Living in a Catholic bubble can be nice, but I like to pop my head outside and take a look around every now and then. In the context of Austin CNM, that means reading books by non-Catholics or without explicit religious themes for this Catholic book review column. Sometimes that leads me to gems like Mere Christianity and pleasant surprises like Bound Together. But even when I select a book that doesn’t ignite that spark, I always find something to learn. Starting at the End: Worldview, God’s Word, and Your Future, by Brad Alles, is another non-Catholic book choice.
Jul 23 2013
I love learning. That sounds so cheesy, but I really do! My favorite learning experiences are always connected to finding out earth-shattering new information about something I thought I already knew well. I used to think that car turn signals were activated by the car (not the driver; in-car navigation systems seemed unremarkable at first!), and I used to know that the “Holy, Holy, Holy” at Mass came from Scripture, but not how. Thanks to a long-term book loan from a friend and the Catholic 20-Somethings summer book club, I have now read The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth, by Scott Hahn, and I have learned so much.
You may remember my review of Rome Sweet Home, also by Scott Hahn, from the beginning of the year. Hahn is a former Presbyterian who reasoned his way to Catholicism based on his understanding of covenant theology and his deep knowledge of Scripture. I expected more of the same in this book, and I was proven correct. In The Lamb’s Supper, Hahn tackles the Book of Revelation (which is singular—no “S”) and reveals that the fullest understanding of the book must be united with our understanding of the Mass.
Jun 25 2013
I love conversion stories. As a cradle Catholic who lapsed for a few years, I have my own story of coming to know Christ and his one true Church, but I am always fascinated by the journeys other people have taken to get to Catholicism. Some of my favorites are the stories that came with the greatest personal risk. Allen Hunt, author of Confessions of a Mega-Church Pastor: How I Discovered the Hidden Treasures of the Catholic Church, made the riskiest leap I’ve seen so far. It’s stories like his that leave me convinced of the great blessing of my having been baptized into the Church as an infant and the incredible responsibility I have not to ever leave her.
Sep 04 2012
I have never had my heart broken by a book so quickly. I cried when I first read A Walk to Remember (hey, it’s romantic and sad!), and I was upset when Mockingjay was such a lame conclusion to the Hunger Games trilogy (I got sick of Katniss’s PTSD), but I don’t think any book has ever left me so sad and so worried about the future as Brave New World. As with The Screwtape Letters, Brave New World was on my list of books I ought to have read sooner. I’m glad I finally read it, but I don’t know if I can bring myself to read it again. My heart can only break so far.
Aug 21 2012
If The Giver blew your mind, it may further blow your mind to know that The Giver has sequels. As if the journey of twelve-year-old Jonas through the frightening truth about his seemingly perfect world weren’t enough, Lois Lowry has spun another tale. The Giver presented a futuristic world with no choices and an oligarchy enforcing “Sameness” to create a better world, but one with sinister secrets. There are indications, though, that Jonas’s community is not the only one. What about everyone else?
In Gathering Blue, we find out what is going on in the world beyond.
Jun 26 2012
We are all called to be saints. I’ll say that again, with help from St. Bernadette and a friend’s email signature, “I must become a saint. My Jesus demands it.” Most of us aren’t actively working on that, but some must be. In my never-ending quest for good Catholic YA, I picked up The Possibilities of Sainthood, by Donna Freitas. I was delighted. There may be hope for books about Catholic teenagers with problems yet.
Jun 23 2012
I am going to volunteer with Pure Fashion in Austin this coming school year! I’m not into modeling, but i am into character education and spreading the positive message of modesty, and this seems like a great way to do it. Don’t tell any of my former students, but I kind of miss working with high schoolers.
On a vaguely related note, Ive been seeing the ad for Trendy Top all the time lately, and I kind of want one. It seems like a great solution to the low-rise waistline, and it doesn’t encourage you to switch back to immodest like the Cami Secret.
Did you catch the USCCB’s announcement of a new online-adapted Catechism of the Catholic Church? It’s pretty sweet. I love the look, and I especially like that the footnotes and cross-references are pop-ups so they don’t take you away from the section you’re on. Who says the Church can’t get with the times (when appropriate, because some things are timeless)?
I started a new Bible study program this week. When I was in college, I started a Bible study on salvation history. Our leader left at the end of the school year, leading me to decry (as a joke) that I’d never know how it ended. I’ve been looking for a good opportunity to join another salvation history study then, and I stumbled across The Great Adventure Quick Journey Through the Bible just in time to register (3 days before it started). It’s at a church one town away, so my commute is super long, but I’m very excited for this study, and at least driving is a productive way to spend those thirty minutes.
