Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Yours is the Church: How Catholicism Shapes Our World - Mike Aquilina

Yours Is the Church: How Catholicism Shapes Our WorldYours Is the Church: How Catholicism Shapes Our World by Mike Aquilina

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What has the Catholic Church done for humanity?

If you listen to popular culture today, you might get the impression that the Church is the universal enemy. The Church stands inthe way of progress. It exploits the poor. It oppresses women and children. It condemns everything that's good in our culture. And above all, it stands opposed to science and reason.

You've heard it all so often that, even if you're Catholic, you might half-believe it. But it's all wrong, and this book is going to show you why.

There are lots of books about great Catholics who have also been scientists, musicians, artists, or leaders--people who have done some good inthe world, even though they're Catholic. This book isn't like that. This book makes a much bigger and more startling claim: Everything about our modern world we think is good is there because of the Church.

The only reason we care about the poor is because Christianity has won. The only reason the rights of women and children are important is because the Church has made them important. The only reason we have science is because the Church taught us how to think.

This book is full of unbelievable statements like that. My hope is that, by the end of the book, you'll believe them all.

Yours is the Church that built up the best in modern culture. And yours is the church that has constantly defended the best against the horrors that rise against it. It's an exciting story, roaming up and down through two thousand years of history.
This introduction to the book gives a better overview than I could.

Aquilina covers various ways our civilization has benefited overall, and continues to do, from Catholicism's 2,000 years of cultural influence. Topics include: respect for women, the dignity of children, art, literature, music, charity, and more. He makes the points clearly by showing what pagan culture was like before Christianity, the influence of Christians on that culture overall, and then shows how our Christianity-infused culture is still shaped by that influence.

One of the things I liked best about this book is that Aquilina comes from such a positive point of view. As our priest often says, teaching from a positive point of view gets much further than stressing the negative continually. I have read many a book that sets out to refute the myths of what "everyone knows" about the Catholic Church. They may be effective for a few but they are often negative in tone which makes them difficult to read or care about if you are not fascinated by that particular topic. Aquilina's positive stance is evenhanded and makes one interested to see just how he's going to pull off the next "fantastic" claim.

Another thing that I really liked is that Aquilina doesn't sugar coat it when there is blame to be taken by the Church. I have never really been able to swallow defenses I've read of the later Crusades. Aquilina makes sure everything is put in perspective, such as making sure the context of an "inquisition" and the court systems of the times are covered, and then point out where blame is to be had. He does not leave matters there, often putting our own times in proper context in ways that open our eyes further. One of the most surprising instances for me was this bit of insight about the sex abuse scandals.
So our natural horror at child abuse--which by the way, is a good sign that our culture, for all its faults, may still be reasonably healthy--didn't come from the Greeks or the Romans. It came from the Christians. It was the Church that taught us to acknowledge the sacred rights of children as human beings.

The world judges Catholics by Christian standards now; the Christian victory has been so complete that it's practically invisible. When the babbling bloggers blame us for being Christians, they're really blaming us for not being Christian enough. Christian principles seem like part of the order of nature, laws as immutable as gravity and magnetism. But that's only because the Church succeeded, against all odds, in replacing what everyone thought was an immutable law of nature with a strange Christian idea--such as the notion that children are people too.
Although author Mike Aquilina is Catholic, his claims have been echoed to me recently from an unexpected source. Helping out with RCIA (classes for those interested in converting to Catholicism), subjects arose which prompted me to speak apologetically of how the Church has handled things such as the sex scandal.

Each time, one potential convert has spoken up saying, "Historically speaking ..." and setting the record in a larger historical context which makes it clear that shortfalls very often are not so much due to the Catholic Church as they are due to lapses on individuals' parts or even those of particular institutions within the Church (yes, Torquemada, I'm lookin' at you).

This particular "defender of the faith" comes from no particular religious background. His conversion began after visiting many of the cathedrals throughout Europe which then led him to begin reading history and noting the Church's place in it. I have to admit it has been refreshing to hear someone with no particular agenda comment on various contentious matters from a purely historical or statistical standpoint. Inadvertently, this person's casual remarks back up what Mike Aquilina states in this book. There is a lot of credit to be given to the Catholic Church that the world has become blind to ... and we can be proud of being part of this rich faith.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Novena for an Ordered Life

I picked this up from the Darwins some time ago. As I have mentioned and am going to mention regularly for at least a month, I'm very busy. This is an excellent novena for such times.

I myself haven't prayed it specifically as a novena, but have read it over slowly during prayer times as a meditative aid. And it has proven to be a wonderful reminder of what is really important. Which is a nice calming measure on its own as well as a connection to God's priorities rather than mine.

For Ordering a Life Wisely
St. Thomas Aquinas

O merciful God, grant that I may
desire ardently,
search prudently,
recognize truly,
and bring to perfect completion
whatever is pleasing to You
for the praise and glory of Your name.

Put my life in good order, O my God
Grant that I may know
what You require me to do.

Bestow upon me
the power to accomplish your will,
as is necessary and fitting
for the salvation of my soul.

Grant to me, O Lord my God,
that I may not falter in times
of prosperity or adversity,
so that I may not be exalted in the former,
nor dejected in the latter.

May I not rejoice in anything
unless it leads me to You;
may I not be saddened by anything
unless it turns me from You.

May I desire to please no one,
nor fear to displease anyone,
but You.

May all transitory things, O Lord,
be worthless to me
and may all things eternal
be ever cherished by me.

