Friday, June 29, 2018

Priests - What Lies Ahead? (Ignatius Press)

Priests are one of the greatest gifts Jesus left us before ascending into Heaven. They have the ability to turn bread and wine into Christ's Body and Blood. They also have the ability to forgive sins and reconcile us back to Christ and His Church. But what exactly is a priest? A priest is Christ's representative on Earth. He is teacher, father, physician, and pastor. In the book Priests - What Lies Ahead?, author Fr. Carlos Granados interviews four other priests to discuss the four roles of priesthood. Fr. Granados believes each of these four priests exemplifies one of these roles and has a dialogue with each of them on the role they best exemplify.

We start with an interview of Archbishop Luis F. Ladaria, where they discuss the role of priest as teacher. He talks about the influence different priests have had on his life, as well as living under 6 different popes, and which one he feels had the most impact on his life. He then talks about Christ not being a teacher, but THE Teacher, and how the Sermon on the Mount and his discourse at the Last Supper define his teaching. There is then a transition to discussing the Church Fathers and what we can learn from them. The big takeaway from this chapter is that the priest nourishes his flock, not just in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, but also in the the Liturgy of the Word. The next chapter discusses priestly fatherhood with George Cardinal Pell, and this was a very eye-opening chapter, because it spends some time discussing how society has been trying to kill the role of the father for a long time. They also discuss the priest as a companion on the path of the Sacraments of First Communion, Confirmation, and Marriage. The last two chapters are interviews with Monsignor Livio Melina and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput. These two chapters focus heavily on the shift in society, abandonment of tradition, sexual revolution, divorce, etc. They discuss how the priest can help heal society and what we can hope for from current and future priests.

This was a very interesting book to read through. As a layperson, it is easy to see priests in a different light than other men. We might put them on too high of a pedestal or hold them to an unfair standard, if they do something we don't agree with. Even worse, we might not think about them at all and just see them once a week as the person in the front of the Church who gives us Communion. None of these are fair ways to think about these men of God. Yes a priest is alter Christus (another Christ), but they are living, breathing men who are called by God to serve Him and His Church. This book helps shed some light on a life many of us will never experience or understand and shows us just how important the priest is, not just to the Catholic Church but to the world as a whole. Highly recommended for seminarians, new priests, old priests, or anyone wanting to know more about priests.

This book was provided to me by Ignatius Press in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Wreck Raiders (KTBG)

As my son gets older, I am trying to play more and more games with him, partly because I want him to unplug from electronics (not that I try to expose him to too much of that) and see the exciting world that games can bring you and partly because I am selfish and want another person to play games with me. We've tried various classics from my childhood and while they serve their purpose of teaching basic gaming skills, they don't seem to hold his attention throughout a whole game. Thankfully, there are great gaming companies out there who focus their catalog specifically on children and I would argue that the best one is Kids Table Board Gaming (KTBG). Presently, they have released Foodfighters, Problem Picnic, and Haunt the House, and I am the proud owner of all three. However, I am not here to tell you about those three games. Instead, I am going to tell you about their latest game currently on Kickstarter. It is called Wreck Raiders, and it plays 2-4 players ages 10+. It takes about 45 minutes to play, and it can be yours for a pledge of 38 Canadian dollars on Kickstarter! In this game, you are the leader of a team of treasure hunters exploring a lagoon for shipwrecks. You will work on creating exhibits and aquariums for the museum, but also build up your own vault as well!
1. Place the board in the middle of the table.
2. Shuffle the four Treasure Piles face down in the respective groups, and place them near their respective spots on the board.
3. Put the three types of Baubles near the beach end of the board.
4. Shuffle the Exhibits deck and reveal a number equal to one plus the number of players.
5. Shuffle the three stacks of Aquarium tiles (bottoms, middles, and tops), and create a market with three face-up tiles of each stack.
6. Give each player a Player Mat, a colored Player Marker, and a certain number of Divers in their color based on player count.
7. Pick a random start player (which in my house is usually my son).
8. Take the box lid and flip it upside down to form the Dice Pool. You will use a certain number of dice based on player count. For the first turn of the game, the starting player will roll the dice into the Dice Pool (or in my case, my son will roll them every time they need rolling). Note: When you roll the dice, roll them with gusto! If any dice end up slightly in a bauble zone (square), place the dice squarely in there, so that it is obvious to all players and can't be nudged out when someone (again my son) bumps the box lid and moves the dice by mistake.
Game Play - On your turn, you can perform up to four steps in the following order:
1. Take a Die From the Pool - Choose one of the remaining dice. If none are remaining, roll them as described above. Note: If the die is in a Bauble Zone, claim the indicated Bauble.
2. Move a Diver and Collect Rewards - Choose one of your Divers and move it to a numbered spot matching the value of the Die you claimed from step one. You may move to the beach or a wreck. You then get the appropriate Baubles or Treasures depending where your Diver went.
3. Claim One or More Exhibits (if you want to) - If one or more of your three display lines matches one of the Exhibits, you may claim it by discarding the appropriate Treasures. Note: It is possible to get bonus points by adding decorations or having Treasures in the exact order.
4. Buy One Aquarium Piece (if you want to) - Once per turn, if you have the appropriate baubles, you can claim an Aquarium tile. Note: You must start with a bottom, can have multiple middles, and only have one top.
The game will trigger when a player has a number of Exhibits equal to the number of Divers they started with. Final scores are based on Exhibits, Vaults, and Aquariums with the highest score being the winner!
Before I get into the review for this game, I'd like to say a little note about the company itself. Having played through all four games in KTBG's catalog, it has been fascinating to watch their company and their games mature. They have always aimed to publish games that kids and adults can play together, but with each subsequent game they release, they are introducing new mechanics, stretching our brains a little more, and helping us to grow as gamers. Now, onto the actual review.