This 7QT is posted late because Sarah is visiting me, and Getting Things Done before her arrival was much more important that typing this. But now it’s Saturday morning, which sounded like a good designated computer time to me.
I stumbled across a National Catholic Register article lamenting the transfer of the Ascension to Sunday across the U.S. I have been complaining about that since I started paying attention to it. The Pentecost Novena is still the only official one in the Church, and it starts on Thursday. Thursday is supposed to be the Ascension so it makes sense to start praying that day! It’s not even like asking people to go to Mass two days in a row (which will actually happen with the Immaculate Conception in 2012; that day never gets transferred or loses its obligation). Can we be that surprised that people don’t know what a novena is or when Church holidays are if we don’t even do them on the correct day? </end rant>
In other NCR news, Steven Greydanus cautions against reading any reviews of Brave. I tend not to read reviews precisely because they are spoilery (and I tend not to loathe what reviewers often do). I had such a tough time with my ACNM series on the Hunger Games books because I wanted to preview each book without revealing too much, but I’d read all three before I started writing. This leads into a bigger discussion of media discernment (again! It’s important!), but I’m glad I got the warning. I knew Mandy Moore’s character was going to marry Shane West’s in A Walk to Remember, but I didn’t know she was going to die, so perhaps that’s why I still love that movie. Among other reasons.
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!
May 29 2012
At Austin Catholic New Media, we strive to harness the most popular social technologies of the day to aid in the New Evangelization. In other words, since everyone and his grandma is on Facebook, can we share our Catholic lives in photos and status updates? Can we use YouTube to teach people about Catholicism? And what is all that stuff, if you don’t already know? Brandon Vogt, blogger at The Thin Veil, brings together various authors writing on this very topic in his book The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishop who Tweet.
This review was written as part of the Tiber River Reviewer Program. I received a free copy of the book in exchange for this honest review of it. For more reviews of Catholic books, visit Tiber River. To purchase Catholic products of all kinds (not just books), visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.
May 24 2012
Last month, I went to see October Baby when its distribution expanded to Austin. Although I am a Christian, I do not feel automatically compelled to like Christian films. Holy people still sin; Christian films can still be terrible. I’ve never actually seen any of Sherwood Pictures’s movies (Facing the Giants, Fireproof, or Courageous), but I haven’t intentionally avoided them. I hear the acting is bad. An over-reliance on volunteers has plagued many a church endeavor.
I will admit, though, that I saw October Baby in a theater (on a Friday!) partly so that films of its nature will continue being made. It’s not that I want more material for critics to pan: I want the industry to improve. It’s hard to start making better Christian movies if you stop making them altogether. Think about how popular superhero films are right now, or how many dozens of paranormal teen romance novels you can find. When one works, more get made.
A few years ago, I went with the youth group I helped chaperone to see To Save a Life. I’m admittedly a sucker for stories about teenagers with problems, but I thought it was a good movie overall. The acting seemed okay, although it wasn’t phenomenal. The story did not end perfectly, and it was compelling and realistic without being too preachy (though not without being preachy at all, of course). I enjoyed it so much that I bought it on DVD. I knew it would be worth re-watching and contemplating. (It deserves its own review one of these days. Stay posted.)
I’m not sure that I can say quite the same about October Baby, but I definitely enjoyed it. The movie tells the story of college freshman Rachel, who collapses on stage at her first major theatrical performance. Her suddenly worsened illness is linked to her lifelong health problems, which began with her difficult birth. Eventually, Rachel’s parents reveal that they adopted her after she was born during an attempted abortion. (Many pro-lifers will recognize this as the story of Gianna Jessen.) Torn over this new facet of her identity, Rachel sets out with her best friend Jason to find her roots and figure out who she’s going to become.
Without giving away too much of the story, I found it reasonably realistic. Some of the secondary characters were either too heavy-handed with the comic relief or entirely useless, though, which annoyed me. There’s a line between a background character and a flat secondary character, and it must be respected. Having lived in the areas where the film takes place, I can attest to the general behavior of those locals, as strange as it may seem. Sometimes people really are too nice to believe. Despite those odd characterizations, the acting left me with no complaints. When I learned that Jasmine Guy and John Schneider were featured, I knew this movie would be different. Hiring recognized actors brings so much credibility to a film such as this!
One of my favorite aspects of the movie was that Rachel and Jason demonstrated a beautiful and healthy relationship. He treated her with respect and protected her without being controlling at all, and she accepted his affection without losing herself in him. She was still independent, but he helped lift her up. They had a long history that contributed toward their future, and I believed that they had a genuine and Christlike love for each other. I can’t say that about every movie pair.
