishop, to cardinal. The final chapter discusses every so briefly how a new pope is elected and shows him being announced as the new pope.

This book is visually stunning to behold. The size of the panels and the attention to detail are impeccable and you can truly see an artist at work in this book. Though I was not alive for the reign of Pope John XXIII, I find myself more in admiration of him after reading this book. This is a book I have shared with others and will treasure for years to come. I hope my son will too when he is older. In addition to the featured comic, there is also some bonus features at the end, primarily a few comic strips on the pope that followed John XXIII, that being Pope Paul VI. If you would like a copy of this book, you won't find it on Amazon. Simply go to Joe Sinnott's page and email his son using the email address at the top of the page for cost and shipping charges. Also, I forgot to mention that the book is autographed! Maybe that won't matter to you, but it's a cool touch for nerds like me.

Just for Today is a hardcover illustrated children's book, which was a daily set of rules of Pope John XXIII. It begins by telling us that Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) declared at his First Communion that he always wanted to be good to people. In this book, he talks about what he will and will not do today. It focuses on self-improvement, not the improvement of others. There is also talk of taking it one day at a time and resting in God knowing that He loves you. It is a simple book with a simple message, but the message is powerful. In fact, it is a book I feel children and adults should read at least once a day. About the only thing I don't like about the book is the illustration style. I can't put my finger on it, but I'm just not a fan. Overall, I give this book 4 out of 5 stars and think the message of this book puts it in the category of must have for a Catholic home.

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Early Syriac Theology (CUA Press)

When we think of the Church, we think of the Roman West and Greek East. While this is the majority of the Church, it also overlooks an important branch - the Syriac. In the recent book, Early Syriac Theology, Chorbishop Seely Joseph Beggiani draws on the words and writings of St. Ephrem the Syrian and Jacob of Serugh to explain a number of theological topics through the lens of Syriac Christianity. There are twelve chapters/topics total including Mary, The Church, Incarnation, and Revelation to name a few. To give you an idea of the Syriac viewpoint, I will be providing some small quotes from different chapters.

When looking at the Creation story, St. Ephrem the Syrian and Jacob of Serugh both speak about man being made in the Image of God. When speaking of this theological concept, they discuss the idea of Jesus' human form being created first. Therefore, Adam was created as Jesus was going to appear on this earth. The book goes on to say that "Jacob of Serugh concludes that humanity was created originally as a kind of double image - as an image of the Son, who is the image of the Father, but also as an image of the Son made man." In regards to sin, the Syriac Fathers don't seem to dwell on original sin. Instead, they say sin is a result of error and darkness. "It consists ultimately in a distortion of the image of God that human beings are, and in a loss of the harmony between the heavens and the earth."

The chapter on Redemption is pretty deep and awesome to read. In this chapter, Jesus is compared to the Passover lamb. No, this isn't groundbreaking, but the way it is spelled out makes you pause and think. "He is the lamb who is also the priest." That means Jesus offered himself as a self-sacrifice. No priest is able to accept Him as a sacrifice though, so he must be the one who is sacrificed (the lamb) and the one to accept the sacrifice (the priest). This chapter also develops on the theme of the Cross as both reconciling Heaven and Earth and as a Bridge. St. Ephrem builds upon the idea of Jesus being the son of a carpenter (Joseph), and Jesus using the Cross to build a bridge over Sheol. You might recognize the image from Protestant tracts, but the idea has been around longer than any Protestant denomination.

Reading through this book, one gains a basic understanding of Syriac theology. In it we see an emphasis on allegory and hidden meanings of Scriptural texts. The book also touches on the Maronite Church;s liturgical tradition and demonstrates how both St. Ephrem the Syrian and Jacob of Serugh influenced it. With the little amount of Syriac texts available in the English language, this is truly a one of a kind book. If you would like to learn more about this subject, then I can recommend no better place to start than this book.

