Monday, June 29, 2015

Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive (Our Sunday Visitor)

Conservative Christians were dealt a blow with the Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex union, and yes it is a union. Marriage is and always will be between one man and one woman, no matter what society says. No one can be surprised by the decision that was reached, and as outraged as we might be, it was only a matter of time. In fact, Christians are partly to blame for it being legalized. We accepted civil unions as marriage. We accepted no-fault divorces and second and third marriages without batting an eye and calling it what it was...adultery. The pendulum may never swing fully back in favor of conservative Christians, but we can continue to fight the best way showing what real, authentic marriage is. With that in mind, I am reviewing a book called Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.

Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive is a preparatory manual for the upcoming World Meeting of Families being held September 22-27, 2015 in Philadelphia, PA. What exactly is a Woeld Meeting of Families? It is a meeting that was started by Pope John Paul II in 1994, and it occurs every three years. The book is divided into ten parts:

1. Created for Joy
2. The Mission of Love
3. The Meaning of Human Sexuality
4. Two Become One
5. Creating the Future
6. All Love Bears Fruit
7.  Light in a Dark World
8. A Home for the Wounded Heart
9. Mother, Teacher, Family: The Nature and Role of the Church
10, Choosing Life

When I requested this book, I wasn't sure what to expect, but it turns out that this book is simply a summary of the Catholic Church's teachings on marriage, love, and family. There is no spin or agenda, just the truth in black and white. This book explains to us that we are in this world to both receive and show God's love. It explains what true marriage is, and that human sexuality is designed for creation. An especially interesting chapter is "All Love Bears Fruit." In this chapter, it tells us that not everyone is called to marriage. This might be a harsh reality for some, but it is a truth that needs to be said. However, this chapter also tells us that even though we are not all called to marriage, we can "nurture new life" through forms of self-giving and service to others.

At the end of every chapter are questions for discussion. Discussion questions in books have always been a hallmark of Our Sunday Visitor books, because they know we sometimes need questions to call us in deeper. They also produce books that are good for small group study. The book then closes with a prayer for the World Meeting of Families, which we should try and pray everyday so that the meeting is fruitful. In this day and age, we need to be able and prepared to articulate what we believe and why our way is correct. We need to do it lovingly, mind you, but we are under attack and must be prepared. Therefore, I recommend picking up this brief book so that you will be ready for the inevitable defense you will have to make about your beliefs on love, marriage, and family. It's also available in Spanish!

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

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars and The Pushcart War (New York Review Books)

"Jean Merrill (1923–2012) was born in Rochester, New York, and grew up on a dairy and apple farm near Lake Ontario. She received a master’s degree in English literature from Wellesley in 1945 and later studied folklore in India on a Fulbright fellowship. She worked for many years as an editor at Scholastic Magazine, Literary Cavalcade, and the publications department of Bank Street College before turning to writing full time." This summary was obtained from the New York Review Books. Today, I am reviewing two of her books - The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars and The Pushcart War.

The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars is a 40 page picture book that has thrilled children for nearly 40 years. In this story, there is an elephant who likes to smash small cars. It doesn't matter what color car. If it's small and drives down his road, he smashes it! One day a car salesman opens a small car store, and the elephant smashes all his cars. The man is upset, but thinks about it, and decides to sell large cars instead. The elephant is unable to smash these small cars, so the man rams the elephant with the large cars. The man and elephant eventually reach a conclusion of no smashing small cars and no ramming the elephant with the large cars. This is a cute story with simple crayon-like illustrations that is a delight for myself and my son, and is quickly becoming a household favorite.

The Pushcart War recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of its release. This allegorical tale takes place in New York City in a time when pushcarts ran rampant in the streets and belligerent truck drivers occupying the streets and constantly delaying traffic. The people of New York were not happy with the truck drivers, but the truck drivers had money and therefore bought favor with the mayor. They also blamed the traffic congestion on the pushcart peddlers. Thus, a war between the two factions broke out. Truck drivers destroyed pushcarts. Pushcart peddlers blew out tires of the truck drivers and dared the drivers to run them over. It reminded me of the man who stood in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square. What's the resolution? Who won the war? You're going to have to read the book to find out.

