Friday, July 31, 2015

The Noonday Devil (Ignatius Press)

When I received the book The Noonday Devil, I wondered what kind of fiction title this would be. This would be a case of judging a book by its cover, as it is in fact a non-fiction title that deals with the subject of acedia. What is acedia? Acedia is a sin or an evil that is actually hard to define. Many people incorrectly equate it to sloth, but it is much more than that. In the days of Cicero, it was defined as a "lack of care," because people who suffered from this evil did not bury their dead, but the Christian monk Evagrius defined it as a "relaxation of the soul." Evagrius plays heavily in the first chapter, as his treatise "On the Eight Thoughts of Wickedness" is focused on. He has eight wicked thoughts in his treatise that the Christian must defeat, because he compared it to the eight nations that the Israelites had to defeat on their exodus from Egypt. Also in the first chapter, we see the "five principal manifestations of acedia," and the "five remedies for acedia." There is also a very brief section, which highlights four others who spoke/wrote on the subject of acedia.

Chapter Two is devoted primarily to St. Thomas Aquinas. In this chapter, we learn of two new definitions of acedia - "Sadness about spiritual good" and "Disgust with activity." He then goes on to tell us about the sins that spring forth from acedia and the definitive way to defeat acedia. It's pretty bold to claim that you have the definitive answer on defeating this sin, but when you learn what it is - the Incarnation or Jesus, because we couldn't do it on our own, then it makes perfect sense. The last two chapters of this book deal with acedia in the Christian life, and then more specifically in the lives of religious, priests, and married couples. As I fall into the last category, I read and re-read this particular section. Abbot Nault explains that acedia can manifest itself in marriage by choosing not to give one's self fully to one's spouse and focusing on one's self and not the spouse; by not being open to children; by seeking something outside of marriage that one feels they are not getting from marriage; and lastly by seeking sexual novelty and not realizing that the sexual act is meant to further unite the couple in marriage.

This book was a very profound and eye-opening read. Nault does a wonderful job of not only presenting the history behind this evil, but ways to combat and defeat this evil as well! Overall, I found the book to be a bit on the scholarly side that takes several readings to fully grasp the message. One of the biggest lessons I took away from it was that we often confuse sloth for laziness, but it can also manifest itself in the form of being busy just for the sake of being busy. Let this be a lesson to me that just because I am not being lazy does not mean that there are not better uses of my time. If you are looking for an enlightening but challenging read, then I recommend this work.

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!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Phantastes (Hendrickson Publishers)

I have been trying to expand my reading choices lately by dabbling into fiction more and more. I generally prefer to stick to nonfiction, but I know it will be good for me to broaden my horizons. Of the fiction I read, I try to stick with works that have stood the test of time. That puts me at a bias against recent works, but I just find so much more beauty in older works. One author I have recently been introduced to is George MacDonald. MacDonald was a Scottish minister, poet, novelist, and was dubbed the "grandfather" of the Inklings. Now, you see my interest in his work. Today, I am reviewing the book Phantastes, which is produced by Hendrickson Publishers.

For those unfamiliar with Phantastes, like I was, it is a fantasy novel about a 21 year old man named Anodos. On his birthday, he received a set of keys to his deceased father's desk. Within this desk a small woman who claims to be Anodos' grandmother. She grants his wish to send him to Fairy Land, but his reasons for going are not revealed to the reader until the end of the story. Through his travels in Fairy Land, Anodos encounters a lot of strange people and places. He meets a woman and her daughter who try and help him with advice, but of course he quickly forgets it when he leaves their company. He meets and frees the White Lady, whom he falls in love with, and a Knight, whom he befriends. He also encounters many battles and hardships. All of these are important in helping Anodos mature and stop acting like a child and more like an adult, because that is apparently the only way he will ever return home. So what was his reasoning for wanting to go to Fairy Land, and will he ever be able to leave this place and go home? Buy the book to find out!

The book is a classic coming of age story with Anodos going on the somewhat epic tale to adulthood. There are times when the story drags and is bogged down with details, and I wouldn't consider this George MacDonald's best work. That privilege, in my mind, belongs to "The Princess and the Goblin." As for the quality of this particular edition, it is breathtaking. The book looks to be an average sized hardcover, but when you pick it up, it feels heavy in a good way. I attribute this to the quality of paper used. The book contains scanned and digitally colored versions of the original illustrations, which MacDonald's son approved of. This gives the book that old time feel it so desperately deserves. So if you are a MacDonald fan, or want to see some of the inspiration for the Inklings and their writings, I'd recommend this book to you.

