Book Review: Be a Man

Are you a person who:

  1. reads the Bible?  Are you spending time reading Scripture every day?  Are you living with the mindset, “No Bible, no breakfast; no Bible, no bed?”
  2. surrenders to the Holy Spirit?  Do you make a commitment to say a daily prayer of submission to the Holy Spirit?
  3. takes responsibility for your life and your past and not blame others?

Those are three of thirty tasks that Father Larry Richards asks of his readers in his book, Be a Man: Becoming the Man God Created you to be.  In this book, he explores how one grows strong in faith by imitating the manly example of Jesus Christ.  Through stories of his ministry and personal experiences, Fr. Larry breaks down the popular misconception that being deeply spiritual and close to God is something weak or passive.  His book reflects an attitude of a drill instructor or fitness coach telling people to “man up” and actively embrace their faith.

Despite its title, Be a Man is a great guide book for all Catholics, not just men.  Except for a few stories and maybe a few male-specific words of advice, this book will just as easily appeal to women as well as men.  To me, the title seems more like a marketing gimmick to separate itself from all the other “how to live a Catholic lifestyle” books that are available.

Father Larry Richards’ advice is not an easy one.  He is very up front that living a truly Catholic life is difficult.  But he stresses the importance of “manning up” and tackling those challenges because it will ultimately benefit you and the ones you love.  At its core, he lays down arguments on the importance of dedicating your life to God.  Contrary to popular belief, lay people are called to lead a fully spiritual life of prayer, fasting, chastity, charity, and dedication to following God’s will just like any ordained priest.  God does not let us off easy just because we happen to be on the other side of the alter during Mass.

Personally, my largest takeaway from the book is the need to go to church more than once a week on Sunday.  As Fr. Larry says, the Our Father says “give us our daily bread.”  It does not say “weekly bread.”  Even if you cannot attend daily Mass, it is important to try to go into a church, say a few prayers, and tell God that you are starting your day as his disciple.  While I have not been able to go to church every day, I do try to find times to squeeze it in when I can.  I hope, much like rosary prayer, it provides a sense of peace knowing that God is in control and is guiding me regardless of the chaos of our world.

This book has been out for seven years and has a 5-star rating on Amazon.  It is that good and is something you will want to give away to your friends and family after you read it.  Buy a copy and be the one who starts a new chain of lending of this powerful book.

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Book Review: Part One of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

This year my New Year’s resolution was to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  I’m happy to report that I finished part one which explains Church doctrine by walking through the Creed.  It looks like reading the Catechism is going to be a two year project given that it’s already June and I’ve only finished the first part.  I thought I would write about the Catechism as I finish each part instead of waiting until I was completely done reading it.  Here are my thoughts about part one of the CCC.

I always thought that Catechism was the 10 (thousand) Commandments of the Catholic Church.  I was expecting a “do and don’t” list of sorts.  But providing a list of rules without any context doesn’t make much sense so naturally our church fathers laid down a spiritual foundation to start the CCC.  Part one is a well crafted narrative that walks through each phrase in the Creed and uses it to explain some aspect of the Catholic faith.  And boy does it go into detail at some points where a simple phrase in the Creed referencing the Holy Spirit or the Communion of Saints expands to multiple chapters of theology.  It does get a bit dry and heavy at times but it does provide a solid foundation for the “rules” that come later on.

You have to excuse the nerd speak for a second, but part one of the CCC is like unzipping a compressed digital file.  The Catholic faith compresses nicely in the Creed but like a compressed file on a computer, it’s hard to get anything useful out of it when you only see it in its compressed state.  It’s doubly difficult when the only time you think about the Creed is for those three minutes you utter them in a half comatose state after the homily during Mass.  The CCC is the spiritual “unzip” that takes all that compressed data and makes it something more useful.  Note that it doesn’t introduce anything new that isn’t implied in the Creed but it does clarify the pillars of the Catholic faith.

Another way to think of part one of the CCC is like walking through an art gallery.  If you don’t know anything about art then you would look at a Monet painting and wonder what’s so special about some blurry landscapes.  But if you’ve studied art history and understand the ideas behind Impressionism then the paintings take on a different character.  You can understand the richness and the story behind each work.  Likewise, the Creed may just seem like a bunch of simple statements but part one of the CCC helps you discover the richness and history behind those phrases.  And while someone may not understand every details of the Catechism, that level of understanding isn’t necessary to appreciate it and gain some insight into the Catholic faith.