The book is 200+ pages, but the pages fly by when reading it. I read 100 pages before I even realized it. The book actually presents itself as real history, which I found charming and clever. The main message of the story is timeless and what makes this a must read for young and old alike. It is an underdog story; one that preaches resistance and standing up for your rights. I hope my son will appreciate this book when he is older, because it is definitely going on his shelf for him to discover at a later age in life. Now, I need to find some more Jean Merrill books to read, because she has thoroughly impressed me.

These books were provided to me for free by New York Review Books in exchange for an honest review. If you found these review helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Laudato Si Coming Soon to Ignatius Press!

On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis issued his second encyclical entitled Laudato Si. It didn't take long before it was read, analyzed, and criticized from non-Catholics and Catholics alike. Depending on your agenda dictates how you read anything, and this is especially true of this encyclical. I've seen a lot of people completely hone in on the environmental issues, while ignoring the pope's discussion on human ecology and the dignity of all human life. On the other side of the debate, you have people declaring Pope Francis the "Green Pope," and completely ignoring the fact that his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, spoke and wrote on the environment and human ecology. Let's also not forget that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I (the original Green Patriarch) has also wrote on these issues extensively).

But before you can decide how you feel on the latest encyclical, you're going to have to read it! There are several options available to you, including the old standard of reading it on the Vatican's website or downloading it to a PDF and reading it that way. That may work for people of my generation who have wholeheartedly embraced technology, but I spend enough time on a computer for work. I don't want to stare at one to read these 40,000+ words of the pope's. Instead, I am going to wait for it to come out in print. Again, you have several options here as there are several publishers printing it in book format. I personally am waiting for the edition from Ignatius Press! It's a couple bucks more than other editions, but it's a beautiful hardcover edition. Take it from someone who owns ALL the Ignatius Press encyclicals. They are quality books. Now, if only they would print all of Pope John Paul II's encyclicals in one nice volume. But that's a plea for another date. Pre-order this edition from Ignatius Press now, and when it's available in their warehouse (August 2015), you'll be one of the first to receive it! Until then check out this video below.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Chosen for His People (Holy Trinity Publications)

As a Roman Catholic, I admit to being ignorant about many of the recent saints of Eastern Orthodoxy. However, one man that I have always been fascinated by was St. Tikhon of Moscow. I knew the basics of his life and mission here in North America, but that was it. With the updated release of his biography Chosen for His People, I knew I finally had found a book to fill in the details I was missing. Very little is actually known about his early life, except some schooling information and that he was one of three sons. The first chapter details his religious education and training, and his time in America. He never referenced his personal life much, but he seemed well-loved and respected by all including Roman Catholics.

Chapter Two deals with the revival of the Patriarchate. In order to do this, a council was called in Moscow that comprised 265 clerics and 299 laity. Apparently the Patriarchate was abolished in 1721. There were multiple votes for candidates for Patriarch, and the voting process described in the book reminded me a bit of papal election. After three candidates were chosen, their names were placed in a blessed urn in front of the Vladimir icon of the Theotokos. After Divine Liturgy was celebrated, a name was drawn out of the urn, and Tikhon was chosen. A true gem of the book was reading his "acceptance speech," for lack of a better term. The next few chapters are hard to read, as they deal with a famine that plagued Russia; Patriarch Tikhon gaining enemies from the government and within the Russian Orthodox Church; Tikhon's arrest; being stripped of his title; and his eventual death. The last chapter is a "will," which it was only called such because of his death. There is great debate over its authenticity, and the book presents both sides, but leans to the side of it being a forgery.

Chosen for His People is a very enlightening book and one that will grip you, so that you will not want to put it down. In addition to chronicling the life of this holy man, we also receive glimpses of Russia, both before and after the Bolshevik Revolution. It also contains ample primary sources in the form of Patriarch Tikhon's words as well as those of his enemies. If I had one complaint with this book, it was that I was hoping to read more about his time in America. That quibble aside, I feel blessed getting a better insight into the life and struggles of this humble man. It has been 90 years since Patriarch Tikhon was martyred for the faith he so strongly believed in, and this book is still one of, if not the only English source we have on his life. Therefore, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of this book.