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

Navigating the Interior Life Series (Emmaus Road Publishing)

I've been in the book review game, since September of 2012. During that time I have reviewed hundreds of books. Some have been good; some have been duds; and others still stick with me today. At the end of 2012, Daniel Burke published a book entitled Navigating the Interior Life. In February 2015, he published two more books, which I have the pleasure to share with you today. They are entitled 30 Days with Teresa of Avila and Finding God Through Meditation. Both of these books are part of the Navigating the Interior Life Series, and I'm excited to see the future books that will come from this series. But before I get ahead of myself, let me tell you about these two books!

30 Days with Teresa of Avila is a 140 page book that takes us through thirty of St. Teresa's 400+ letters. The topics covered in her letters include subjects like humility, mental prayer, spiritual warfare, and detachment (repeatedly), to name a few. I put repeatedly in parentheses, because three of the letters chosen deal specifically with this subject. On the subject of detachment, St. Teresa tells us the following, "the so-called goods of this miserable life are impediments," and "I wish to have no choice in it and shall be contented wherever I may be sent." In this brief lines, we can see a detachment to possessions and a detachment to personal choice, which is ultimately surrender to God.

The two brief quotes above are just a small sampling of what is in this book. In addition to letters from St. Teresa, we also receive reflections from Daniel Burke and Anthony Lilles, the co-founders of Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation. With 30 letters, it is clear this book is designed to be read over the course of a month, and with short chapters, you can read each one over a cup of coffee in the morning or before you close your eyes at night. Most of us know who St. Teresa is but very few of us have taken the time to read anything by her, let alone her letters. This book not only provided a daily boost, but also encouraged me to find the time to read her other works "Way of Perfection" and "Interior Castle." I know that wasn't the goal of this book, but I am excited to learn more from this great Saint and Doctor of the Church!

When I first received the book, Finding God Through Meditation, I wondered who this St. Peter of Alcantara was listed on the cover. He was apparently the author of this book and spiritual director of St. Teresa of Avila. That is a bit intimidating to think about, but I trust Daniel Burke and I know he wouldn't put hit name on something he didn't believe in, so that encouraged me to read on. There are eight chapters in this short book, but there is enough material to chew on for years, The chapters are as follows:

1. Perspective on Meditation and Devotion
2. The Way of Meditation
3. Counsels of Meditation
4. Deepening Devotion
5. Common Temptations in Meditation and Their Remedies
6. Other Certain Admonitions Necessary for Spiritual Persons
7. Subject Matter of Prayer and Daily Meditations
8. Seven Other Meditations on the Passion of Our Lord

The daily meditations found in the last two chapters prove to be some of the most useful in the book as they provide the reader with two different sets of meditations for each day of the week that guide the reader into a deeper prayer life. However, the chapter which really spoke to me at this moment in my life was Chapter Five. I assume that like me you have trouble praying and growing in your relationship with God. In this chapter, St. Peter of Alcantara outlines nine common problems we all face and some remedies for them. The eighth temptation - "An Inordinate Draw to Study" really hit home for me. In this section, he tells us, "In the day of judgment, we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done; not how eloquently we have spoken, but how well we have lived." These few lines reminded me to put down the books more often and not focus solely on the acquisition of knowledge. We can all benefit from reading the words of the saints, especially this saint's. If you want to read what St. Teresa read, then I highly recommend this book. Five stars!

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

Friday, July 24, 2015

Letters to the Romans and Galatians and Letters to the Corinthians (Liguori Publications)

Today, I am reviewing another two volumes from the Liguori Catholic Bible Study series. There are 21 volumes in this series (if I counted correctly), and all of the books are written by Fr. William A. Anderson. Fr. Anderson, like many Bible study leaders, places a great emphasis on Lectio Divina. The two volumes, which I am reviewing today are Letters to the Romans and Galatians and Letters to the Corinthians.

If you are going to do a study of Pauline Epistles, I'd recommend starting with Letters to the Romans and Galatians. The reasoning for this is because Romans is arguably one of St. Paul's most important works and Galatians is one of his earliest works. Both these epistles also share a common theme of "assimilating the Old and New Covenants." What this means is that the Church was no longer completely made up of former Jews, but instead was now a mixture of Jews and Gentiles. Because of their different backgrounds, there were conflicts and arguments that had to be resolved. Thus, Paul and his epistles helped to mediate these clashes, so that the communities would not be divided.