I recommend part one of the CCC to anyone truly interested on learning more about the foundations of the Catholic faith.  As I’ve said before, part of being a faithful Catholic is also being an informed Catholic.  We need to make learning about our faith as much of a priority as we make learning basic life skills.  Because I can’t think of a more useful tool for Satan to spread his lies than an uninformed Catholic (just look at Nancy Pelosi).  Don’t unknowingly be one of Satan’s minions.  Become informed and put part one of the CCC on your reading list.

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Book Review: The Secret of the Rosary

I recently finished reading The Secret of the Rosary by Saint Louis de Montfort.  In short, I think this is a terrific book that anyone who regularly prays the rosary should read and share with others.  First, who was Saint Louis de Montfort?  The wikipedia summary is:

Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (31 January 1673 – 28 April 1716) was a FrenchRoman Catholic priest and Confessor. He was known in his time as a preacher and was made a missionary apostolic by Pope Clement XI.[1]

As well as preaching, Montfort found time to write a number of books which went on to become classic Catholic titles and influenced several popes. Montfort is known for his particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the practice of consistently praying the Rosary.

Keep in mind that the average Catholic in the 17th century didn’t have EWTN media, the internet, and RosaryMeds to help them learn about the beauty and power of rosary prayer.  Saint Louis de Montfort basically wrote one of the first howto guides to praying the rosary and spelled out its benefits by telling stories of miraculous events people experienced when they devoted themselves to rosary prayer.

Not to be overly self-promoting, but I was amazed by the similarities between my book, The Rosary for the Rest of Us, and The Secret of the Rosary.  Both books touch on recommended ways of praying the rosary, the benefits Mary promised those who pray it, and even some of the challenges you might face trying to form a rosary praying routine.  Of course, Saint Louis de Montfort had years of theological study in a seminary and was a librarian so he had a lot more spiritual and historical knowledge to draw from for The Secret of the Rosary than I have for RosaryMeds.  Still, I am proud that The Rosary for the Rest of Us overlaps in subject matter with a book written by a saint!  Also, you won’t find commentary on each rosary mystery (not to mention that the Luminous Mysteries didn’t even exist in de Montfort’s time) in The Secret of the Rosary like you find in The Rosary for the Rest of Us.

Buy “The Secret of the Rosary from Amazon.com
Buy “The Rosary for the Rest of Us” from Amazon

The Secret of the Rosary provides a nice little kick of motivation to those who may feel a bit weary after praying the rosary day after day, week after week, and year after year.  Saint Louis de Montfort acknowledges many of the challenges associated with praying the rosary such as finding the time, finding it tedious, mindlessly going through the prayers, wanting to give it up, etc.  Evidently, a 17th century Catholic faced nearly all the same challenges a 21st century Catholic faces about achieving fruitful prayer.  But he offers a sense of hope and infuses a sense of pride for keeping up with rosary prayer even when it is hard.  In the book, he writes:

Even if you have to fight distractions all through your whole Rosary be sure to fight well, arms in hand: that is to say, do not stop saying your Rosary even if it is hard to say and you have absolutely no sensible devotion. It is a terrible battle, I know, but one that is profitable to the faithful soul. If you put down your arms, that is, if you give up the Rosary, you will be admitting defeat and then, having won, the devil will leave you alone.

He often talks about the struggle of good vs. evil, God’s final judgement, and other personal encounters people had with Mary about rosary prayer.  Unlike today’s white-washed view of evil, 17th century Catholics weren’t afraid to acknowledge the terrible reality of Satan and Hell.  When de Montfort writes about the dire consequences of falling into sin and the rewards for remaining in God’s grace, you can’t help but see the rosary in a new light.  No one who reads The Secret of the Rosary can possibly think of the rosary as a silly little necklace or just mindless repetition of prayers when you know all the good it has produced and how many souls it has saved.

I think everyone will take away at least one action item from this book.  For example, I realized that I need to slow down and take my time praying the rosary.  Often, I try to “beat the clock” and get through all five mysteries and additional prayers before arriving at work on my morning commute.  When I know I’m getting close to my office complex, I tend to speed up the prayers in a mad dash.  After reading The Secret of the Rosary, I now realize that there isn’t really no point in racing through Hail Marys so I can check off praying the rosary on my daily todo list.  Essentially, Mary cares more about the quality of your prayers, not the quantity.

Oh, one last point about The Secret of the Rosary.  It’s a fast read.  Each chapter (or Rose as de Monfort calls them) is only a few paragraphs.  So you really don’t have to dedicate a lot of time to the book.  You can read a few chapters a day almost like a daily prayer book.