May any joy without You
be burdensome for me
and may I not desire anything else
besides You.

May all work, O Lord
delight me when done for Your sake.
and may all repose not centered in You
be ever wearisome for me.

Grant unto me, my God,
that I may direct my heart to You
and that in my failures
I may ever feel remorse for my sins
and never lose the resolve to change.

O Lord my God, make me
submissive without protest,
poor without discouragement,
chaste without regret,
patient without complaint,
humble without posturing,
cheerful without frivolity,
mature without gloom,
and quick-witted without flippancy.

O Lord my God, let me
fear You without losing hope,
be truthful without guile,
do good works without presumption,
rebuke my neighbor without haughtiness,
and -- without hypocrisy --
strengthen him by word and example.

Give to me, O Lord God,
a watchful heart,
which no capricious thought
can lure away from You.

Give to me,
a noble heart,
which no unworthy desire can debase.

Give to me
a resolute heart,
which no evil intention can divert.

Give to me
a stalwart heart,
which no tribulation can overcome.

Give to me
a temperate heart,
which no violent passion can enslave.

Give to me, O Lord my God,
understanding of You,
diligence in seeking You,
wisdom in finding You,
discourse ever pleasing to You,
perseverance in waiting for You,
and confidence in finally embracing You.

that with Your hardships
I may be burdened in reparation here,
that Your benefits
I may use in gratitude upon the way,
that in Your joys
I may delight by glorifying You
in the Kingdom of Heaven.

You Who live and reign,
God, world without end.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Blogging Around: The Too-Busy-To-Post Edition

Luckily, these folks ain't too busy ...
Sorry I've been gone so much. I should have a few goodies for you next week, just in time for Halloween!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I'm ready to tell you my secret now ...

... Scott and Julie both see dead people. M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense is the topic of discussion at A Good Story is Hard to Find.

A super-busy day again, so this will be my only posting today. Sorry, but go listen to Scott and me discuss the movie! There's plenty of Catholic goodness within!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Wind in the Willows

The Wind in the WillowsThe Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So you've begun to get really busy at work and you're feeling stressed out.

Then you watched The Sixth Sense (by yourself, after dark) so you can discuss it on a podcast.

And finally, you just know you're going to have nightmares and possibly be afraid of the dark if you wake up having to make that trip out of bed ... based on the last time you watched that darned movie.

What do you do?

What DO you do?

You pull out your trusty copy of The Wind in the Willows, that's what.

This gentle, imaginative tale of small animals who straddle both animal and human behavior in the most charming way will pull you in and have you thinking of Rat's splendid picnic basket, Badger's den beneath the Wild Woods, or Toad's way of being infuriating while his friends love him anyway. It pulled me into that fantasy world as a child and does so again when I read it as an adult.

Highly recommended (after all Teddy Roosevelt can't be wrong ... and this book has his letter to the author in the introduction).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Knox Bible (updated)

I am beginning that giant annual project today which leaves me a bit discombobulated and somewhat ... ok, a lot ... freaked out. All will be well and all shall be well and I know this is so. But the beginning is still a monumental task and so I am updating my review of The Knox Bible. See the update below.

The Knox BibleThe Knox Bible by Msgr Ronald A. Knox
It is unquestioned that for the past 300 years the Authorized Version has been the greatest single formative influence in English prose style. But that time is over …. When the Bible ceases, as it is ceasing, to be accepted as a sacred text, it will not long survive for its fine writing. It seems to me probable that in a hundred years' time the only Englishmen who know their Bibles will be Catholics. And they will know it in Msgr. Knox's version.-- Evelyn Waugh
I have been trying to get my hands on a Knox Bible for some time, ever since I learned of the existence of such a thing. An English translation done between 1936-1945 that strove to keep beauty while making all clear to the average Englishman ... translated directly from Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome, but while consulting the texts in Greek and Hebrew where needed. It sounded fascinating and possibly too good to be true.

Alas, Knox Bibles were nowhere to be found. Until now when Baronius Press has reprinted it in a nice serviceable edition ... sturdy-seeming but with lovely touches like ribbons, gilt-edging, marble end papers and more.

I have just begun to read but already have seen a couple of instances where the translation brought tears to my eyes when I read it aloud ... it struck a chord within.

As I sit daily and open this Bible up, I am struck by how readable it is.

Some of that is the format. Instead of having subheads telling us what we'll read, verse numbers at the beginning of sentences, and the formats we're used to ... it is in chapters and paragraphs. Just like a real book.

The verses are in tiny numbers on the outside margin. This sounds difficult, but as I've been checking this translation against others, I have found it is very workable.

Best of all, it leaves the reader free to just sit and ... read. As one would a regular book. I feel as if I can let the text hit me however it happens to for that moment, which surely is a good thing when we are trying to hear the Word in the words.

My biggest comparison with other translations was when I received it and sat down to look over the first couple of chapters of Genesis ... verse by verse ... compared with the New American Bible, the Revised Standard Version, the Douay-Rheims, and Robert Alter's superb translation. I didn't realize I had so many translations in the house until that moment. Which made me laugh. Bible geek - book geek ... it's pretty much the same thing at that point.

Reading them aloud, I read Knox's chapter 1, verse 2:
Earth was still an empty waste, and darkness hung over the deep; but already, over its waters, stirred the breath of God.
What is there in that to make me cry? I don't know but it touched my soul and I did. Something about that "stirred by the breath of God" was just so lovely and evocative.