1. The art and graphics in this game are phenomenal! Apolline Etienne (artist from other KTBG title Haunt the House) really knocked this one out of the park. The sea creatures are vibrant and life-like, and it's great to see the variety of creatures from puffer fish to narwhals (a personal favorite of my wife).
2. The game play is intuitive but it provides you a nice crunchy feeling in your brain, deciding which dice to take and where to place your worker. Do I place my worker next to my opponent's worker and give them a benefit too, or do I go somewhere else, so only I get the benefit?
3. There is also a nice tension of deciding what do with all the treasures and baubles you collect. Do I use my baubles to build my aquarium or for short term benefits like making a wild card or taking an extra treasure? And my treasures...oh boy, that almost feels press your luck. I get extra points for having the same colors and unique pieces on the colors, but if I grab a duplicate and can't use it to build an exhibit, then I lose some points. Lots to think about!

1. About the only neutral I have is the game box being used as a dice pool as well. I love the idea in theory, because it is done like this in another game I love - Rattle, Battle, Grab the Loot. However, there is potential for this to end poorly. If the box gets crushed, ripped, or something else, then a large portion of the game is effectively ruined as well.

1. This is a nitpitck, but the game is recommended for ages 10+, and while that's fair, I would argue not your average 10 year old. Most 10 year olds can grasp the basics and core of this game, but I can see where this game could be more geared towards a seasoned 10 year old gamer or an adult. In that regards, I would compare it to Takenoko in that it is approachable and easy to learn, but someone with more experience could crush you by optimizing their moves.

Bearing all this in mind, my family and I highly enjoyed this game. The game play is fun and engaging, the art keeps captivating you each time you play it, and the game always ends with you wishing you had just one more turn. These are the hallmarks of a great game. Highly recommended!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Epistles and The Apocalypse (Holy Trinity Seminary Press)

Archbishop Averky (Taushev) was the fourth abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York. He was one of the leading teachers of the Russian Orthodox Church in the 20th Century and is probably best known for his exposition on the New Testament. Holy Trinity Publications has published these books in three volumes, and I have been blessed to read and review each volume. Today, I am wrapping up this series with Volume Three - The Epistles and The Apocalypse. The book is a beautiful hardcover, like the previous two volumes and is divided into four main parts:

1. The Epistles of the Holy Apostle Paul
2. The Pastoral Epistles of the Holy Apostle Paul
3. The General Epistles
4. The Apocalypse (The Book of Revelation)

Part One contains Romans to Second Thessalonians. Part Two contains First Timothy to Hebrews, which is still debated if Paul wrote or not. Part Three contains James to Jude. Part Four is strictly Revelation. With the Pauline Epistles, we have an introduction that covers the significance of his epistles and why they are difficult to study, a context for the epistles, and a fascinating section covering the life of St. Paul. Each epistle is then given its own specific introduction, which covers subjects such as purpose, place and time, authenticity, structure, and the meat of the book - a lengthy section on exegetical analysis. The section on Revelation follows the same format. However, the exegetical analysis is much more in-depth, and feels verse-by-verse, as opposed to the briefer analysis given to the epistles. I imagine this is because Revelation has been so misconstrued and misinterpreted over the years that it needed an in-depth analysis.