This book was provided to me for free by Catholic University of America Press. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Wife of Pilate and Other Stories (Ignatius Press)

I normally don't take the time to read or even review fiction. It's not that I look down on fiction. It's just that I enjoy reading non-fiction so much more. One recent Catholic fiction title caught my interest, so I decided to give it a shot. It is called The Wife of Pilate and Other Stories, and it was written by Gertrud von le Fort. Other works by her, which are also available from Ignatius Press, include The Eternal Woman and The Song at the Scaffold. The Wife of Pilate and Other Stories is made up of three novellas - "Plus Ultra," "At the Gate of Heaven," and the title feature "The Wife of Pilate."

The three novellas are historical fiction in nature. "Plus Ultra" takes place in 16th century Europe, and revolves around a woman who has the attention of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlies V. "At the Gate of Heaven" takes place during the Roman Inquisition trial of Galileo. "The Wife of Pilate," which was by far my favorite, discusses Pilate's wife, Claudia, during and after the Crucifixion of Jesus. The story is told from the point of view of a servant girl. In it this slave girl tells us about history we already know, like Jesus being crucified and Claudia trying to warn Pilate not to crucify this innocent man. The rest of the story goes into the changing marriage between Pilate and Claudia. After the Crucifixion, Claudia and Pilate are both haunted by the death of Jesus. Claudia's changes are more obvious and external. Pilate, like a typical man, internalizes his feelings and thoughts and grows colder. The fact that their marriage is in shambles is sad enough, but they also have a stillborn baby, and never any other children. The ending is mixed, so keep reading if you want it spoiled. Claudia turns from paganism to Christianity, but dies in the end. Pilate blames himself and almost kills himself because of it, but the words of the slave girl that Claudia, like Jesus, died because of Pilate and for Pilate stays Pilate's sword. This leaves the reader with a glimmer of hope that maybe Pilate could have converted in the end.

If I was judging this book on "The Wife of Pilate" alone, it would garner 5 stars. However, when taken as a whole, I have to give it 4 stars. "The Wife of Pilate" was compelling and gripping, but "Plus Ultra" and "At the Gate of Heaven" didn't hold my attention near as much. Also, the book cover quality left a bit to be desired. I'm very careful with my books, but this one warped from light reading, so that was a bit disappointing. Overall, I would recommend this book, especially if you like older historical fiction.

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

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Day The Sun Danced: The True Story of Fatima (CCC of America)

Today, is the last day of my reviews of the Marian Collection available from CCC of America. I will be reviewing The Day the Sun Danced: The True Story of Fatima. As you might or might not have been aware, the Church celebrated Our Lady of Fatima on May 13th. This movie begins with three shepherd children - LĂșcia Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto. One day an angel appears to them in 1916. He taught them how to pray and make sacrifices all to prepare them for what was going to happen to them very shortly.  and asks the children to pray with him. On May 13th of the following year, the Virgin Mary appeared to the children. Word got out when Jacinta told her unbelieving mother and soon more and more people began to go up to the place where the young shepherds saw Mary. Mary instructed the children to continue to come and on October 13th, she would reveal who she was and perform a miracle. She also encouraged the children to continue to pray the Rosary. On October 13th there were tens of thousands of people there, including many government skeptics. However, even they could not deny what occurred. Mary appeared and it seemed as if the sun was dancing, changing colors, and rotating like a wheel.

The Day the Sun Danced is the flagship of CCC of America, and if you can only buy one religious movie for your children this year, then make it this one. It has a simple message for children and the childlike. Pray the Rosary. Go to Mass. Make sacrifices in reparations for not only your sins, but everyone's sins. And consecrate yourself to the heart of Jesus and His mother Mary. CCC of America recently re-mastered and re-released this movie. The first 1,000 people to order the DVD here will get it for a low price of $9.99, and the first 100 people will also receive a children's prayer poster. There is also a companion book to the film located here.