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

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Story of the Bible (TAN Books)

There are many ways to educate your children. I am the product of Catholic school and public school, and my wife was strictly Catholic schooled. In a few years, she and I will have to decide how to educate our child(ren), and for us there are only two options - Catholic school or homeschool. Homeschool used to be a dirty word, but in the past decade, the number of parents choosing to homeschool their children has increased exponentially, and I for one am pleased about that, because with this rapid growth means better curriculum, both secular and religious. Leading the charge for quality Catholic homeschool materials is TAN Books. TAN Books has recently launched a new website called TAN Homeschool, which includes blog posts, freebies, and a recently released, groundbreaking Bible education series called The Story of the Bible!

The Story of the Bible is a comprehensive program, which includes a textbook, test book, activity book, teacher's manual, dramatized audiobook, AND lecture DVDs! I was provided with a review copy of the Old Testament materials, so let me tell you about it. The textbook is approximately 300 pages long and is divided into five parts:

1. How God Came to Promise Us a Redeemer
2. How God Founded the Nation from Which the Redeemer of the World Came
3. How God Protected His Chosen People and Led Them Into the Promised Land
4. How God's Chosen People Lived Under Their Kings
5. How God's People Went Into Exile and Returned

As you can see, Part One deals with the Creation story. Parts Two and Three deal with the Pentateuch. Part Four is during the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon; and Part Five is under the time of the Prophets. Now don't be confused. Even though the textbook has Scriptural quotes in it, it is not an actual Bible. This book is part summary of important Bible stories, part explanation, and part reflection. Therefore, your child will want and need a Bible with this book. Different people have different opinions on which Bible to get, but I always recommend the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE), since that is what they will hear every Sunday at Mass.

The Teacher's Manual contains guided lessons, which include a Bible passage for Lectio Divina, questions for review, narration exercises, craft projects, and even food projects! The manual also corresponds with an Activity Book, which contains coloring pages, word searches, and crossword puzzles. There is also the dreaded Test Book. No child likes tests, but these tests are all multiple choice and matching. I would prefer if they added some essay exercises or short answers, but any good homeschooling parent can improvise and come up with these for his or herself.

And now for my favorite part of this comprehensive program...the audio CDs and DVD lessons! The CDs are dramatized audiobooks, which are produced and read by Kevin Gallagher, who has narrated a handful of TAN Books. He has a rich voice and one that you can listen to for hours. There is also music and sound effects, which children young and old will appreciate. Having a physical book is nice, but younger kids sometimes get intimidated by so many words. With the CDs, they can still listen to the book and follow along. Plus, the whole family can listen to it, without having to fight over the textbook! The DVD lessons, which I have included a sample of one below, are presented by Brian Kennelly. He has a nice way of presenting the material so it is accessible, but not dumbed down.

Overall, I found myself very impressed with this series on the Old Testament, and if the New Testament is half as good as this one, I'm sure it's a home run as well. As stated earlier, this is geared toward the homeschool crowd, but I believe any Catholic family with children will find value in this program. Religious education begins at home, and if your child goes to Catholic school or public school, you cannot expect the Church to solely teach your child about their faith. I highly recommend this program for all Catholic families. Be sure to sign up at the bottom of the TAN Homeschool page and receive 30% off your first order. Also check back frequently at TAN Homeschool for all the updates they will be rolling out. I guarantee it will be great!

This program was provided to me for free by TAN Books in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Journey with Jesus through the Liturgical Year (Scepter Publishers)

Álvaro del Portillo was the head of Opus Dei from 1975 to 1994 and the successor to Josemaría Escrivá. He was beatified on September 27, 2014. During his life, del Portillo gave a myriad of homilies and wrote many pastoral letters. 241 of these pastoral letters were gathered, compiled, and organized according to the Liturgical Year in a book called Journey with Jesus through the Liturgical Year. The six sections are called:

1. Advent: Awaiting the Lord
2. Christmastime: Lessons from Bethlehem
3. Lent: A time for conversion and penance
4. Holy Week: Accompanying Jesus in the Passion
5. Easter: Fount of true joy
6. Ordinary Time: Sanctifying daily living

The lessons for Advent invite us to purify ourselves before Christmas arrives. The way to do this, del Portillo says, is by turning to the Virgin Mary and imitating her. He also invites us to "build a crib for our God in our hearts." During Christmas, some of the reflections tell us to focus on and learn from "the Three." Contrary to what I was thinking, "the Three" are the Holy Family and not the Holy Trinity. Other letters encourage us to practice poverty. Though, I enjoyed reading about the fast and feast seasons, the reflections for Ordinary Time proved to be the most fruitful, because that is where we spend over 60% of our year. These Ordinary Time letters tell us to see God in everything; to not seek extraordinary things; and to see the great value of little things.