The book begins with an introduction on Paul and the two Biblical books. Fr. Anderson clarifies authorship on the Pauline Epistles, and he also tells us which ones it is accepted that Paul wrote and which ones that Paul's disciples probably wrote. After this. there are seven lessons total in this book, with five devoted to Romans and the remaining two devoted to Galatians. They are as follows:

1. The Righteousness of God
2. Justification Through Faith
3. Justification and Christian Life
4. Jews and Gentiles in God's Plan
5. The Duties of Christians
6. Loyalty to the Gospel
7. Freedom for God's Children

Each chapter includes study questions, guided Lectio Divina, and of course commentary on the passages you are reading. The lessons on justification are vitally important for understanding our Christianity and our Catholicism, but Lesson 5: The Duties of Christians is important for everyone to read. Fr. Martin tells us that we must be living sacrifices, practice love for all, and live and die for Christ. There are certainly other duties of Christians, but the ones in Romans are essential. If you are looking for a beginning guide to St. Paul's Epistles, in small group or alone, then I recommend starting here.

After reading through Letters to the Romans and Galatians, I recommend moving on to Letters to the Corinthians. In the introduction to this volume, Fr. Anderson provides a bit more information on the man who was Paul. He also clues us in on the Corinthian audience to whom Paul was writing, when and where Paul wrote the letters, and brief outlines of both letters to the Corinthians. This Bible Study volume also has seven lessons, which seems to be Fr. Anderson's preferred length for a study. It's long enough to educate you, but short enough that you won't feel like you have to dedicate the rest of your year to it. It also means you can knock out four a year with plenty of time for rest in between studies or a weekly postponement here or there when life happens. There are four lessons for 1 Corinthians and the remaining three are for 2 Corinthians, and the titles are as follows:

1. Condemnation of Disorders
2. Temples of the Holy Spirit
3. Offerings to Idols
4. Spiritual Gifts
5. Ministers of the New Covenant
6. An Acceptable Time
7. Boasting in the Lord

Chapters 12 through 14 of 1 Corinthians are some of the most well known verses in the two books to the Corinthians. St. Paul firstly talks about spiritual gifts, what the different kinds are, and how not everyone has the same gift. After talking about all these amazing gifts, St. Paul then goes on to explain how worthless they are if one is lacking in love. Fr. Anderson's commentary on these three chapters was spot on, as he made sure to emphasize at the end that we must not become overconfident with our gifts, lest we fall to ruin. The lesson I found most interesting was Lesson 7: Boasting in the Lord. This phrase sounds odd, because Christians are called to be humble, but St. Paul talks about boasting in the Lord. Paul boasted about the sufferings he encountered, the visions he had, etc. However, St. Paul kept things in perspective and acknowledged that God was responsible for everything and not Paul at all. I enjoyed this Bible study, primarily because it enlightened me on two of St. Paul's epistles that often get overlooked, except for the wedding reading of "Love is patient. Love is kind." If you would like to understand these epistles better, then I highly recommend this book by Fr. William A. Anderson.

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

John Milton (Naxos Audiobooks)

John Milton was a civil servant for England under Oliver Cromwell. He was a big proponent of free speech and freedom of the press. However, he is most known for his poetry, particularly Paradise Lost. His religion can best be described as that of a Puritan, with the subjects of sin and death reflected in his poetry. Other works of note of his include Paradise Regained, which is the sequel to Paradise Lost, and my personal favorite Samson Agonistes. His religion can best be described as that of a Puritan, with the subjects of sin and death reflected in his poetry. Naxos Audiobooks was kind enough to provide me with review copies of the above three audiobooks.

Paradise Lost is a work which is divided into twelve sections. There are two stories or arcs within this poem that overlap in content and order. In the fashion of epic tradition, the poem starts in the middle of the story. The first arc deals with Lucifer/Satan and the fall of him and the disobedient angels. The other arc follows Adam and Eve, their temptation, and their banishment from the Garden of Eden. Other characters include God the Father, God the Son, and the Archangels Michael and Gabriel. The most interesting scenes in this poem to me are the battle scenes between Satan's angels and God's angels. It takes place over three days with both sides looking like they have a shot at winning. On the third day, Jesus intervenes and defeats Satan's angels on his own. I found this section interesting because it was told from several different perspectives. Satan is the ultimate villain in this poem and this world, but at least in the poem, we see reluctance and hesitation on his part before destroying things. What I especially liked about this edition is that the Arguments are at the beginning of each section. These Arguments serve as an introduction for each section and help lessen confusion for most readers, myself included.