You can imagine how I laughed, then, when reading my New American Bible:
and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind was sweeping over the waters
A mighty wind? Hmmm ...

Of all the Bibles, Robert Alter's "won" the Genesis if I can call it winning. But the Knox Bible was a close second and it was often more beautifully put.

It also made me smile, when I read Genesis, chapter 2, verse 1:
Thus heaven and earth and all the furniture of them were completed.
There was something both amusing and also "right" about thinking of the animals, fish, plants, and people as "furnishing" the earth. It settled in my mind in a way that the other translations failed to do (array, hosts, etc.).

I read Knox's "The Englishing of the Bible" which is a collection of essays he wrote explaining his translation choices. He wanted language that would be accessible, beautiful, and timeless. He kept "thee" and "thou" because, as he put it, there were times when the "thou" would mean God and times when that same "thou" might mean man ... he didn't want his choices between "thou" and "you" to influence the reader. He wanted to leave that for the moment and the Spirit to decide. I do find "thou" awkward sometimes, but it always makes me think about Knox's choice and I think that is a good reason for the older language in it.

This morning I looked at Psalm 19 (18 in Knox's numbering):
SEE how the skies proclaim God's glory, how the vault of heaven betrays his craftsmanship! Each day echoes its secret to the next, each night passes on to the next its revelation of knowledge; no word, no accent of theirs that does not make itself heard, till their utterance fills every land, till their message reaches the ends of the world.
There is a dynamic quality in the day echoing to the night, to the night passing on its revelation, that makes me think of nature itself as crying aloud, "Cannot you see God? We are showing Him to you." (So much less eloquent than the psalmist or Knox, of course.) But I can feel it in the birds singing outside my window, in the wind blowing the puffy cloud along.

I continue to compare the translations and there is no perfect one. I love the RSV. Sometimes Knox's old fashioned verbs slow me down or the meaning is not as clear as another Bible. But that is not often so far.

It speaks to me. As does much of this splendid translation. I will be reading it every day.

Other readers' reactions:
The Anchoress: The Knox Bible is a Treasure ... who has some great excerpts.
The Hermeneutic of Continuity ... sharing memories of taking Knox's translation to class.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Holy Family, Zombies, and Midrash: Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

“Joseph? Mary? My name is Balthazar. This is Gaspar . . . this is Melchyor. We don’t want to hurt you . . . we’re just looking for a place to rest. But, Joseph? if you don’t put that pitchfork down, I’m going to take it from you and stab you to death in front of your wife and child. Do you understand?”
Wanted thieves Balthazar, Melchyor, and Gaspar, disguised as wise men, show up at a little manger in Bethlehem with a huge star blazing overhead, looking for a hideout from the law. But when Herod's soldiers begin slaughtering the babies in Bethlehem, Balthazar (a.k.a. The Antioch Ghost) takes the safety of the Holy Family into his own hands. As fugitives on the run to Egypt, they must escape not only Roman soldiers but creatures of mythology and the occult. Everyone's either gunning for the Antioch Ghost with a price on his head or the innocent newborn who has such an unearthly effect on those around him.

Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) finally stops inserting his words into other people's writing and writes a book in his own words. And a fine job he does of it too. For a violent, gore-filled, action-thriller there are a surprising number of very human characters, many of whom we are meant to recognize.

Pontius Pilate appears as an ambitious young officer ambivalent about truth. Mary and Joseph struggle with how to reconcile the truth of Jesus as God with the reality of a baby who must be fed, loved, and parented. Above all, this is Balthazar's story, who has a complex story-line driving his actions and attitudes. We learn how he became the cynical Antioch Ghost and we wonder if he will find a more worthy goal than vengeance.

Above all, I was surprised to find myself eventually thinking of Unholy Night as modern midrash. Midrash is a traditional Jewish way of trying to understand the underlying spirit of scripture, sometimes connecting it to modern life, by creating parables. This allows for some imaginative storytelling as rabbis look for interpretations that are not immediately obvious but are nevertheless held within the original text.

Grahame-Smith lives up to the midrash ideal by both being respectful to his source material and also using his vivid imagination on a Biblical event that is wide-open to interpretation: Mary and Joseph's flight to Egypt with the Christ child. Among other things, the author is very good at opening new views on familiar subjects, such as just how horrible King Herod was. It brings to life the terrible things he did very much as I have read them in history books. One also gets a deeper understanding of the locals' simmering, resentful hatred of the Roman empire.

Narrator Peter Berkrot is a reader I haven't come across before but will be seeking out in the future. He conveys just the right amount of cynicism as Balthazar, menace and insanity as Herod, and innocence as Mary. I am not sure how this book comes across in print but I'd listen to it again in a heartbeat thanks to Berkrot's narration.

Grahame-Smith has delivered a story of Biblical proportions in Unholy Night: zombies, swarms of locusts, epic sword fights, outlaws, obsessed rulers, vengeance, redemption, and more are in this entertaining action tale. That he did it all while staying true to original material that can be unpopular reading these days makes him a writer I am going to seek out in the future. Highly recommended.

This review first appeared at SFFaudio.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories
This is a collection of eight short stories that return readers to the world of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. As I enjoyed Simon Prebble's narration of Strange & Norrell, I returned to that format to hear these stories. Prebble shares narration duty with Davina Porter whose undeniable skill I enjoyed even more than Mr. Prebble's and that is saying quite a lot.