Though the book is organized by season, the book is atypically organized for a series of letters/reflections. By this I mean that there isn't a reflection for every day of the year. Instead, there are just several groups of letters organized by season and then by theme. Each letter is approximately one page long, so you can easily read it in the morning over coffee. However, I found myself reading several letters at a time, since several letters were under each theme. Reading the words of saints (and future saints) is a practice I recommend to all. If you are looking for a book for the rest of this year or 2016, then Journey with Jesus through the Liturgical Year is sure to please.

This book was provided to me for free by Scepter Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Drama of Salvation (Catholic Answers)

The Drama of Salvation is the latest book from Jimmy Akin, senior apologist at Catholic Answers. The main aim of this book is to open a dialogue between Catholics and Protestants where they understand what the other is talking about. Akin hopes that Catholics and Protestants will stop talking at each other or past each other and instead engage in real and meaningful conversations, where they come to the realization that they either agree on some points or their disagreements aren't as drastic as often thought. There are nine chapters and seven bonus sections. The chapter titles are as follows:

1. The Drama of Salvation
2. Salvation Past, Present, and Future
3. Temporal and Eternal Salvation
4. Doing Penance
5. Indulgences
6. Faith, Works, and Boasting
7. Justification in Catholic Teaching
8. Justification and Ecumenism
9. Outside the Church, No Salvation?

The chapters were busting at the seams with information and very well organized. Akin used not only the Catechism to make his point, but relied heavily on Scripture. In his use of Scripture, he helped clarify key points regarding salvation that would make for effective dialogue with Protestants. I found this especially true in the chapters on justification. For the most part, Protestants have a view of salvation and justification being a one-time thing. They also believe that their salvation cannot be lost. Akin, with the use of Scripture, explains that Catholics believe that salvation is an ongoing process. He also shows how justification happened in the past, the present, and will in the future. Akin goes further to explain that the original Reformers actually had very Catholic beliefs about salvation and justification, and that ideas like "once saved always saved" are fairly new to the scene.

One of the most helpful chapters for me was the one on indulgences. As a former Protestant, I still struggle with this Church teaching. This chapter answered a lot of my questions, and made me feel a bit more at ease with the subject. I can't say that it was a light switch that flipped and I'm Mr. Indulgence now, but I do have a new understanding and respect for them and hope to slowly become more accepting of them and utilize them. This chapter is great for Protestants, converts, and even cradle Catholics. In addition to the nine chapters listed above, there are also bonus sections. I won't list them all out, but as a Pope Benedict XVI fan, it's no surprise my favorite one was "Pope Benedict XVI on St. Paul and the Doctrine of Justification."

I highly recommend this book for Catholics and Protestants. Most books written of this nature eventually turn into an attack on one side or the other. Instead, Mr. Akin does a masterful job of presenting just the facts in a way that both sides can better understand the other side. By doing this, he has provided a way for meaningful dialogue to occur. I know it is probably a pipe dream, but I would love to see this book written again, but replacing Protestantism with Eastern Orthodoxy. I often find myself wishing I could have better discussions with them, but maybe I am in the minority when it comes to that. Anyways, like I said earlier, I highly recommend this book, and recommend you buy it, read it, and re-read it. You won't be disappointed. I know I wasn't!

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

Friday, June 12, 2015

Jesus and Joseph (Herald Entertainment)

Today, I am reviewing two movies provided for me by Herald Entertainment. Both were made by the same people, and they are called Jesus: He Lived Among Us and Joseph: Beloved Son, Rejected Slave, and Exalted Ruler. Each of them are approximately 90 minutes long, with English and Spanish options. The film on Jesus is recommended for ages 7 and up, which I will explain why in the review. While the film on Joseph is suitable for ages 5 and up. Onto the reviews!