Paradise Regained is the follow-up work to Paradise Lost. It is much shorter in length, comprising only four books as opposed to twelve. Unlike Paradise Lost, which deals primarily with Satan's interaction with Adam and Eve, Paradise Regained chronicles the Temptation of Christ in the desert, which is found in the Gospel of Luke. The writing style is also much plainer than the first work, in that it lacks long similes and the gilding of the lily. Most people agree that this "brief" poem primarily deals with reversals. Everything that was lost in the first book is now regained. We see two key traits in Milton's Satan - hunger for power and foolishness. This is true in real life as well. Satan tempted Jesus because he wanted to be God and in his mind the only way to do that was to make Jesus submit to him. He is foolish to think this would work though. I found this book to be good, but not as good as Paradise Lost. The reader, Anton Lesser, did a wonderful job with both narrations though. His soothing British voice was the perfect fit, and instead of just reading both poems, he gave the characters voices and life!

Samson Agonistes is a short poem/drama that is usually tacked on in books after Paradise Lost. Its basis is the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah, primarily the latter part of the story where Samson is already blind and destroys all the Philistines. There is consensus among scholars that Milton related to Samson, due to Milton's blindness, and that was why he chose to compose this drama. The style of this drama is based on a Greek tragedy, complete with chorus. The Naxos edition of this book is a BBC recording, which contains an entire cast. Samson is played by Iain Glen. You might know him as the man Mary almost married in Downton Abbey before Matthew told her to call it off. Some would argue that this is a drama that should only read by one and not performed, but the cast did a wonderful job in portraying this epic. This isn't a big surprise though, as the BBC always does quality work. The drama has a dark feel, but I still enjoyed it nonetheless. If you are looking for a good introduction or first read of John Milton, this is the one I'd recommend before trying to take on the epic which is Paradise Lost.

These audiobooks were provided to me for free by Naxos Audiobooks in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Seven Deadly Sins (Sophia Institute Press)

The Seven Deadly Sins is Dr. Kevin Vost's followup book to One-Minute Aquinas. The book begins with a brief introduction of the world's deadliest sins, and the author gives his reasoning for using a Thomistic approach with regards to this book. The book is then divided into two parts - "The Ancient Family History of the Seven Deadly Sins" and "Battle Plans to Decimate Deadly Vice and Sin." The first part is very interesting, because it contains Scriptural references to the seven deadly sins as well as references from ancient Christians including Evagrius Ponticus; St. John Cassian; Prudentius; St. John Climacus; Pope St. Gregory the Great; and, of course, St. Thomas Aquinas. (Side note: If you haven't read St. John Climacus' Ladder of Divine Ascent, you really should!) At the end of this first section is a helpful chart that organizes all the information you previously read. I really appreciated the fact that Dr. Vost pulled from both Eastern and Western traditions for this section.

As interesting as it is to read about the seven deadly sins, it is worthless if we don't have a strategy on how to defeat them. That is what makes Part Two of this book extremely useful. Drawing from St. John Climacus and St. Thomas Aquinas, Dr. Vost devotes develops a mini-ladder in the Prologue to Part Two. It consists of seven "simple" steps defeating the seven deadly sins. It is as follows: 1. Examination of conscience, 2. Embrace the sacraments, 3. Learn what leads us to sin, 4. Practice prayer, 5. Cultivate virtue, 6. Immerse ourselves in the world of the spirit, and 7. Imitate Christ. He then devotes a more detailed chapter to defeating each sin.

When comparing this book to its predecessor, one notices some similarities and differences. The most obvious similarity is the covers of the book. If you are ever going to write a series of books, it's CRUCIAL that the books look like they belong together. The other similarity is the number of charts and tables in both books. These are helpful, because they condense what you just read and has a better chance of making the material stick. The biggest difference I noticed was the lack of the "Dumb Ox Box" in this book. In the first book, these boxes were littered throughout the book and provided asides and a bit of humor. Honestly, I didn't miss these, as sin is no laughing matter. Dr. Vost continues to make the Angelic Doctor accessible to the masses, and I look forward to seeing future books in this series. If you are looking to start reading St. Thomas Aquinas, then you definitely want to pick up both this book and One-Minute Aquinas.

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

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Unity of the Nations (CUA Press)

I'm a sucker for anything that Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) has written. I don't own all of his books, but I am slowly getting there. And while, I haven't read half of what I own and understand less than that, I find myself fascinated every time I read his words. The man was truly brilliant, and it's a shame more Catholics, more of the world didn't realize that while he was still pope. Recently, I read The Unity of the Nations, which is an early work of Ratzinger's. Though it was only three chapters and 120 pages, it read like it was much thicker. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, I'm just letting you know it is dense, and if you are not familiar with the topic, you will find yourself re-reading the pages like I did.