October Baby is clearly a message film. Its tagline, “Every life is beautiful,” suggests a kind of hope that many people have lost these days. Whether you find hope in God or in the balancing power of “the universe,” October Baby will help remind you that there is goodness inherent within people. The future may not be dazzling, but it can still be bright.
May 15 2012
This week, the official Top Ten Tuesday topic is “Top Ten Authors I’d Like To See On A Reality Show (and which reality show :P) OR Top Ten Authors Who Deserve Their Own TV Show – UPDATE: Now, this week is a freebie week for those who don’t want to do this topic! It wasn’t as good as an idea as I thought initially. But, feel free to do this topic still if you’d like!”
Well. I honestly prefer my authors to stay authors (unless they’re consulting on the movie adaptions of their books, which I think is preferable, cf. J.K. Rowling), so I’m going to use this free week to write about my top ten Catholic books. Somehow, I don’t think that will be coming up on TTT anytime soon (especially since, come to think of it, they’ve already done favorite genre and I chose dystopias).
Top Ten Catholic Books
- The Bible: I had to. The sad reality is that most Catholics don’t actually read the Bible. This is partly because Bible reading is seen as a fundamentalist or evangelical thing (how else could they argue for sola scriptura?) and partly because every Mass includes Bible readings. I think the Catholic Church would be in a much better position if her members committed to actually reading, in context, one of the primary sources for our faith knowledge.
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC): Again, I had to. This one book contains official Church teachings on everything from the Commandments to the sacraments to revelation. It is not easy to read; each paragraph takes some digesting. It is worthwhile, though, to have as a resource.
- The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (USCCA): When the CCC was published, it came with the directive that each conference of bishops (in the U.S., the USCCB) work on adapting it for use in their own countries. The result of that project was the USCCA. It is unfortunately a larger book because it is well typeset and has fun things like pictures and discussion questions. (It’s even larger than almost all my Bibles. Yikes.) My favorite feature is that each chapter begins with the story of a saint, blessed, or famous religious figure whose story relates to the topic of the chapter. I read the chapter that begins with Orestes Brownson for a class at Notre Dame just days before I walked across his grave marker (which is in the floor of Sacred Heart Parish, on the basement level of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame). I wasn’t being creepy; just going to confession. I think that’s the closest I’ve ever been to a saint’s remains!
- Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton: I’d read enough praise of Chesterton and enough of his pithy quotes to know that he was a very smart man and very witty. It took me a long time to actually start reading this book after I bought it, though, and even longer to finish it (six months). I loved it! He does a fantastic job of explaining that it was not so much that he found Catholicism and found sense in it, but that he found that the only thing that made sense was Catholicism. The humor didn’t hurt, either. I took notes in the margins (in pencil) at at the bottom of pages because I didn’t want to forget anything. It is dense but compelling.
- Theology for Beginners by Frank J. Sheed: I just finished this one this afternoon. It was very well structured and systematic, which I appreciated. It’s not an apologetics book, so it presumes belief in all the principles it explains. It opened up things I’ve never understood in this depth before, like the Trinity and the concept of Spirit. It even referred back to earlier parts of the book, so I kept refreshing my memory. That was also helpful because this one took me a long time to read, too. (Just under four months this time—I’m improving!) It was so worth it.
- Anything on the Theology of the Body: I can’t quite recommend the actual book that contains the original speeches (Man and Woman He Created Them) because I haven’t actually read it, but everything I know about the Theology of the Body has changed my life. In particular, I’ve enjoyed books and materials by Christopher West and Jason Evert.
- Catholicism for Dummies: It sounds ridiculous, I know, but it was written by two priests from EWTN and has a lot of legitimate information: a brief history of the Church, a list of famous Catholics, and of course, a ton of practical information about being Catholic. Since I am me, I had to read the whole thing cover-to-cover, which (you guessed it) took me a very, very long time.
- Humanae Vitae (“On Human Life”), by Pope Paul VI: This is it: the dreaded birth control encyclical. The shocker is that it’s so short! It’s only about six pages long [PDF], but it is packed with information. I am convinced that most Catholics (especially those who use artificial birth control but claim to be otherwise faithful) have never actually read this document. They might be convicted if they did. Granted, I read it after I first learned the Theology of the Body, but the simplicity and eerie predictions make this a crucial read for anyone who wants to really understand Catholic teachings on sex, marriage, and children.
I’m going to say my TOB recommendations count as the last two. I have a Catholic book review column, but not everything has been good enough to make my top ten. This just means I have to read more Catholic books to get to the cream of the crop. Oh, the agony.
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