Jesus: He Lived Among Us begins on the island of Patmos in the year 96 A.D. Those familiar with their Biblical history will immediately know that John will be of great importance to this film. The scene then shows us an old man (John) and two Roman soldiers questioning how this ancient man could be considered so dangerous that they would need to imprison and isolate him. John informs them that he would not worship the emperor, because there was only one true God. They then go on to talk about how there had been many attempts on John's life, but that he would not die. This is highly accurate, but it surprised me that they made mention of it, as I got a bit of a Protestant vibe from the film. John then tells the story of Jesus, and the remaining 99% of the film is a flashback.

The flashback begins with the Annunciation and quickly escalates to the Flight into Egypt. As Catholics we know about the deaths of all those babies, the Holy Innocents, that gave their life so Jesus could be saved, but we tend to gloss over them when reading in Scripture. After the Flight into Egypt, we flash forward approximately thirty years to Jesus' baptism by His cousin John the Baptist. The rest of the film focuses on Jesus' ministry. We see His teachings, His miracles, and those whose lives were changed by Him. However, there is a constant shadow being cast by the Pharisees in this film. They are always in the background grumbling and plotting. Again, this is something we know, but not something we always focus on. We also see the Passion, the Resurrection, and Jesus talking to Peter after His Resurrection. The film then ends with a bit of a Protestant altar call. Old John tells what he believes, why he knows it to be true, and asks,  "Now that you have heard the story, what will you believe?"

Overall, I was impressed with this movie. You never know what you are going to get when you have an animated tale of Jesus, but this one was VERY Scriptural. There were times when it felt like some of the miracles were out of order, and there was one very tough scene to explain to your kids in the form of Judas' hanging on the tree. It didn't show him commit the act, but you could see the tree shaking and then it panned out and revealed him hanging there. Yes, I know this is accurate, but it was jarring for me to see and raised questions among younger children. Overall, I would still recommend this move. Just be prepared to field tough questions on some of the scenes. Here is a trailer of the movie for you to preview.

Joseph: Beloved Son, Rejected Slave, and Exalted Ruler begins oddly enough with Abraham, not Joseph. In it Abraham is having a prophetic dream, which speaks of the centuries of slavery that the Israelites will suffer in Egypt and their eventual exodus. It then flashes forward 170 years, and we see Joseph as a teenager being gifted his coat of many colors. Joseph goes off to find his brothers and show off his new coat. Even early on, we can see Isaac's favoritism to Joseph; Joseph's arrogance/obliviousness at being the favorite; and Reuben's instincts on trying to protect Joseph. Joseph also has his first prophetic dream about the sheaves of wheat and how his brothers' sheaves bowed before his sheaf. About thirty minutes in Joseph is sold into slavery, and his life is changed forever. In addition to showing elements of the story that we all know, i.e., Potiphar's wife and the great famine. We also see Joseph making reference to his father Isaac and the stairway to Heaven. The story ends by comparing Joseph with Moses and then to Jesus. This ending shows a covenantal history that is found throughout the Bible.

The story of Joseph are some of my favorite chapters in the Bible, so I have mixed feelings on this movie. On the one hand, the film itself is Biblically accurate. It does an amazing job, not only telling the story of Joseph, but putting it in its rightful place in the story of the Bible as a whole. On the other hand, I remember and often watch Joseph: King of Dreams from Dreamworks, so it is tough to live up to one of my favorite movies. Tastes in movies vary greatly though, so you will have to judge for yourself, and that is why I have provided you with the trailer below to see it. I personally recommend it for your family and religious education classes as well.

These DVDs were provided to me for free by Herald Entertainment in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Fighting Mad (Franciscan Media)

Fighting Mad is a book by Dr. Ray Guarendi, which is billed as "Practical Solutions for Conquering Anger." I have a lot of vices, like any person, but I can thankfully say that anger is not one of them. Nonetheless, I am a Dr. Ray fan, so I thought I would read this book a chance. The book has 22 chapters, each about seven pages in length, with questions for each title. Some of the titles are, "Trait or State," and "Ally or Adversary." In "Trait or State," Dr. Ray compares and contrasts trait anger, which is something that makes up your personality and state anger, which is anger in certain environments. He then offers solutions for each. "Ally or Adversary" explains how anger can be channeled into something positive or it can be channeled into something negative. Each chapter builds on the previous one and there is a conclusion at the end with a summary paragraph on each chapter. I found that very helpful as it helped to condense and crystallize the material into an easier to remember form.