The first chapter serves as background material as it relates to the question of where Early Christianity fits into the political world. In order to answer that question, Ratzinger looked at three components - 1. Biblical faith, 2. heritage of Antiquity, and 3. "the debate with so-called gnosis and its reception of the Christian message. According to Antiquity all the people were connected to each other, because they were part of Zeus' body. Augustus put great stock in the pantheon of gods and this came into direct opposition when Jesus was born, because Jesus was The Prince of Peace, a title which Augustus also claimed. Christianity and Gnosticism also came into direct contact with each other and were diametrically opposed to each other. However, some people, like Celsus, tried to lump them together.

In the final two chapters, Ratzinger calls on two Church Fathers, Origen and Augustine, to show the place of the Early Church in the political world. I found Origen's chapter absolutely fascinating, but I have always had an appreciation for him, and that is in part because I believe he didn't get a fair shake in Church History. In his chapter we learn that Origen mainly did battle with Celsus and Celsus' misunderstandings of Christianity. Oddly enough, Celsus defended Judaism but couldn't recognize that Christianity was the fulfillment of Judaism. We also learn that Origen identified the angels that ruled over the kings and kingdoms of the earth as fallen angels or demons. That is why Satan was so easily able to offer Jesus control of the whole world if Jesus would simply kneel before Satan. Very interesting!

This book was not an easy read, but it was an eye-opening one. The main message I believe (and someone correct me if I am wrong) is one we should already know. Christians are to be in the world, but not of the world. We may be Americans, Europeans, whatever, but that does not firstly define us. What firstly defines us is that we are Christians. Our home is Heaven, and our political loyalty is to  God and not some secular ruler. That's not to say that we neglect our duties on earth, but we should not let them shape us or give them priority over our heavenly duties. Our heavenly duties are to love and serve the Lord and bring all people to Him. Lastly, it is the Church, not any poltical entity down here where we can only ever find true unity of all mankind. So if you are a Ratzinger fan, like me, and want to read a book that "showcases the development of Ratzinger's theology," then this is the book for you.

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Catholic Saints for Children and A Missal for Little Ones (Ignatius Press)

Catholic Saints for Children is one of the latest releases from Ignatius Press and Magnificat. The book is just under 100 pages, but it packs a punch in content. There are thirty saints covered in all, and they are arranged by order of their birth, with the exception of the Blessed Mother being placed before St. Joseph. In addition to well known saints, like Peter and Paul, there are some lesser known ones, like Blessed Frédéric Ozanam and Blessed Charles de Foucauld. Each saint's entry contains a one page biography, what the saint can teach us and the intercession he/she can provide, a prayer, and an illustration of the saint.

With thirty entries, you or your child could read one entry a day, and not repeat a chapter until the next month. This reduces reader fatigue that parents can often get from reading the same book over and over again, but with a book like this you will want to read it many times over. I enjoyed reading the articles on St. Benedict and St. Dominic as I have a particular affinity toward them. The book is done in the same style of The Catholic Bible for Children, which was released in 2011, both in artistry, size, and the presentation, i.e., French flaps. Thus, these two books are perfectly complementary and if you are buying one you should buy the other. Five stars!

A Missal for Little Ones is a little book designed for little hands. The book is a hardcover with a dust jacket, which means that the book is carefully crafted and designed to last. The book attempts to make the Mass as approachable as possible for young readers. The title of each section tells the child what is going on in the Mass, and the text in the chapter contains a portion of the specific prayer or a summary of what is occurring at the specific time in Mass. In the very middle of the book is a section on the Apostles' Creed. Unfortunately, it is only snippets of the Creed, which is my biggest complaint with this book. The Creed is a vital part of the Catholic faith, and the snippets in the book omit key parts, like Jesus being conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Incarnation is one of the great mysteries of the Faith and should not be omitted in my opinion. The book closes with prayers for children to learn and instructing your children in the method of spontaneous prayer. Overall this was a good book, but it could have been better. It is recommended for ages 3+, but if that is the case there should be even fewer words. Also, for that age, it should probably be in the format of a board book. I guess what I am saying is that I feel like there should be two different books, one for ages 3 to 5, and one for ages 5 and up.