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Book Review: Truth and Life Dramatized Audio Bible

Have you ever said to yourself that one day you would read the entire Bible?  And yet, the Bible never seems to make it to the top of your reading list.  After all, you have so many other books, magazines, blogs, websites, and newspapers to get through like RosaryMeds (hint, hint).  So who has time to read the Bible?  Well, now you have no excuses to avoid going through at least part of it.  You can listen to the Truth and Life Dramatized Audio Bible which covers the entire RSV-CE New Testament.

I listened to this audio Bible driving home from work over the course of three months.  Unlike hearing small, isolated passages during Mass on Sundays, I really got the “full picture” hearing the New Testament for a longer period of time and in order.  I definitely noticed the differences in tone and meaning between the various Gospel writers as well as the various letters.  And unlike the slow, monotone pace the readings are often read during Mass, the passages in the Truth and Life Audio Bible are acted out and accompanied with music and sound effects which really makes the New Testament come alive.

The only shortcoming of an audio Bible compared to a written one is that there are no footnotes or commentary to go along with it.  It’s not very convenient to stop the audio and look up the meaning of phrases, places, and people.  Perhaps listening to the audio Bible while following along with a study Bible would be the best way to approach this if you are really interested in gaining a deeper understanding.  But even if you do not understand every detail, listening to the Bible in full is a good way of absorbing the overall themes of the New Testament.

The Truth and Life Dramatized Audio Bible is about 22 hours long.  You will finish it in less than a month if you listen an hour a day.  Is that a little too optimistic?  How about listening for 30 minutes each day?  Even if you took some days off between readings you would still complete it in about two or three months.  You could make it part of family time where you all sit around the iPod and listen to the Bible (like a modern-day radio program).  Listen to it while going on walk or jog.  Listen to it during your normal prayer time to shake up your routine a little bit.  Listen to it on your commute to work like I did (prayed the rosary while going, listened to the Bible coming back home).  Regardless of how you listen to it, you will be able to check the New Testament off your reading list in now time.

Buy the Truth and Life Audio Bible now on Amazon.

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Book Review: The Templars

I’m changing things up a little and providing a very brief review of an audiobook I just finished called “The Templars: Knights of Christ.” The goal of the author, Regine Pernoud, was to separate the fact from fiction regarding these monk warriors. They are often depicted as mysterious, magical, and secretive in movies like “The Divinci Code”, “National Treasure”, or “Kingdom of Heaven” and always having an ulterior motive behind everything they do. Several movies and books depict them as being involved in cover ups, plots to overthrow kings, and other wild conspiracies. However, the facts of this ancient order are more mundane. They mainly protected Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land and guarded treasures for royalty and banks. Unfortunately for the book, going through these facts was equally mundane and left me longing for a little Hollywood-style embellishment.

A Knights Templar seal
Image via Wikipedia

I’m changing things up a little and providing a very brief review of an audiobook I just finished called “The Templars: Knights of Christ.”  The goal of the author, Regine Pernoud, was to separate the fact from fiction regarding these monk warriors.  They are often depicted as mysterious, magical, and secretive in movies like “The Divinci Code”, “National Treasure“, or “Kingdom of Heaven” and always having an ulterior motive behind everything they do.  Several movies and books depict them as being involved in cover ups, plots to overthrow kings, and other wild conspiracies.  However, the facts of this ancient order are more mundane.  They mainly protected Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land and guarded treasures for royalty and banks.  Unfortunately for the book, going through these facts was equally mundane and left me longing for a little Hollywood-style embellishment.

In order to dispel the myths of the Templars, the book goes into great detail about their charter, rules, daily life, war campaigns, and forts and dwellings.  It cites many original documents to ensure accuracy.  Unfortunately, the book covers everything in so much detail that I started to “zone out” during sections of the first few chapters.  It is very difficult to stay engaged and interested as the book goes on for several minutes listing the Templar’s military campaigns in the Middle East or describing their clothing regulations in a checklist-like style fashion.  Instead of these details providing a complete overall picture of the Templars, they become distracting as the book dives deep into the minutia of their lives.  The book gets mildly more interesting towards the end as it covers the Templar’s accusations, trials and eventual breakup.  But even that section comes across very dry and drawn out as it cites court documents and statements from the period.

Unfortunately, “The Templars: Knights of Christ” comes up short on addressing the myths and falsehoods of the order.  I really wish the book actually addressed how certain movies and books depict Templars and then explain the historical inaccuracies of those premises.  Instead it just assumes that the reader (or listener in my case) will already know about how the Templars are depicted in popular culture and immediately jumps into citing historical documents.   Possibly the book makes a better reading experience than listening experience.  In short, I found this audiobook only mildly interesting so I can only mildly recommend it.  Hopefully my next book (G.K. Chesterson’s “Orthodoxy”) will prove more interesting.

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