This movie was provided to me for free by CCC of America in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Juan Diego: Messenger of Guadalupe (CCC of America)

Juan Diego: Messenger of Guadalupe is a 35 minute animated film that tells the story of an Indian man named Juan Diego. During this time, Mexico was undergoing colonization by the Spanish. In an attempt to Christianize Mexico, Spanish men tore down temples to Indian gods and goddesses and replaced them with Catholic churches. This was marginally effective in that it did result in conversion. However, those that converted, like Juan Diego, did not receive proper catechesis and were left trying to explain their new beliefs by referencing their old beliefs. To make matters worse, most all of the Spanish looked down on the Indians and treated them as inferior in every way. Juan Diego prayed to Jesus and Mary for unity among the Spanish and Indians and that is when Mary appeared in the apparition known as Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Our Lady of Guadalupe spoke to Juan Diego in his native tongue, which is pretty remarkable. In true Marian fashion, she also asked that a church be built where she appeared to Juan Diego. As per the norm, he was not widely believed and proof was demanded. The proof was given in the form of roses and her image miraculously appearing on his tilma. The animated film does a wonderful job not only being historically accurate, but also welcoming to younger children. Juan Diego's love for Jesus and Mary shines through as an example for young and old. At the end of the film is a song called Lady of the Roses and after that is a brief summary of the major impact that Our Lady of Guadalupe had in the conversion of millions! Like all CCC of America Saints and Heroes titles, this movie is available in English, Spanish, and French. It's also available for purchase individually or discounted in the Marian Collection which includes Bernadette (Our Lady  of Lourdes) and The Day the Sun Danced (Our Lady of Fatima). Highly recommended.

This DVD was provided to me for free by CCC of America in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Bernadette: The Princess of Lourdes (CCC of America)

This week I am taking a break from book reviews at Stuart's Study. It is a welcome break as it allows me to catch up on some reading of heavier thinking books. However, it also gives me a chance to review products I normally wouldn't have as much time to do. CCC of America sent me their Marian Collection from their Saints and Heroes Series. There are eleven total movies in this series, but based on their home screen (the image above), there is potentially another one coming. The three pack of Marian animated movies includes Bernadette (Our Lady  of Lourdes), Juan Diego (Our Lady of Guadalupe), and The Day the Sun Danced (Our Lady of Fatima). I will be reviewing one Monday, one Wednesday, and one Friday. Today, we will start with Bernadette.

Bernadette: The Princess of Lourdes is a story that is within a story. It begins with the story of a young family that includes a father, mother, and a sick little boy. I'm not sure exactly what the little boy has, but he cannot see and cannot walk either. It seems the parents have tried everything to get the child healed, but nothing has worked. The mom seems to be having a crisis of faith, which is sad, but I would hate to pass judgment on her (even if she is a cartoon), because I don't know how I would act in her situation. The dad, however, is taking the family to Lourdes to see a cure for the boy, which leads us back to Lourdes in 1858.

The story of Bernadette Sobuirous is a pretty familiar one for most Catholics. She was a sickly little girl who was always behind in school. However, she had a deep love for the Lord. One day she was out with other girls and she say a "small young lady." She was asked to come back to this grotto for fourteen days straight. She was told that by the "small young lady" that there should be a Church built where she was appearing. And Bernadette was also told to drink water at a place there was no water yet. Bernadette followed all these instructions, despite ridicule and people thinking she was crazy. All she wanted to know was the "small young lady's" name. Eventually, she learned that her name was "The Immaculate Conception." A church was built in her name, and the waters where Bernadette was told to drink healed not only people in her day, but still continue to heal people this day.

The animation style for this film is not Disney "quality," but reminds me of older movies like The Last Unicorn or The Hobbit, kind of Rankin and Bass if you know what I mean. The film itself was short, approximately 30 minutes, but each DVD contains the film in both English, Spanish, and French. The time and availability of several languages makes it great for not only home use, but also religious education use. It's just long enough to give your children the basic message, but just short enough to leave them wanting more and asking questions, which is what you want when instructing your children in the faith. I highly recommend this for children aged 2-8. If you'd like a preview of the video look below.