This book is not only beautiful in its presentation and layout, it is also beautifully written. Even though, Archbishop Averky was a wise teacher in his own right, he also drew on the writings of other saints when doing Biblical exegesis. His primary two sources of wisdom and inspiration were St. John Chrysostom and St. Theophan the Recluse. However, for the Apocalypse, he also relied heavily on St. Andrew of Caesarea, who is THE best Church Father to read when it comes to reading the book of Revelation. If you are looking for a brilliant and approachable exposition on the New Testament, I highly recommend this three volume set from Holy Trinity Publications!

This book was provided to me for free by Holy Trinity Publications.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Apostles and Their Times (Sophia Institute Press)

If you want to learn about the Early Church Fathers (and Mothers), then the author you need to read is Mike Aquilina. He has provided Catholics with countless books, which are both excellent and approachable, and I am forever grateful for each and every one of those books. Today, I am reviewing one of his newer books called The Apostles and Their Times. I consider it a prequel of sorts to his other books, because without the Apostles, we wouldn't have the Fathers.

The book begins with an introduction that defines five key terms - minister, martyr, bishop, liturgy, and Eucharist. We then begin the book with a history of the Israelites and the value they placed in Jerusalem. To the Israelites, Jerusalem was the center of their world, and from this heavenly city, they awaited for their messiah to appear. When Jesus finally does arrive, there are several branches of Judaism (Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes) and each of them were looking for their own version of the Messiah. Therefore, few people accepted Jesus was the Messiah, because he wasn't the messiah they were looking for. Chapter Two explains to us what an Apostle is and how the term rarely appeared in the Gospels, but cropped up numerously in Acts and the Epistles. This leads us to the chapter on Pentecost, which is where the Church was born! The book continues by talking about martyrdom, Saul's persecution, and the new importance of Rome thanks to Peter and Paul.

Within this book, we not only are are treated to portraits of who the Apostles were, but through ancient documents and recent archaeological findings, we get to see them in their cultural context. This not only gives us a clearer picture of them, but also helps humanize these saints as well. By seeing them through the lens of their time and culture, we realize these weren't superhuman people, but fallible men just like us. They had strengths and weaknesses, temptations and sins, just like us. However, they relied on God, persevered, and most all were martyred for their beliefs. It was this witness of martyrdom that helped the Church to not only survive, but grow and thrive and continue on to this very day. Highly recommend this book, and any book that Mike Aquilina writes.

This book was provided to me for free by Sophia Institute Press in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Bird Books from TOON Books

TOON Books is one of the more clever publishers of children's books. The reason for this is because they have unique authors and artists and present their books in comic form. Now, not all people like reading a book with this type of graphic style, but to those who do, you'll be hard pressed to find a better publisher for children. Today, I'm looking at three of their "bird books." Each book is a 9" x 6" hardcover, which is an unusual shape on the bookshelf, but definitely stands out.
Birdsong is an unusual book inspired by the Japanese art of Kamishibai. For those unfamiliar with this form of theater, like me, there is an explanation in the back of the book. Basically, it is a series of pictures with no text, and the person with the pictures can tell whatever story they want to with these pictures. Within this book, we see two mean and cruel children who are cruel to animals. They injure a bird and continue to chase it after its injury. During their pursuit, they are transformed into monkeys and must now live a much harder life. This is an interesting book that gives your child free reign to tell their own story and let their creativity soar. However, the pictures also give us a warning on treating nature and animals with respect.
The Real Poop on Pigeons gives us a brief overview and history on pigeons, or what most people call them "rats with wings." This includes such facts as pigeons being the first airmail and being able to fly faster than a car and race without stopping. We are also given a detailed anatomy of this bird, as well as the different varieties of pigeons. I didn't know there were so many due to breeding. There is also a brief section that discusses Pablo Picasso's fascination with this unusual bird. As someone who can't really stand these birds, it was an interesting read that showed how beautiful and useful these birds can be. Your kids will love it because it has "poop" in the title and it also has funny illustrations.
A Goofy Guide to Penguins is a tongue-in-cheek book that explains everything you ever wanted to know about penguins and more. It tells how they look the same far away but not close up, why they like to stand up, and how they stay out of the wind. It also talks about how and why they catch fish, and also how they excel at swimming but not at flight. The book has hilarious illustrations that my son enjoyed, because it was taking common facts about penguins and putting a funny twist on them. We see fish showering on top of whales, using a space heater, and diving off a diving board. At the end of the book is a couple of actual facts on penguins to supplement the less than factual nature of the main book. Highly enjoyable book for kids.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Fatima in Brief (Catholic Faith Alive)