These books were 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!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Letter and Spirit Volume 9: Christ and the Unity of Scripture

I don't read many Catholic scholarly journals, because they honestly make me feel dumb. However, I have learned that isn't a bad thing, because it helps to keep me humble, and it reminds me that there are many great minds smarter than I am. Today, I am featuring, and reviewing, if I can call it that, Letter and Spirit Volume 9: Christ and the Unity of Scripture. The contents of this particular volume are as follows:

  • The Matthean Christ, Center of Salvation History by: Leroy A. Huizenga
  • Jesus as the Fulfillment" of the Law and His Teachings on Divorce in Matthew by: Michael Patrick Barber
  • "These Least Brothers of Mine": A Reappraisal of the Great Judgment Scene as Apocalyptic Retribution in Matthew 25:31-46 by: William A. Bales
  • The Last Supper and the Quest for Jesus by: Brant Pitre
  • All Things in Wisdom: Reading the Prologue to the Gospel of John with St. Augustine by: William M. Wright IV
  • Covenant Fulfillment in the Gospel of John by: Vincent P. DeMeo
  • Fulfillment in Christ: The Priority of the Abrahamic Covenant in Paul's Argument Against the Galatian Opponents (Galatians 3:15-18) by: Scott W. Hahn
I have been reading Pitre's work lately as he is coming to my hometown for a conference. The article in this journal took several reads, though, as he talked about the Jewish Jesus and the eucharistic Jesus. There is apparently debate among New Testament scholars on whether Jesus said the Words of Institution or if those words were added to Scripture by members of the Early Church. The fact that "New Testament scholars" have such skepticism over Jesus is depressing to say the least. How can you be a scholar on something that you doubt? That's a rant for another day. The article I found most fascinating was the one which Bales wrote. In his article, he argues that the passage is often misunderstood, because people read it at a horizontal level, which is to look after the less unfortunate. However, it is should be read at a vertical level, which is that the primary work then and presently is missionary work. The Apostles were commissioned to spread the message of Jesus' forgiveness and the salvation He offers. We too have that same mission.

I won't pretend that I understood every word of this journal, but what I did was edifying. As I said earlier, I don't make it a practice to read Catholic scholarly journals, but I do read the Letter and Spirit series, because I trust Scott Hahn to put out a quality product that adheres to the teaching of the Catholic Church. If you are interested in higher level thinking in the field of Catholicism, I recommend all nine volumes. I also eagerly await the publication of Volume 10, and hope that I continue to understand a little more each time I read.

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!

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Blue Whale and In a Village by the Sea

The Blue Whale is a nonfiction picture book that is written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond. The book begins by talking about a child reading a book - this book. Doing this connects your child with the child in the book. The book then proceeds to give you and your child interesting facts about blue whales. For example, did you know that a blue whale can grow as long as 100 feet, but it's eyeball is only 6 inches big. Blue whales also cannot breathe underwater, and therefore the only sleep they get is short naps close to the ocean's surface. "Blue whales can never completely lose consciousness, not even in sleep, otherwise,they would drown." How fascinating, but awful! These are just some of the tidbits about blue whales that your child will learn. Most of the information is presented in ways that your child can relate to. For example, in addition to telling us that a blue whale can be 100 feet long, the author gives concrete examples of what 100 feet looks like. A lot of the children's books I read to my son are fiction, because that's what a lot of children's books are. Therefore, a book like this a treasure in that it is nonfiction, but still enthralling enough to keep even the pickiest reader's attention. In fact, I'd bet your child won't even realize they are learning as they are reading. The illustrations are nothing to sneeze at either. Done using colored pencils, one can see the labor of love Ms. Desmond put into the details of this book. Highly recommended for both the pictures and the educational value!

In a Village by the Sea is a 32 page hardcover picture book for ages 4-10. The setting of the story is inspired by an ancestral fishing village in Vietnam that is home to the author, Muon Van. The book begins by talking about the village, and then a house, and then a kitchen. In the kitchen is described a woman, a child, and a hole. In the hole is a cricket, who is an artist. This cricket is painting a picture of a fisherman at sea in a rough storm. The fisherman he is painting a picture of is husband and father of the woman and child mentioned above. Thus, the entire story is a circle. The book is simplistic in writing style which makes it an easy and quick read for little ones, but the circular story will give the older children something to chew on. The illustrations by April Chu are gorgeous pen and ink that are full of detail. They will continue to draw young and old alike back to this book, either to read again or simply look at the pictures, so be sure to pick up a copy.

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

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Art of Purifying the Heart (Convivium Press)

When requesting another book to review, I was also offered The Art of Purifying the Heart by Tomáš Špidlík. I admit that I was ignorant to who Špidlík was, but the book was endorsed by Fr. John Meyendorff, and that was enough for me to give it a chance. For those wondering like I was, Špidlík was a Jesuit priest who was made a Cardinal at the age of 83 by Pope John Paul II. Due to the age at which he was made a Cardinal, he never had voting rights, but he was Cardinal Deacon of Sant'Agata dei Goti Church in Rome. Cardinal Raymond Burke is now the Cardinal Deacon of that church.