As someone with a degree in psychology, I found this to be a fascinating read. It was practical and filled with a plethora of examples both real and fictitious. The tone was casual. The humor was present, but not over the top. It was just what I'd expect from a Dr. Ray book. I would recommend this book for anyone dealing with anger, either personally or with children. It is no substitute for actual therapy/counseling, but it is an excellent starting point on the subject. I leave you with my biggest take away from this book, and that is that true forgiveness can wipe away the most corrosive effects of anger. So if you find yourself angry at someone, truly forgive them. It's a lot easier than not forgiving them.

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

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Year with Mary (Saint Benedict Press)

A Year with Mary: Daily Meditations on the Mother of God is the fifth and latest daily devotional available from Saint Benedict Press. The other four are A Year with the Bible, A Year with the Saints, A Year with the Angels, and A Year with the Church Fathers. Like the other volumes in this series, this book has gilded pages and is Premium UltraSoft leather, making it perfect for presentation or gifting. The book itself is blue, which is fitting as that is the color we most associate with Mary. Despite the impressiveness of this book, I was a little skeptical to review this book. I personally am not a fan of the daily devotional, which is strange even to me seeing that I came from a Protestant background. However, I decided to give it a shot.

The first thing that I noticed about this book is the numbering of the devotions. Most daily devotionals give you a specific date, i.e., January 1. This book instead labels the devotions as Day 1, Day 2, etc. This means that you don't have to wait until January 1 to start this book, which is the fatal flaw of daily devotionals. Also, in case you are wondering, there is a ribbon bookmark, so you won't have to remember which day you are on. The next thing I noticed about this book was that St. Louis de Montfort and St. Alphonsus Liguori were the bulk of the readings. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. They wrote two of the best books on Mary with de Montfort pinning "True Devotion to Mary," and Liguori "The Glories of Mary." I was just expecting a little more variety in reading selections. The last thing that I noticed was the brief section at the end of every day entitled, "In God's Presence Consider." This makes the devotional more than just something to do everyday, but something which you need to ponder, study, and mediate on. Each day then ends with a closing prayer.

Overall, this is an impressive book in both presentation and content. The devotions are each one page long, making them just short enough that you don't feel overwhelmed and just long enough that it requires you to put forth a bit of effort in your journey with and toward God. It didn't turn me into a devotional fan, but it did provide me with some sources and texts on Mary to read that I had not heard of before. For example, St. John of Eudes' work "The Admirable Heart of Mary" is a work that I now want to read after the excerpt I read in this book. So whether you are a Mary novice or an expert on Mary, there is enough wisdom in this book that will enrich your life every time you read it.

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

Friday, June 5, 2015

Shakespeare for Children (Tantor Media)

Shakespeare for Children was composed by Charles and Mary Lamb (siblings not spouses) in 1807 as what was originally intended as an introduction to Shakespeare. In this work, they took ten of Shakespeare's plays and made them more kid-friendly by mixing their words with his words. The ten plays in this work, a mix of comedies and tragedies, are as follows:

1. The Tempest
2. A Midsummer Night's Dream
3. Much Ado About Nothing
4. King Lear
5. Macbeth
6. The Taming of the Shrew
7. Twelfth Night
8. Romeo and Juliet
9. Hamlet
10. Othello

It's hard enough to understand Shakespeare when you are in high school, so it seems counter-intuitive to try and present it to children. However, the Lamb siblings manage to make the material approachable without dumbing it down. I applaud that, because I think children respect that. For the most part, children want to be treated with respect and not talked down to. It's no wonder that this is a homeschooling favorite, and it should be a classroom favorite as well! The audio version of these stories range from approximately 25 minutes to 45 minutes. The narrators, Josephine Bailey and Simon Vance, prove to be very regal and match the beauty that is Shakespeare. When buying direct from Tantor Media, you receive a PDF of the book so you can follow along while listening. At $4.99 for an MP3 download, I consider this a steal. If you have young kids looking for something "new" to read, get them this and listen along with them!