Since all but one of these stories were previously published elsewhere, they vary from mere fragments (The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse) to retold fairy tales (Lickerish Hill). These are almost like some of the longer footnotes from Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which often meander away to tell fully imagined stories before returning to the main narrative.

The one constant is Clarke's skill at conveying readers to a magical England in the style of well known 19th-century writers such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Clarke has a dry wit which enlivens many of the tales and a good imagination for weaving attention holding yarns. I enjoyed all these stories quite a lot. If you are wondering whether to take the plunge into Strange & Norrell, these stories might be a good test of the waters.

Originally reviewed for SFFaudio.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

In One God: Professing the Creed for the Year of Faith

The Wine Dark Sea's series continues considering the creed phrase-by-phrase with "In one God" ... which is my contribution to the series as it turns out. Check it out at Wine Dark Sea.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Baldur's Gate: The Greatest Role Playing Game of All Time.

I concur.

Although my true love is the second game, Shadows of Amn, it hasn't been easy to find for Mac's updated systems. The thing that impresses me is that there are enough Baldur's Gate fans to make doing an updated version financially viable. It's been around for a long time.

Why dwell on this now?

Because there is an enhanced version of the original Baldur's Gate and the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion pack (which I never had) coming out very soon. With more characters and extra quests.

AND (because that's not enough ... it never is) there will be a remake of Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn and the expansion, Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal.

AND (because even that is not enough) there is a plan to make Baldur's Gate 3 after both enhanced editions are done. Of course this depends on how well these other remakes do.

I am willing to do my part. Just get that Mac OS X version out there and I will buy it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Frankenweenie: "I went to see this hoping that this would be Tim Burton's return to his former glory."

The concept is simple and should be charming. When Victor's dog and best friend Sparky is hit by a car, Victor uses the town's frequent lightening storms to bring him back to life. But when his fellow classmates discover his secret, they all begin to bring their pets back to life with disastrous results. So part of the problem lies in the fact that what starts out as a Frankenstein spoof suddenly turns into a monster movie during the climax only to abruptly return to the Frankenstein plot.

But the problems are greater than that. ...
Double Exposure (Rose) weighs in on Frankenweenie. I also was crossing my fingers for this one but dubious. Read it all at Double Exposure.

On the other hand, I still am excited about Looper and Argo which have gotten top notch reviews ... we might even go to the movies to see one or the other (is seeing both a dream that could come true? We shall see...)

A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

A Dog's PurposeA Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A bit of birthday book-a-liciousness that I had no idea what to think of. As a kid I reread Beautiful Joe and Black Beauty with no problems, though as an adult I cringe from revisiting those tough stories. As an adult I love Watership Down, but my overall experience with animal POV stories is that they tend to be sadder than is my preference. Reading Alice Walker's comment on the cover somewhere that she cried like a baby (ok, I'm paraphrasing) made me wary. However, I trusted my mother, who gave me this, so I figured I'd dip a toe into this doggy tale.

This is a simply told tale from the dog's point of view. I am loathe to say much about it because that would spoil the story. It is a very quick read, because of the simplicity, and yet it grabbed me in a way that is difficult to describe. I found myself thinking about it when I put it down. Part of the appeal is the various situations the dog finds itself in which are intriguing in the details of the experience. More than that I dare not say except to reiterate that it is much, much better than you might think.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Year of Faith: Professing the Creed

In his Apostolic Letter announcing the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict exhorts us to find a way to publicly profess the creed: “Religious communities as well as parish communities, and all ecclesial bodies old and new, are to find a way, during this Year, to make a public profession of the Credo.”
Melanie Bettanelli has begun a series meditating upon the creed. She's divided it into 47 pieces and invited a flock of bloggers to help. I myself will be chiming in very soon. Just click the pieces of the creed at The Wine Dark Sea to go to each post through the year.

Celebrate the Year of Faith by Reading the Documents of Vatican II ... or the Catechism

Jeff Miller at Happy Catholic Bookshelf says:
The start of ”The Year of Faith” coincides purposely with the start of the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago. Much has been said about the false “Spirit of Vatican II” which was a purposeful misdirection to the texts of Vatican II. While I have read some of the documents and parts of others I haven’t read through all of them. So I figured this was an opportune time to correct that.

So I have put together an ebook containing all the Councilar Documents which I will read this year and make available for others.
I too have read a few of those documents, enough anyway to show me that they were grossly misinterpreted by some people. I always meant to get around to reading all the documents. This is a great reminder to do just that ... and Jeff's ebook formats make it easy. Download them at the link above.


For this Year of Faith, Pope Benedict has encouraged you to study and reflect on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Well, here’s an easy way to do it.

Simply enter your email address and – starting October 11, 2012 – you’ll start getting a little bit of the Catechism emailed to you every morning.

Read that little bit every day and you’ll read the whole catechism in a year. Cool, right?

Sign up here. Via The Curt Jester who always knows what's going on.

Educating the women who didn't learn cooking from their mothers ...

My review of The Kitchen Counter Cooking School is up at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Julie's exploring a tomb. Scott's lost contact but he's sure she's fine, just fine ...

It's October. Time for the scary stuff!

Scott and I discuss four H. P. Lovecraft stories: Dagon, The Statement of Randolph Carter, The Color Out of Space, and The Dunwich Horror. All at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.

Pope Benedict's Homily Opening the Year of Faith

Watch it right here.

If you have a PC, that is. It seems to want Microsoft Silverlight before showing the video.

I am lucky enough to have a pal who saved the audio of the homily and sent it to me.