This DVD was provided to me for free by CCC of America.

Bernadette from CCC of America on Vimeo.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Green and Yellow Fairy Books (Hesperus Press)

Andrew Lang's Fairy Books are a series of twelve books that were compiled and published between 1889 and 1910. The colors in order are Blue, Red, Green, Yellow, Pink, Grey, Violet, Crimson, Brown, Orange, Olive, and Lilac. There are approximately 400-500 tales total, and they are gathered from all over the globe. Some you will recognize, and others you won't. Truthfully, you can find all but the Grey Fairy book on Amazon for free for the Kindle, and that's fine, but they lack the illustrations. Also, there's something about a nice hardcover; turning the pages; and smelling the paper while reading it. Hesperus Press has been slowly republishing these books at the rate of about two a year. I assume this is to make sure there is enough interest before printing all twelve books, but I know I am going to be sorely disappointed if they don't publish the other eight.

The Green Fairy Book contains 42 tales, if I counted correctly. The ones which you will immediately recognize are The Three Little Pigs and The Story of the Three Bears. However, these stories aren't always the way that you remember them. Another one, which was my favorite, was The Fisherman and His Wife. You might recognize this tale, and you might not, but it is about a poor fisherman who catches a flounder who claims to be a prince. He decides to release it but the wife berates him saying he should have asked for a reward in return. He does so the next day, and instead of being happy the wife gets greedy. She keeps demanding more and more, and eventually loses it all. Other interesting and lesser known stories include The Enchanted Snake. which is an Italian fairy tale, and The Riddle, which  is a German fairy tale that the Brothers Grimm compiled.

The Yellow Fairy Book contains 48 tales, if I counted correctly. This collection contains two very well known tales in Thumbelina and the Emperor's New Clothes, a personal favorite of mine. There is also my wife's and most girls favorite How to Tell a True Princess. Many might not recognize it by this title, but if I told you that it involved a princess, a bunch of mattresses, and a pea, you would immediately know the story. In fact, I know a few people who tried this very test when they were little. Unfortunately, none of them turned out to be princesses. Within this book, there are also Polish tales like The Glass Mountain and French tales like The Wizard King. Not all the tales are happy. Though, one should never expect them to be. But each are enchanting and expose you and your children to different cultures and different takes on familiar tales.

If you are a fan of fairy tales, this series is for you. The books are wonderfully constructed, and the vibrant dust jackets stand out on your shelf and make for a beautiful collection. I hope they will continue to publish these wonderful books until my collection is complete. Judging by the previous release schedule, there should (emphasis on should) be another two put out at the end of this year or beginning of next year, and they would be the Pink and Grey books. Until then, remember that if you like tangible books and want good books like this to continue to be available in print, then you have to support smaller publishers like Hesperus Press.

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

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Commentaries on Galatians-Philemon (InterVarsity Press)

This is my second review in the Ancient Christian Texts (ACT) series available from InterVarsity Press. If you recall, at the beginning of March, I posted a review on Ambrosiaster's Commentaries on Romans and 1-2 Corinthians. This month I am reviewing his Commentaries on Galatians - Philemon. This is the second volume of his entire commentary on the Pauline Epistles. As a refresher, I am providing you with some similar information from the other review, in case you didn't get to read the first review or don't remember who Ambrosiaster is and don't feel like looking it up on your own.

Ambrosiaster ("Star of Ambrose") was an anonymous author of the earliest complete Latin commentary on St. Paul's thirteen epistles. The commentary was written during the reign of Pope Damasus, which occurred from 366-384. Originally, these commentaries were attributed to St. Ambrose. However, it was Erasmus who shed doubt on the author being St. Ambrose, and he was later proven right. The Latin text differs from the Vulgate and is probably taken from the Bible version known as the Itala. In fact, it seems he was opposed to St. Jerome's efforts to revise the old Latin version. Ambrosiaster's commentaries do not search for hidden or allegorical meanings, but instead focus on the plain and simple. He is more interested in logical or literal meaning of the text. Knowing this, it clearly distinguishes him from St. Ambrose who was very interested in a higher, mystical meaning of Scripture.

