Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Level 4 Catechism: Introduction to Catholicism



General Editor: Rev. James Socias
The Didache Series
(We have the revised first edition. Here's the second edition.)

This book is recommended for Catechism in Level 4 (eighth grade) of Mater Amabilis™. It's also on the list for additional or alternate texts for Level 5 (beta plans available in the Mater Amabilis™ for High School Facebook group).

The suggested schedule is three times a week, reading and narrating each day. After a few weeks, I needed to shift our schedule a little and decreased it to twice a week. First Son read about half of the chapter each week, including the supplementary reading, which most of the time shared the life of a saint relevant to the theme of the chapter. The sections at the end of each chapter include study questions (which I intended to use in addition to narrations but eliminated when we dropped to scheduling only twice a week), some application suggestions, and a list of Catechism references on the chapter's theme. Some of these were more useful than others.

The very first page of every chapter attempted to provide a real-life example of the chapter's theme in a real-life situation, but most just seemed contrived.

The book touches on just about every aspect of the Catholic faith. Here's the table of contents (again, this is for the first edition; the second edition has at least one entirely new chapter):

  1. The Call to Holiness
  2. Prayer
  3. The Trinity
  4. The Church
  5. The Blessed Virgin Mary
  6. Revelation
  7. The Old Testament - This mainly covers the first five books. The remainder are summed up in one or two sentences at the end of the chapter.
  8. The New Testament
  9. The Sacraments
  10. Baptism
  11. Confirmation
  12. The Eucharist
  13. Penance
  14. Anointing of the Sick
  15. Matrimony
  16. Holy Orders
  17. Freedom
  18. The Moral Virtues
  19. The First Commandment
  20. The Second Commandment
  21. The Third Commandment
  22. The Fourth Commandment
  23. The Fifth Commandment
  24. The Sixth and Ninth Commandments
  25. The Seventh and Tenth Commandments
  26. The Eighth Commandment
  27. The Beatitudes

There are a few small mistakes and times when I thought to myself...."not quite right." For example, in the third chapter, the book describes adoptionsim and wrongly calls it Arianism. Kansas Dad noticed it right away when he overheard First Son's narration. Later, in chapter thirteen on Penance, within a discussion of the Prodigal Son, this paragraph appears:
God often permits man to sink deeper into sin like this, forcing man to face up to his dismal condition. Some people only return to God when they are faced with tragedy caused by repeated serious sin in their lives. An example would be a person who regularly abuses alcohol: One night he drives while drunk and kills an innocent person. The shock of having killed another person forces him to come to terms with the sin of getting drunk. 
I'm not an expert on carefully explaining what God permits in contrast to what we do against his desires, but I would never suggest that God "allows" the death of an innocent person to "shock" someone "to come to terms with...sin." If someone dies because I have sinned, that is very much against His will.

In the last chapter (chapter 27) on the Beatitudes, I read this weird sentence:
Those who are poor in spirit desire only the goods necessary to ensure a healthy standard of living in accordance with their particular state of life. 
How do we know what is excess? It goes on:
For the rest of us, the phrase indicates that there are different levels of need for goods. For example, those whose professions require that they present themselves as successful, such as lawyers or stockbrokers, have a greater need to show off personal wealth than those whose job doesn't have such an emphasis.
I'm not really sure what they mean here. It would make more sense to me to say that people need to be able to perform their jobs well and for some, that requires dressing in a particular professional way, whether that be suits or work boots and overalls. I was recently reading a papal encyclical that talked about the necessity of providing insurance for times of old age, illness, and unemployment, so some savings are appropriate, more if you are providing for a family. This statement makes it seem like lawyers and stockbrokers need to buy expensive homes and cars, but I can't tell if they mean it ironically. I think the phrase "show off" was ill chosen.

There were, however, some excellent parts where the book drew clear lines between the theoretical virtue or commandment in the chapter and the actions we are called to perform. It even described how to behave in particular circumstances that might be awkward or difficult. For example, the chapter on Anointing of the Sick included visiting the sick.
Some of us may find it difficult or depressing to visit those who are sick. We should remind ourselves, though, that caring for the suffering is not an option but a requirement. We may often feel awkward when trying to make conversation, yet we must keep in mind that our presence alone is a sign of support to someone who is ill. The best rule for conversation is to permit the sick person to lead the way. If he wishes to discuss his illness, then be willing to follow that lead. Many sick persons find it makes things easier if they are able to discuss their problem and their feelings during this time. Sometimes, the sick person may wish to say nothing, in which case we have to accept that our presence is all the support that is wanted.
Chapters 23 and 24 cover sensitive but important topics such as abortion, euthanasia, suicide, war, chastity, purity, and modesty. For the most part, I thought these were handled well, but if you were only going to pre-read a few chapters, these are probably the most important ones.

There is a list of sins against chastity in chapter 24. While none of these are incorrectly listed as sins, I would encourage families to expand on these limited definitions. For example, divorce is listed as a sin against chastity, but there are occasions in which a woman (or a man, I suppose) needs to separate herself and her children from a dangerous situation. In those instances, the sin is not one of divorce. These kinds of discussions are difficult and probably work best as natural conversations as instances are encountered in life or in the news. In my own family, I try to cultivate an environment of charity that presents the truth of the Gospel and the Church as how God has designed humans to live the most fulfilling life, but that sometimes people fail to follow his laws and then we must turn always to compassion and the sacrament of Reconciliation.