Whispers in the Loggia has the homily for readers.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Three Items of Interest (Plus One)

ITEM 1: Catholicism Pure and Simple

It's no secret that I love Father Longenecker's writing. Catholicism Pure and Simple is no exception. I'll be doing a full review soon, but wanted to mention that it is out now ... and it's good. Really good. Here's the description which is really accurate ... and, now that I think of it, doesn't leave me with much to add. Never fear, I'll find more to tell you:
The Catholic faith doesn't have to be complicated. Fr. Dwight Longenecker shows how it can be Pure and Simple. Starting with arguments for the existence of God, this book takes the reader step by step through the basics of the Catholic faith. Without using churchy language, difficult theological concepts or confusing arguments Dwight Longenecker explains not only the truths of the faith, but how to embark on the adventure of living the Catholic faith today. He uses plain illustrations from ordinary life, and explains the faith without complex footnotes or intimidating references. Catholicism Pure & Simple is perfect for high school students, confirmation candidates, members of RCIA classes and anyone seriously seeking God in the modern world.

Item 2: FaithWorks!

This is a short, punchy weekly newsletter with articles on prayer, relationships, family, spirituality and service. Father Longenecker is writing this for the Year of Faith. It's just right for help with the practical practice of our faith.

Check out the latest issue and sign up here.

Item 3: One More Soul

One More Soul has created and published a very comprehensive challenge to the HHS mandate--"Obey Mandate or Scripture?" In this 24 page newspaper, over twenty authors explain why you should be very concerned about the Health & Human Services mandate and its requirement that virtually all health insurance plans cover the intrinsic evils of contraception, sterilization and abortion.

 These writers--including bishops, priests and a seminarian, doctors, lawyers, and economists--provide very readable and common sense explanations for why this mandate is evil in seven different ways. It is a must read for anyone who values their religious freedom, and the conscience rights of employers, medical personnel, and all Americans.

Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr has granted "Obey Mandate or Scripture?" his Imprimatur, assuring that the newspaper is free of doctrinal or moral error.
We sell the publication in newspaper format, the entire piece is viewable for free on our website. We really just want to get the information out.

One More Soul is a non-profit dedicated to educating people on God's design for love, chastity, and marriage, with a focus on the blessings of children, Natural Family Planning, and the harms of contraception.
Read One More Soul here.

Plus One More Item: One Body, Many Blogs

When T.J. Burdick launched his blog back in 2010, he was puzzled by one question: how do you become an effective Catholic blogger?

Two years and many blog posts later, T.J. had few answers. So he began searching for help. He emailed a number of blogging friends and asked, "in your opinion, what are the 'ten commandments' that Christian bloggers should keep in mind?"

Ten Catholic bloggers responded with a diversity of answers. Some were deep, some pithy; some were practical, some spiritual. But together they provided T.J. a solid foundation for Catholic blogging.

Wanting to help others, T.J. decided to package all of this wisdom into a short, $1.99 eBook titled One Body, Many Blogs: A Guide for Christian Bloggers (eBook, 52 pages).
Brandon Vogt has a great review that includes much more information about this interesting sounding ebook with a solid list of trust-worthy contributors. Here is author T.J. Burdick's blog.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tandoori Pizza

Marinated chicken, mango chutney, green onions ... an amazing pizza. Get it at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen.

Blog Tour and Review: A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy by Sarah Reinhard

Special things: Sarah is praying the rosary every day of the blog tour. Also, there is a Nook giveaway sponsored by Ave Maria Press. See below my review for both.

So many of the crosses I have are made heavier by my approach to them. Instead of just walking along and dealing with them, I spend energy complaining, dreading, and trying to avoid them. Rather than offer them to God or--better yet--rather than asking him to help me, I try to do it just like my toddler insists, "By myself!"

When Jesus carried his cross, it wasn't easy. But it did end. Our crosses aren't forever. If there's an aspect of your pregnancy that is a cross for you, turn to this mystery in a special way. Ask Mary to help you turn your focus toward the One who stands ready to help you carry it.
Full disclosure: Sarah is a friend of mine.

Second full disclosure: That didn't make me want to read this book.

Final full disclosure: When forced by the bonds of friendship to grudgingly read it, I loved it. Now, that's a good book!

This is not a "what to expect when you're expecting" book, although some of those elements are contained within. This book feeds the inner mother-to-be as well as reassuring her about the outward changes she encounters. Covering the pregnancy week by week, Sarah Reinhard discusses physical changes for mother and baby, but then goes on to reflect on a mystery of the rosary as seen through the lens of that stage of pregnancy. She then encourages the reader with a small faith-related task to focus on for the week and then highlights an element of the Catholic faith.
One Small Step

As Catholics, we begin and end every prayer with the Sign of the Cross. It's part of our faith tradition. this week, focus on the Sign of the Cross as a prayer in its own right. Trace a cross on your husband's forehead before he leaves for work (if that's too weird, simply do it in your mind), and tell him you are praying for him. For many husbands, seeing the discomfort of their wives at the end of pregnancy (and during labor and delivery) is a version of standing at the foot of the Cross. Ask Mary to remain close to you and your husband as you journey closer to meeting this baby.
Labor and Delivery, and Baptism both have their own sections with similar combinations of practical and spiritual guidance. A few sections contain features written by women with a unique experience of motherhood, such as The Unexpected Child or The Joy of Mothering Many. All of the book is imbued with Reinhard's practical experience and inspirational reminders.