The Art of Purifying the Heart is a brief (108 page) book that begins with an explanation of what evil is, It then moves on to the topics of temptation and sin. Next, we learn about vigilance and resisting temptation, discerning spirits, and the eight evil thoughts. Lastly, one learns about hesychasm and prayer of the heart. This last few chapters are probably unfamiliar to Western Christians/Roman Catholics, but to Eastern Christians, they will recognize these terms immediately.

The book is very carefully laid out and builds in a manner to help you grow in both prayer and your spiritual life. The book is simple and practical in its approach, but it presents Roman Catholics with a chance with a form of spirituality they might otherwise would not have been exposed to. As beautiful as the words in this book were, I encountered a bit of distractions due to some typos and the way some words were set apart. For example, instead of putting a word in bold, it would be surrounded by << >>. For that reason, I had to take away a star and only give this book 4 out of 5 stars. Try to get past these distractions though, and you will be richly rewarded.

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

Monday, July 6, 2015

Incomplete Commentary on Matthew (Intervarsity Press)

Think about the best book that you have ever read. What makes it so great? How many times have you read it? Is your life changed for the better because of it? Now, imagine if that book had never been finished, or if parts of it were just missing. You saw parts of the picture, but you couldn't see the whole image. How disappointed would you be? Well, that is exactly how Thomas Aquinas felt with the books that I am reviewing today. There exists an incomplete anonymous commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, which Intervarsity Press has published in two volumes as part of their Ancient Christian Texts series. The translator, James A. Kellerman, had this to say in his introduction: "As Thomas Aquinas was approaching Paris, a fellow traveler pointed out the lovely buildings gracing that city. Aquinas was impressed, to be sure, but he sighed and stated that he would rather have the complete Incomplete Commentary on Matthew than to be mayor of Paris itself." Before, I get to what is present in the two volumes, let's cover what is missing. For starters, it abruptly ends at Matthew 25, so that is three chapters missing right there. There are also gaps of Matthew 8:11-10:15 and 13:14-18:35. That's another five complete chapters missing and pieces missing from four other chapters. It's not exactly half of the commentary missing, but I can see how it feels like it.

Volume 1 contains 27 homilies on Matthew, which span from Matthew 1 to Matthew 11, except for those passages I mentioned above. Volume 2 also contains 27 homilies, which span from Matthew 12-25. That is very impressive considering most of the missing texts occur after Chapter 12. The Prologue begins with an explanation of why the Gospel was written. In the time after Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension, there was a great persecution in Palestine, which put Christians at risk of being scattered and without a teacher, i.e, an Apostle or one of his successors, Therefore, they asked Matthew to compose the history of Jesus' life and also "teach the disposition of an evangelical life." For that reason, he ordered his Gospel into seven sections: 1. Christ's birth, 2. His Baptism, 3. His temptation, 4. His teachings, 5. His miracles, 6. His Passion, and 7. His Resurrection and Ascension. 

So what do the homilies look like? Let me put it this way, these are not your typical Sunday morning homilies. In fact, the one on Matthew 1 is approximately 30 pages, and with a book that measures 7" x 10" this is truly an impressive feat. In this homily, the anonymous writer chooses not to gloss over the genealogy of Jesus by picking a few big names out to talk about, but instead he explains the importance of over 25 of Jesus' descendants. He then explains the significance of Matthew's genealogy and also why it is divided into three sections of fourteen. Let that sink in for a minute, and think about your average Catholic Mass-goer. Today, some of us get annoyed/antsy in Mass when a priest's homilies goes over five minutes long. Can you imagine them sitting through this homily? You have to truly admire the faith and thirst for spiritual wisdom of the early Christians.

Matthew Chapters 5 through 7 are where the Sermon on the Mount occurs, and thankfully these the homilies for these important chapters remain intact. The commentary on the Beatitudes was beautiful, but I especially enjoyed reading his exposition on The Lord's Prayer. Matthew 7:21-23 are perhaps some of the scariest in the Bible. In this passage, it talks about people who think they will be saved, but at the very end, Jesus tells them that He did not know them and to depart from Him. After reading the homily on this particular section, I felt a little bit comforted with the Scripture passage. Though, I'm not sure if I was supposed to feel this way or not. The commentator equates those who are cast into the fire as eternal liars. Even after their death, they are still liars. Therefore, it made me feel that those cast in the fire were not ones who did good works for the Father but lacked faith, but instead these were ones who lied about doing good works for the Father when in reality they did not.