This book was provided to me for free by Tantor Media in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Scriptural Study of Angels (CSS International)

Catholic Scripture Study International was founded in 2003 and has published approximately 30 Bible and faith-related study programs from great Catholic minds like Steve Ray, Fr. Larry Richards, Dr. Scott Hahn, and Mike Aquilina to name a few. The studies comprise both Old and New Testament books, as well as topics like the Mass, the Rapture, and the Second Vatican Council. Today, I will be reviewing A Scriptural Study of Angels, which is actually two programs in one. It comprises Entertaining Angels and Angels Throughout the Ages. The programs are written by Mike Aquilina and Dr. Richard Bulzacchelli, respectively, and both are presented by Fr. Mitch Pacwa.

Entertaining Angels is comprised of the following ten lessons:
1. An Introduction to Angels
2. The Angels' Creation and Fall
3. The Angels and Prophecy
4. Guardian Angels
5. Angels and Worship
6. The Holy Angels and the History of Salvation
7. The Orders of Angels
8. A Confusion of Spirits
9. Spiritual Combat
10. True Devotion to Angels

Angels Throughout the Ages is comprised of the following fifteen lessons:
1. Who are the Angels?
2. Satan in the Book of Job
3. The Dragon in Revelation, Chapter 12
4. The Accuser
5. The Serpent in the Garden
6. Leviathan
7. Beyond the Bible: Quetzalcoatl and Our Lady of Guadalupe
8. Beelzebub
9. What About Lucifer?
10. Moloch, Hamashhit, the "Destroyer" and Angel of Death
11. The Demon, Asmodai
12. Holy Raphael, the Archangel
13. Holy Gabriel, the Archangel
14. Holy Michael, the Archangel
15. What We Have Learned, and a Few More Angels

You can start with either study, but Entertaining Angels seems to be more introductory to me, so that is the one I would recommend. Each lesson is presented wonderfully by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, but he does take some getting used to if you have never watched him on EWTN. He has a bit of a dry, sarcastic humor that you'll appreciate the more you watch him. Depending on how much you know about angels will dictate how much you learn from each lesson. In addition to a video for each lesson, there's study material which includes Scripture readings, Points to Ponder, Study/Reflection Questions, Catechism References, and a "Rome to Home" section which includes a quote, generally from a past Pope. The leader's manual also contains suggested responses to help facilitate discussion.

When it comes to reviewing Bible studies, you don't pick favorite lessons.You pick the ones that taught you something new or spoke to you. In Entertaining Angels, Lesson Two dealt with the Creation and Fall. The angels were the Light created, and the Light being separated from the Darkness were the angels and fallen angels being separated. I have an icon that reflects this teaching, but it was an enlightening nonetheless. Angels Throughout the Ages Lesson Fifteen discusses angels not found in the Bible, but in apocryphal texts and traditions not generally known in Western Christianity. We learn about Uriel, Jehudiel, Selatiel, and Barachiel. In addition to telling what the angels' names mean, we learn what their responsibility is. For example, Barachiel is in charge of all the guardian angels on earth.

These two studies combined to make the most impressive and comprehensive studies on angels, I have ever encountered. It was in-depth and drew on many different sources to educate the study participant. Whether you are a new small group leader or a veteran, you will find plenty of help to facilitate this study effectively. This was my first experience with Catholic Scripture Study International, and I have nothing but positive recommendations for this program and their company in general. I can't wait to check out other studies from them, especially their new one on Isaiah. If you are in the need of a study, be sure to give this company a shot!

Monday, June 1, 2015

2 Samuel and Colossians - Brazos Theological Commentary (Brazos Press)

The Brazos Theological Commentary series is an ongoing work by Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants. The books are being published in no particular order, as far as I can see, and it also seems that they will only address the 66 books from the Protestant Bible and omit what some consider Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical, i.e., Tobit, Judith, etc. That fact is a bit disappointing, but with ecumenical commentaries, it's rare people buy the whole set, and instead pick and choose volumes from people of their faith background, i.e., Catholics will buy Catholic volumes. Today, I will be reviewing the latest two releases in this series 2 Samuel and Colossians.