Reinhard is reassuring, down to earth, and sympathetic without ever being sappy or unrealistic. This is a book that I'm going to be giving to many of my friends who are young mothers. Certainly I will be handing a copy to each of my daughters when they are at this point in their lives. Highly recommended.


Be sure to enter to win a Nook (and any number of other goodies) each day of the tour over at Ave Maria Press.

To celebrate the launch of her new book, A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism, Sarah Reinhard invites all of us to spend her blog book tour praying the rosary together. Today, she shares this reflection on the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, adapted from the book:

Jesus was the Son of God. He didn’t really have to obey the law, because he was the law giver.

In the Presentation, where Joseph and Mary take Jesus to the Temple to be presented to the Lord, we see him doing just what he didn’t have to do, though: obeying. It’s a word that’s not common anymore and it certainly isn’t popular (if it ever was). Being obedient is equated with being run-over or brainwashed. It’s not usually painted in a favorable way.

And yet, in the Presentation, we see Jesus’ example of obedience through his parents. They committed him to God, even though they knew he was the SON of God.

In our own lives, obedience is often subtle, sometimes even invisible. It might mean skipping a fun night out because of a family obligation or not watching a show because of a holy day Mass. It could be listening to the still small voice of God in your life, or it could be eschewing something that leads you to sin.

What does obedience look like in your life? Examine it this week with the help of a spiritual friend or advisor. Look to Mary and ask her for guidance.

As we pray this decade of the rosary, let's hold all those brave women who have said yes to difficult and challenging motherhood in our intentions in a special way. Don't forget, too, that we are praying for an increase in all respect life intentions as part of our rosary together this month. (If you’re not familiar with how to pray the rosary, you can find great resources at Rosary Army.)

Our Father . . .

10 - Hail Mary . . .

Glory Be . . .

O My Jesus . . .

Monday, October 8, 2012

"Everything that I can remember, I have told with perfect candor.

... if anything remains vague, it is only because of the dark cloud which has come over my mind—that cloud and the nebulous nature of the horrors which brought it upon me."
The Statement of Randolph Carter by H.P. Lovecraft ... read for us at Forgotten Classics by Will Duquette.

The Beckoning Fair One and Real Life Ghost Stories

Get 'em now at SFFaudio where my unabridged reading of the story is followed by Jesse Willis, Scott Danielson, and me discussing it ... and each telling about our own brushes with ghosts!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Weekend Joke

This one is in honor of the baseball playoffs. It never fails to make me laugh.
A man walks into a bar with a dog. The bartender says, "You can't bring that dog in here."

"You don't understand," says the man. "This is no regular dog, he can talk."

"Listen, pal," says the bartender. "If that dog can talk, I'll give you a hundred bucks."

The man puts the dog on a stool, and asks him, "What's on top of a house?"


"Right. And what's on the outside of a tree?"


"And who's the greatest baseball player of all time?"


"I guess you've heard enough," says the man. "I'll take the hundred in twenties."

The bartender is furious. "Listen, pal," he says, "get out of here before I belt you."

As soon as they're on the street, the dog turns to the man and says, "Do you think I should have said 'DiMaggio'?"

Friday, October 5, 2012

Why You Should Be Reading a Little Bit o' Lovecraft This Weekend

Because Scott and I will be discussing four of his short stories next week at A Good Story is Hard to Find.

And you know you want to find out why two good Catholics would love the lurking horror that is in these tales:
  • Dagon
  • The Statement of Randolph Carter
  • The Colors Out of Space
  • The Dunwich Horror
I recommend reading them in this order as the ethos and worldview build nicely that way.

Although I must warn you that I have had a nightmare about Dagon ... and he was invisible. So, there is that to consider.

Nonetheless, it is quite good fun and I'm excited that I was able to listen to the stories. Lovecraft's prose just rolls into your ear so beautifully.

6 Month Economic Forecast

I've done the accounting for our small firm for nigh on these twenty-three years. One of the interesting things is that we seem to reflect economic trends about four to six months ahead of the big business reports that show up in the newspaper.

If we're rolling in business and have built up a good cash reserve, months later the government is reporting a banner year for business and employment. If we're scraping for business, then about six months later we read a doom-and-gloom report from the Wall Street Journal.  I am not accounting minded and so even noticing this trend means it has to have been borne out repeatedly.

Suddenly, and I mean within the past month, almost none of our regular clients are paying their bills on time. There are always some people who pay late and some who pay on time. Like every business, we count on the "on time" customers to cover the ones who are slow. But now ...practically everyone is running into the 60-90 day overdue slot on all their bills. And my statements are being ignored ... I have  to call and put people on the spot to get those 60 days bills paid, which is also not usual. I've never experienced anything so sudden from so many at once.

Tom began checking around and found out we're not the only ones. There's a big slow down from everyone.

I'm don't keep up with any political economic plans or forecasts. We just keep working to pay the bills. But I'll tell you this from a purely practical standpoint ... whatever's being done now -- it ain't workin'.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Movie You Might Have Missed: 32

A little something to get you in the Halloween mood.

 32. The Body Snatcher

Here's the real benefit of going to an actual video rental store. You walk in looking for I Walked With a Zombie because B-Movie Catechism and Zombie Parent's Guide both recommended this "Jane Eyre in Haiti" flick.

You leave with the double-feature dvd including The Body Snatcher because that's the only way it comes. I Walked With a Zombie was fine but short and rather light-weight. Go to the above linked blogs to read full reviews.