The depth and beauty of these homilies make them truly a worthwhile read. The commentator applies an allegorical method in them, but unlike strict allegory, he doesn't ignore the literal meaning of the Scripture as well. If you love the Gospel of Matthew and want to read what St. Thomas Aquinas read, then these are two volumes that you won't want to miss out on!

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

Friday, July 3, 2015

Just So Stories (Groundwood Books)

Rudyard Kipling was an English writer who was born in Bombay. He was known primarily for his short stories, which made him famous in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907, when he was only 42. He is still the youngest winner to this day. His most famous work was The Jungle Book, which though many have not read, recognize from Disney's adaptation of it. Today, I am reviewing my favorite Kipling work, his Just So Stories. Groundwood Books produced these books in two beautifully illustrated volumes.

Just So Stories, Volume 1 is an 87 page hardcover with illustrations by Ian Wallace. The stories included in this volume are as follows:

1. How the Whale Got His Throat
2. How the Camel Got His Hump
3. How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin
4. How the Leopard Got His Spots
5. The Elephant's Child
6. The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo

Just So Stories, Volume 2 is at thicker 139 page hardcover also illustrated by Ian Wallace. The stories included in this volume are as follows:

1. The Beginning of the Armadilloes
2. How the First Letter Was Written
3. How the Alphabet Was Made
4. The Crab The Played with the Sea
5. The Cat That Walked by Himself
6. The Butterfly That Stamped

Missing from this collection is The Tabu Tale, which to be fair, is omitted from most British versions. Unlike most of Kipling's works which smack of a very pro-empire view of Britain, these stories are written for children, more specifically Kipling's niece. However, I believe children come in all ages, so even those children in their twenties and thirties will be amused and enlightened by these tales as well. For example, did you know that a whale can only eat small fish, because a whale once swallowed a boy, and that boy built a gate in the whale's throat to prevent it from swallowing big fish and people? Or did you know that a rhinoceros is irritable and has folds in his skin because he got cake crumbs in his skin and as much as he scratched, all he could accomplish was stretching his skin out but not getting rid of the crumbs?

The stories that deal with animals are easily the most enjoyable for me and my family, but the ones involving the alphabet proved to be interesting. What really makes these stories though, is the illustrations! The pictures are gorgeous and plentiful! It's always disappointing when children's books don't have many pictures, but they occur in these volumes, about every third page. Most take up the whole page as well, so you and your little ones don't have to squint when reading together. Though these stories are well over 100 years old, they still stand the test of time. So, I encourage you to read them to your kids. If you have adult kids, read them to your grandkids. Make it a family affair, and keep these beautiful stories alive for future generations.

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Encountering Truth (Image Books)

I am the first Catholic to tell you that I am suffering "Francis fatigue." I'm not sure if it is an official term or one I made up, but it deals with fatigue at the attention he garners, not the man himself. He's in the news everyday. Every Catholic publisher has 5 new books about/by Pope Francis, St. Francis, or both. It's actually been a bit of challenge to find books to review that don't focus on Francis. So when Image Books asked me to review their latest book, Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the Everyday, I thought long and hard about it. That's saying a lot seeing that I love free books. I ultimately decided to give it a try, and here is my review of it.

Encountering Truth is a collection of Pope Francis' daily homilies given from St. Martha's Chapel. Fr. Antonio Spadaro wrote the introduction for this 400 page tome. In it he explains the nature of the homilies, Pope Francis' method of delivery, as well as the people who normally attend these homilies, This sets the stage for the homilies and puts them in the correct light before reading them. There are 186 homilies in total with each of them approximately two pages long. They are presented chronologically from March 2013 to March 2014. At the end of every homily are the Scripture passages from that particular. I'd recommend reading the Scripture passages first for context, and then reading the homily. The homilies are vast and varying, and include topics such as hypocrisy, prayer for the Middle East, the idolatry of money.

While I recommend reading every homily, you can just look at the Table of Contents and pick a topic that you think you need to read. One of the ones that spoke to me recently was "Never judge, never bad-mouth." In this homily, Pope Francis tells us, "Do not judge anyone because only the Lord can judge." Next, he tells us to "zip it," and if we have something to say, then say it to the person directly or someone who can help the situation, and not to everybody. Gossip is a big struggle of mine, and you can hear and read so eloquently on why it is harmful or bad for you and the people you are gossiping about. However, hearing it put so bluntly is what some people (myself included) need from time to time.

Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the Everyday is one of the latest books from Image Books and sadly is among the list of last books Image will be publishing. (Read more here.) I'm not sure if we can change Image's mind, but if more Catholics read more and bought more books, we might could. So if you are looking for a solid read, straight from the mouth of Pope Francis, this is the book for you! So pick up a copy, and try and read at least one a day.

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