Fr. Robert Barron, the author of the commentary on 2 Samuel, needs no introduction. He has reached celebrity status in more than the Catholic realm. Through the use of breathtaking videos and popular culture references, he has made the Catholic faith understandable, accessible, and approachable to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. One cannot ignore the fact that he is actually a brilliant theological mind, which he puts on display in this commentary of the often forgotten Old Testament book - 2 Samuel. Fr. Barron's commentary style is not verse-by-verse, where he analyzes every word for meaning. Instead, he focuses on five overall themes found in the book of 2 Samuel and how each chapter displays the particular theme. The themes are as follows:

1. David Comes to Power
2. Priest and King
3. David and Bathsheba
4. A Sword Will Never Leave Your Home
5. Toward the Temple

While reading this commentary, I was enlightened so much on what I had misread or just glossed over in my past reading of 2 Samuel. Fr. Barron does an excellent job of explaining terminology and phraseology that would have been used for the time, and in doing so, the passages actually started to make sense. He also does a nice job of explaining difficult to understand passages. For example, I always wondered why it was such a sin for David to take a census of the people. Fr. Barron explains that it is the act of a tyrannical king looking to reassure himself of his might and power. The most interesting chapter to me was Chapter 11 where David's story completely turned around with Bathsheba. In this chapter, he explains the sin of David and the shrewdness of Bathsheba. In this chapter, I learned that I had been completely blaming David for what happened and painting Bathsheba as innocent victim. This is not the case. The only victim in all of this was Uriah who was everything David should have been.

After reading through this commentary, I have a greater understanding of the book of 2 Samuel. It is not just some dry historical text, but a deep and beautifully written work that touches on the idea of priesthood; kingship; bad fathering and bad kingship; and the noncompetitive transcendence of God. Fr. Barron explains all of this and more in a manner that is appropriately profound yet easily understood. There are Catholic references in this volume as well as patristic references (like St. John Chrysostom), but it is not just a commentary for Catholics. I honestly wish he would have worked on both 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel in this series, but I guess I will have to buy 1 Samuel and see how the style and scholarship compares to this work. If you are looking for an excellent commentary on 2 Samuel, this one is 5 stars!

Colossians is one of St. Paul's shortest Epistles, and it was also written while he was in prison. The general consensus is that he was writing to correct errors found among the converts in the church of Colossae, such as false forms of worship, avoiding certain foods, and mortification of the flesh. Seitz, the commentator argues otherwise. When I received this commentary on Colossians, I was expecting a roughly 100 page book. The book was in fact 200+ pages, and it left me wondering, "How can you write that much on a four chapter book?" For starters, this is a verse-by-verse commentary, and anytime you analyze every verse in a Biblical book, you give yourself room for plenty of words. There are also many excursuses or narrative digressions sprinkled throughout the book. Seitz divides Colossians into the following sections:

1:1-2 Formal Introduction and Salutations
1:3-8 Paul and Associates Give Thanks
1:9-14 Our Prayers for You and Our Common Destiny in Christ
1:15-20 Hymn to Christ from His Scriptures
1:21-29 Christ's Reconciliation and Paul's Vocation
2:1-7 Striving Mightily for You
2:8-23 The So-Called Conflict at Collosae
3:1-17 Putting on the New Life in Christ
3:18-4:1 In Deed
4:2-18 Goodbye

There were two features of this commentary that I found interesting. The first is that Seitz read Colossians in the context of all of St. Paul's Epistles and the entire Canon of Scripture. The other part I found interesting was that Seitz ignored the Colossians heresy and focused instead on this being a shift from Paul the missionary apostle to Paul the letter-writing apostle. The former I greatly appreciated, and the latter I found disappointing. To completely ignore the heresy seems imprudent. This wasn't the best commentary I have read on Colossians, nor was it the best commentary in Brazos' series. If you are looking for a more traditional commentary, look elsewhere. If you are looking for a different perspective on this Biblical book to compare with other commentaries, pick it up. 3.5 stars.

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