We looked dubiously at the art for The Body Snatcher. I could vaguely remember the Robert Louis Stephenson short story upon which it was based. What the heck, we had the rest of the evening so we started watching ... and were rewarded with a real prize.

In 1831 Edinburgh, Dr. Wolf MacFarlane (Henry Daniell) needs corpses for his students to learn anatomy. When young medical student Donald Fettes (Russell Wade) is promoted to his assistant, he makes the acquaintance of cabbie John Gray who provides the corpses. After a sinister conversation about the hospital not having enough dead poor people to provide the need, it becomes clear that Cabman Gray (Boris Karloff) is all too resourceful about providing supplies for the school.

There's a subplot about a poor little girl who needs spinal surgery (the very thought of such a thing in 1980s Edinburgh should send shivers down your spine if nothing else does) but it is not important. The key is Karloff's fantastic acting as the sinister Gray. I never saw him as Frankenstein but fell in love with his portrayal of this jovially menacing character. Yes. Jovially menacing. That is just how good he was.

The atmosphere is appropriately dark and spooky, the subject ghastly, and the doctor provides a lovely study in habitual actions turning you into someone who will do things that you'd never have thought possible when you began practicing medicine. Directed by Robert Wise and produced by Val Lewton, this is a dream team combination that hits every point perfectly. Yes, even factoring in the sweet little girl needing surgery.

Highly recommended for any time but especially now that Halloween is coming up.

And if it comes with I Walked With a Zombie, that movie make a perfect atmosphere provider before you launch into the main attraction.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Making the Mass More Personal: Reviewing "The Beauty of the Word" by Anthony Esolen

The Beauty of the Word: A Running Commentary on the Roman MissalThe Beauty of the Word: A Running Commentary on the Roman Missal by Anthony Esolen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Guided by Anthony Esolen, a master translator and professor of literature, you'll go deep into the meaning of each part of the liturgy. Esolen explains the importance of this new translation, and provides context, scriptural references, notes which reference the original Latin text, and more. This is a must-have guide for unlocking the riches of the newly implemented and newly translated Roman Missal. The Beauty of the Word gives a comprehensive, step-by-step commentary to the changes in the Order of Mass (including Prefaces), the Proper of Time, and the Proper of Saints. The unique insights found in this book give the reader a full understanding of the scriptural, liturgical, linguistic, and pastoral rationale of the revised Missal.
I am not sure exactly what I expected however I suspect that, once I have had a chance to reflect upon it, this book is going to deliver more than I realized. Anyone who has the Magnificat Roman Missal Companion published for the change in the liturgy, has an abbreviated version of this larger book.

Anthony Esolen breaks open the prayers of the Mass throughout the year, using the changes in the translation as a starting point. However, he goes beyond simply discussing word choices as he draws the reader's attention to connections with scripture, the Mass readings, and Christ in our lives. The first half of the book is devoted to the Collect, Prayer over the Offerings, Preface, and Prayer after Communion for every Mass through the year. Special times like the Triduum, of course, have commentary for many other prayers used only then. Thus we are given a rich source of reflection to add to the Mass readings themselves

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Prayer over the Offerings

Grant us, O merciful God,
that this our offering may find acceptance with you
and that through it the wellspring of all blessing
may be laid open before us.
Through Christ our Lord.

...the wellspring of all blessing: Echoing the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well: "The water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (Jn 4:14). The bridegroom in the Song of Songs, whom Christians interpret as Christ, says of his bride, the Church: "You are an enclosed garden,my sister,my bride, / an enclosed garden, a fountain sealed" (Song 4:12). We pray that the fountain may be opened to us, like the opened side of our Savior on the Cross.
The next section covers the Order of the Mass in detail, commenting not simply upon prayers but upon all the spoken liturgical elements. This book, unlike the aforementioned Missal Companion, contains comments for Mass elements arising only at special times, such as various Prefaces for Lent and Easter or Blessings at the end of Mass for Weddings.

The last section comments upon the Collects, Prayers over the Offerings and Prayers after Communion for the Proper of Saints. As Esolen says, there is not room to comment upon those for each of the saints in the year, which is a real shame. He makes general remarks that apply to all these prayers and then discusses the specific prayers for special feast days. Included among those we might expect, such as for the Annunciation and special feasts for Mary, we find commentary for interesting extras like the Chair of Saint Peter the Apostle, Saint Lawrence, and Saint Bartholomew. Certainly it is enough to make me wish for a book of commentary on the saints throughout the year.

This is an extraordinary resource and it is fascinating to see the riches contained in even the smallest prayers read during the Mass. They often catch my ear with personal meaning but this book will help draw me closer to Christ to consider the underlying beauty and depth in every portion of the holy Mass. I will be using this book for daily contemplation and as a prompt to look up the scripture to which the prayers refer. It will be a different sort of Bible study but one that should have immediate application every Sunday at Mass.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Indepth Investigation of Jesus' Death: Reviewing "Who Moved the Stone" by Frank Morison

This review first saw the light of day way back in 2004. I was reminded of it when I saw a new book with a similar premise mentioned by someone on GoodReads. I was really pleased to see that it is now reprinted and easily available. It is a terrific read and I highly recommend it.

Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison
In attempting to unravel the tangled skein of passions, prejudices, and political intrigues with which the last days of Jesus are interwoven, it has always seemed to me a sound principle to go straight to the heart of the mystery by studying closely the nature of the charge brought against Him.