The sheer amount of material written on Fatima could fill a little library. While there are some truly great books out there, there are also some not so great ones that range from misinformed to heretical. With all of these books out there, where is an uninformed person to turn to separate the good from the bad? I am not qualified to answer that question for you, but instead I can tell you what book you should start with on your quest to understanding this Marian apparition. That book is Fatima in Brief by Rev. T.G. Morrow. The book is a small paperback, only 100 pages in length. It can be purchased at Catholic Faith Alive for $6 (plus shipping).

The book is divided into thirteen chapters with each chapter being no more than twelve pages. The language is also written in a simple format so that both children and adults can understand it. The book begins by telling a story of the six year old Lucia, who desired to received the Eucharist more than anything. Unfortunately for her, the age for First Communion was ten at the time. Brokenhearted at being unable to receive, she began to cry. However, a visiting priest named Fr. Cruz heard her tears and helped her received her First Communion the following day. At the moment, the host touched her tongue, her life was forever transformed. She prayed to God that day to make her a saint, and little did she know, she was well on her way. The rest of the book takes on the journey of Lucia from the moment she encountered the Angel of Peace to her death at age 95. Remarkably, she lived long enough to see her little cousins, Francisco and Jacinta beatified. They have since been canonized by Pope Francis, and I imagine it won't be long before she is declared a saint as well. The book closes by discussing the importance of the Rosary and explaining our role in Fatima which is to pray a Daily Rosary and attend Mass on the First Saturday of every month.

I admit that I am not the most learned when it comes to Our Lady of Fatima and the history of this Marian apparition. I found this read to be a quick read that packed a punch. It was very educational in a way that anyone can understand, but it also doesn't overly simplify things and talk down to you. Instead, the reader is presented with a cohesive narrative that gives both historical facts and spiritual significance. If you are looking for a great introduction to Fatima, I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

If You Love Me (Ancient Faith Publishing)

What is the difference between Christian knowledge and Christian service? It seems like a question that doesn't need answering, but in modern times, that couldn't be further from the truth. Knowledge focuses on edifying the mind and in doing so, potentially gaining pride in the wisdom you have gained. In other words, "Look at me. I'm so smart!" Service, on the other hand, focuses on self-abandonment, mastering your desires, and surrendering to God so that you may serve Him by serving others. Matthew the Poor wrote on this subject, and Ancient Faith Publishing recently published some of these essays under the book title If You Love Me.

The book begins by telling us about love being THE criterion for Christian service. This must be a love for God, His Church, and those we are called to serve. Next, we are given the qualities of a Christian servant. Matthew the Poor lists ten such qualities, some of which are a spirit of discipleship, a battle of inner selfishness, honesty, and impartiality. Other chapters include information about the people we are called to serve, spiritual diseases they will have, stumbling blocks and joys you will encounter on your path of service. The book then ends with ways to enhance our credentials for serving the younger generation. This includes prayer, fasting, the Sacraments, and a true devotion to Christ.

If You Love Me is a beautiful and eye-opening book that every Christian should take the time to read. So many books recently published focus on the individual reading the book and how they can better or edify themselves, which is something we should strive for. And while this book touches on that, it isn't the main focus. Instead, we are invited to look at those around us and see how we can better serve them. This service will not only be physically edifying for those being served, but spiritually edifying as well, with the ultimate goal of leading them to Heaven. If you are looking for a book that causes you to shift your focus outward and look at your fellow man and not just yourself, then this is the book for you. Highly recommended for all Christians, especially pastors and spiritual leaders.

This book was provided to me by Ancient Faith Publishing in exchange for an honest review.