At approximately 190 pages, the Commentaries on Galatians - Philemon volume is a lot thinner than I expected it to be, especially since it's counterpart is approximately 300 pages. It's not like there is a significant difference in number of Biblical chapters 45 (Romans and 1-2 Corinthians) vs 42 (Galatians-Philemon). This is not something the publisher could help, but just an observation. Each book of the Bible contains a preface by the author that range from one paragraph to one page. The commentary is verse-by-verse, meaning that each verse is followed by an explanation from Ambrosiaster on what the text means. I personally like Ambrosiaster's style/attitude. He is not above calling a group of people stupid, i.e., the Galatians, for turning their back on the true Gospel and accepting a false gospel. As in my last review, here are a couple of quotes from key verses in these Pauline epistles.

Galatians 2:20 - I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Paul is nailed to the cross of Christ because by walking in his footsteps he is not bound by any desire of the world. By living to God he appears to be dead to the world. There is nothing unclear in saying that Christ lives in the person who has been delivered from death by faith. By granting pardon for sin to someone who is worthy of death, Christ dwells in him, for it is by his help that such a person has been rescued from death.

Ephesians 2:8-10 - For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

It is true that we must render all thanks to God who has given us his grace to recall sinner to live even when they are not looking for the true way. Therefore there is no reason for us to glory in ourselves, but rather in God, who has regenerated us to a heavenly birth through the faith of Christ, so that tested by the good works, which God has appointed for those who are already born again we may deserve to receive the things promised.

As one can see from these two quotes, Ambrosiaster is very intelligent and straightforward in his commentary. Though, I believe the price should be less than $60, given the size, I understand the price since it is an academic work. If you are a serious student of Biblical interpretation or interested in lesser known Latin commentaries on the works of St. Paul, this would make a great addition to your library.

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

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Prophets: Messengers of God's Mercy (Ascension Press)

If you're looking for a solid Catholic study program, you used to have to either use a book in the small group format or find someone with the right mixture of qualifications, free time, and willingness to lead the program. Thankfully, we are living in a golden age of Catholic media. Great companies like Word on Fire, Catholic Scripture Study International, and my personal favorite Ascension Press are bringing great teachers/scholars like Dr. Edward Sri, Tim Gray, Fr. Robert Barron, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, etc. into our living rooms or parishes via modern technology. Today, I am reviewing one of the latest programs from Ascension Press called The Prophets: Messengers of God's Mercy.

The Prophets is led by Thomas Smith, who helped co-author another Ascension Press series called Revelation: The Kingdom Yet to Come. Smith is a convert, serves on the Curriculum Advisory Body for FOCUS, and co-founded the Philippine Catholic Biblical Mission Foundation. His presentation style can be described as knowledgeable with some lighthearted humor sprinkled in. What I really appreciate is that he starts and ends each talk with a prayer. It's something so simple, but so crucial when studying Scripture. There are ten sessions total, and they are as follows:

1. Introduction to The Prophets
2. Hosea: Living God's Love Story
3. Jonah: God's Reluctant Messenger
4. Isaiah Part 1: Prophet of Woe
5. Isaiah Part 2: Prophet of Consolation
6. Jeremiah: The Broken-Hearted Prophet
7. Ezekiel: God's Watchman on the Wall
8. Daniel: Faithful to the End
9. Haggai and Malachi: Messengers of Hope
10. New Testament and Modern Prophets: Messengers of the New Covenant

As you can see from the topics above, Mr. Smith focuses on prophets who left a written record, so that rules out prophets like Elijah and Elisha. You will also notice that he takes the time to cover all the Major Prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. There are two sessions dedicated to Isaiah, and he could have easily done a ten session series on Isaiah alone. But what will you specifically learn from this series? You will learn:

1. What a prophet is
2. Who they were individually
3. Where they were coming from and where were they speaking to
4. When did they speak
5. Who did they speak to
6. What did they say when they spoke
7. How did they say it as prophets

With so many great lessons, I had a hard time picking one that I enjoyed the most. The one on Daniel was very interesting. I grew up Southern Baptist, and for them the Book of Daniel is all about the end times, so it was interesting to hear the Catholic explanation. However, the one on Hosea was very interesting. I have read all the way through the Bible before, and I know I read this book. However, I couldn't tell you a thing about it. Thomas Smith laid it out in beautiful detail, explained the significance of Hosea's wife, the names of their sons, and explained how Hosea's life, his wife, and his sons mirrored Israel at the time. Mind blown!

There are a couple big takeaways from this series. First, as said at the beginning of this series, "A great prophet is one who afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted." This is true not only for prophets, but priests and parents as well. Second, prophets always point us toward Jesus. That was true in the days of the Old Testament. It was true of John the Baptist. And it is especially true in the present day where we still have prophets, like Pope Paul VI. If you are looking for a great Bible study for your parish or small group, I highly recommend this one!

This study was provided to me for free by Ascension Press in exchange for an honest review. Check out this preview of it below!

Friday, May 1, 2015

First Communion Books (Ignatius Press and Magnificat)

First Communion season is upon us! This is an important milestone for Catholic children in their faith life, and one that should be celebrated! To commemorate this joyous occasion the child is presented with many gifts to help them grow closer in their walk with Christ. The typical gifts are either a Bible or a Rosary, and both are fine gifts. If those gifts have already been covered, and you are scrambling for a gift to get them, I have two book recommendations for you. Both are available from Ignatius Press.

Your First Communion: Meeting Jesus, Your True Joy is a 45 page hardcover, which features the words of Pope Francis to first communicants. The book is divided into five sections:

Meeting Jesus in Holy Communion
The Power of the Sacraments and the Light of Christ
Holy Confession - Meeting Christ Who Loves us Dearly
The Church is Like a Mother
Messages for Life

The book looks like First Communion should with a white cover and gold lettering. It goes nicely with other Magnificat books, like The Catholic Bible for Children and Catholic Saints for Children. The font is nice sized for little readers, and though there is a lot of text on every page, it isn't so much to overwhelm a timid reader. There are also illustrations on every page as well. I especially loved the chapter on Confession. We make such a big deal about children's First Communion that we completely forget/downplay that it's their first Confession as well. It is important to remember that before you go to the table to eat, you must first wash yourself. Perhaps, if we did a better job catechizing our youth about Confession, there wouldn't be such a fear about going. At the very end of the book is a place for your child to write their own prayer to Jesus and a memory page for pictures. Those aren't my cup of tea, but I can see where some parents would find it appealing. What I like best about the book is that the message is simple, but it's not dumbed down. The words are easy enough for a child to understand, and that's vitally important, especially if you are supposed to have faith like a child.

Friendship with Jesus is an illustrated hardcover by Amy Welborn. Amy is no stranger to children's books, and this book does not disappoint. The book begins in a narrative style. Children in Rome had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, and they got to ask him questions. This book records some of the questions the children got to ask the Holy Father. Topics included Pope Benedict's First Communion, Confession, the Real Presence, and the importance of Sunday Mass to name a few. The questions just make sense, and you can see any child asking the same questions that these children did.

I especially loved the section on the Real Presence. A child asked how can we know that Jesus is present in the Eucharist if we cannot see Him? Pope Benedict compared it to electrical current. We can't see it, but we can see and feel the effects. We cannot physically see Jesus like His apostles could, but we see His presence in the lives of His followers. Each question page is flanked by a picture page done in a watercolor style by Ann Engelhart. As a big fan of Pope Benedict XVI, my child(ren) will definitely be receiving this book before their First Communion. I highly recommend it. Be sure to check out the companion to this book by the same author and illustrator combo called Be Saints!

The first book was provided to me for free by Ignatius Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!