I remember this aspect of the question coming home to me one morning with new and unexpected force. I tried to picture to myself what would happen if some two thousand years hence a great controversy should arise about one who was the center of a criminal trial, say in 1922. By that time most of the essential documents would have passed into oblivion. An old faded cutting of The Times or Telegraph, or perhaps some tattered fragment of a legal book describing the case, might have survived to reach the collection of an antiquary. From these and other fragments the necessary conclusions would have to be drawn. Is it not certain that people living in that far-off day, and desiring to get at the real truth about the man concerned, would go first to the crucial question of the charge on which arraigned? They would say: "What was all the trouble about? What did his accusers say and bring against him?" If, as in the present instance, several charges appear to have been preferred, they would ask what was the real case against the prisoner.

Strongly influenced by late 19th century skeptics, Frank Morison decided to discover Jesus' true nature by looking critically at the facts surrounding his death and resurrection. He wound up being convinced of Jesus' divinity but it is a fascinating read even if you had no doubt of that fact. I have never read anything quite like this book which still holds up even though it is over 70 years old. Morison evaluates things that I never thought to question such as why Judas chose that particular night to turn Jesus over to the Pharisees, whether the Pharisees and Pontius Pilate worked hand in hand in Jesus' case, and where the apostles hid out (and why) during the trial and subsequent events. In some ways this reads like a "true life" murder mystery as the author reconstructs events and traces people's actions.

I didn't agree with every conclusion Morison made such as the identity of the young man at the tomb. Nor did I approve of every reference that was used, such as the Gospel of Peter and Gospel of Hebrews, although he did use many reliable sources such as the works of Josephus, the Jewish Historian and the few historical writings on the character of Pontius Pilate. However, those quibbles aside, this is a classic apologetics work and one well worth seeking out. You definitely will examine the facts surrounding Jesus' death with a more analytical eye.

Monday, October 1, 2012

[UPDATED] Classic Tales Audiobook Sale: Buy One, Get One Free

For a limited time, buy one of our most popular titles priced at $9.99, and get another absolutely free! This includes not only favorites like She, A History of Adventure, Captain Blood and The Phantom of the Opera, but also many new titles like Hamlet, The 39 Steps and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This offer is available for a limited time only, so click the text link below and start saving!

Buy One, Get One Free!
If you aren't downloading The Classic Tales podcast already then you need to begin doing so. B.J. Harrison is a superb narrator. He doesn't leave his recordings up forever though. At some point, they get moved to his store and sold as audiobooks.

Harrison also sells audiobooks that he's recorded aside from the podcast, though a few of these sale items have appeared on Classic Tales.

At a price of $10 per book they are a good deal. A two-for-one sale is real value. Be sure to check it out.

I was asked what I recommend. Some of it, naturally, depends upon my own preferences. For example, I'm never going to buy A Room With a View by E.M. Forster.

Never. Ever.

I can't state that strongly enough.

That said, I have heard and can recommend highly:

  • Captain Blood
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • Kidnapped
  • Tarzan of the Apes
  • The 39 Steps
  • The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu
  • The Mark of Zorro
So you can see I trend toward the adventure story and the horror story. No surprises there, I'm sure!

Review - Undead: Revived, Resuscitated, and Reborn by Clay Morgan

Undead: Revived, Resuscitated, and RebornUndead: Revived, Resuscitated, and Reborn by Clay Morgan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Clay Morgan uses our current fascination with zombies, vampires, and other undead figures to draw parallels with the need to come fully alive in our Christian spiritual life. He is engaging, interesting writer and Undead is an easy, fast read. I enjoyed the way that Morgan would segue from pop culture supernatural to his life and then bring it home to Christ and personal points we all can ponder about our own faith. This was always done with a light but sincere touch.

I especially appreciated several interesting points drawn especially from the interpretation of different parts of scripture. For example, I never caught the connection between Jonah and Peter before. Morgan points out that Jonah fled to Joppa when he was running away from God. In Acts, Peter raised Tabitha from the dead. Tabitha came from Joppa. Jonah went to Joppa in disobedience and Peter went in obedience to God. Just like bookends. Peter, in a sense, corrects Jonah's actions.

I must mention, though, that any Catholics reading this are bound to notice where the author is distinctly Protestant, such as when he says in a footnote:
So when he [Jesus] figuratively says to eat his flesh and blood they take him literally. When he says he will literally rise from the dead they think he's being figurative. Fascinating.
What is more fascinating to me is that the author provides no support for his interpretation of the above statement. He just assumes that everyone understands why he makes these statements. Now, a Catholic would say that Jesus was being literal about eating his flesh and that Jesus' followers did not think he was being figurative but were continually confused and unable to understand what Christ meant about resurrection. There aren't many of those moments and the above example is the most egregious, but they are there. Catholics can get a lot from this book but they need to know their faith and be ready to shrug off the places where the author diverges from Catholic teachings.

To be fair, pushing a Protestant "agenda" isn't the point the author is making. He is trying to draw people into a deeper experience life, whether they need to find Christ or know Him already. This book would probably be especially interesting to college age and young adults who love pop culture and are seeking a deeper meaning in life. I admit that I am far past those years but I enjoyed Morgan's humor and writing style. It isn't a very deep book but sometimes the simple things are what make us dig deeper on our own. I'm giving it thumbs up.

*I wrote this for the Patheos Book Club. Publishers pay for the Patheos Book Club to feature their books ... and I received a review copy free. However, my opinions are my own and I love or hate a book on its own merits.