The saint for this chapter is St. Maria Goretti. At first I was concerned because she isn't a saint due to her fight for purity (no girl who is unable to fight off her attacker is a sinner), but because of her forgiveness of her attacker. The description does a good job of telling the story and including his story of redemption by her prayers and actions.

The virtue of chastity requires a delicate balance between those who many struggle more with scrupulosity and those who are more attuned to the culture. The chapter seems to be written more for the latter, but some homeschooled children may fall more into the former. It may be a good idea to arrange for a private and quiet discussion of this chapter rather than a straightforward narration.

As a side note, our parish eighth grade PSR class, using the new Sophia Institute books, covers many of these sensitive topics near the end of the year. It was comforting to know they were being addressed by someone other than us, so First Son would realize these are essential topics and that our parish is reiterating what he's heard from us, but at the same time, it was important to me that he heard them from us first. This book gave us the opportunity we needed to frame those discussions.

The list of sins against the seventh commandment (in chapter 25) could be updated to include both plagiarism and using or downloading electronic programs, games, movies, music, or resources without paying for them, both sins that are probably likely to be encountered by teenagers in our contemporary culture. I talked about these issues with First Son to explain why these are immoral and it led to a good discussion. (These issues may be addressed in the second edition.)

I appreciated how the book handled the application of the these commandments (the seventh and the tenth) in business.
Man has been made by God to be the author, center, and goal of all economic life. Business is not to have profit as its highest goal. Though profit must be a consideration if the business is to survive, the main goals of economic activity should be the support and development of individuals through work and service of human beings[.]
It also complemented nicely what First Son is learning about communism in his history readings.
True development of society concerns not just a more efficient economic system but the whole person. Societies should strive to increase each person's ability to respond to the call of God to save his soul. If a person is reduced to nothing but his "productivity," this call is being ignored. 
At the end of the year, I asked First Son what he thought of the book as a whole. He liked the chapters on the sacraments, saying they explained exactly what the sacraments were well. He also appreciated the lists of sins in some of the chapters because they helped him understand how the commandments and doctrines translated into real life.

It's not a particularly exciting book, but First Son found it to be clear and was able to narrate well the main concepts in the chapters. For us, I think it's a good general book that covers a lot of material in preparation for more in-depth explorations of the faith in the high school years. I think it could certainly be used in high school if it is not read in Level 4.

There were a few instances, pretty much all mentioned above, where I felt qualification was necessary. To be honest, I'm not sure a book other than the actual Catechism (which the beta Mater Amabilis™plans, available in the Facebook group, recommend for high school) would completely satisfy me. Between my own compunction for non-generalized truth and accuracy and Kansas Dad's theological knowledge (because he's a theology professor), we're annoyingly particular. I don't have plans to seek out anything different for the other kids because I think this is a good option.


I bought this book used from a mom in our local homeschool group. Links to Amazon above are affiliate links. These opinions are my own.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Saints to Read Aloud: Holy Friends


Written by Diana M. Amadeo
Illustrated by Irina Lombardo with Augusto Curreli

In the early grades, Mater Amabilis™ has lots of recommended books for saint studies. For first grade (Level 1B), they recommend Once Upon a Time Saints and More Once Upon a Time Saints. I wrote briefly about them after First Son's first grade year. After that, though, we started using them in our history studies so I have found other saint stories for first grade. Some people prefer to use alternate texts, too, because the stories aren't strictly biographical, instead including some inventive details.

First Daughter read Loyola Kids Book of Saints by Amy Welborn. We read it over two years. In kindergarten, I read aloud and she narrated. In first grade, she finished the book reading the stories independently before narrating them. I wrote about it here. Second Son might have been able to read the stories this year, but they were a little long overall and I wanted something that would last only one year.

Second Daughter read Saints Tell their Stories by Patricia Mitchell. I read the stories aloud and she narrated them. You can read about that book here.

Last year, in kindergarten, I read Saints and their Stories by Maria Loretta Giraldo to Second Son (which I wrote about here). These stories are longer than in the Mitchell book. Thinking long-term, the Mitchell book would work well in kindergarten and Saints and their Stories in first grade. Of course, as I'm writing this post in April 2018, Saints and their Stories is outrageously expensive at close to $50. So you shouldn't use it unless you or your library owns it. I was lucky enough to receive it as a review copy.

When I went looking through our first grade books, I decided to make another change. Instead of Saints Tell their Stories, which is lovely and would have worked perfectly, I decided to read Holy Friends. I bought this book used years and years ago when I cobbled together an American history study for First Son when he was in first or second grade. I just wanted a reason to read it aloud again.


In Holy Friends there are two and a half pages of text and a lovely full-page glossy illustration for each saint. There are thirty chapters, but actually more than thirty people because some chapters are about groups like the North American martyrs (St. John de Brebeuf and St. Isaac Jogues, among others). With thirty chapters, it's easy to schedule off weeks for Advent and Holy Week and still finish in 36 weeks. Or, keep reading and finish early.

They are grouped by country and, of course, only include saints from North and South America. Many of the saints were missionaries from Europe, but a few were born in the Americas. The book was written in 2005, so some of those shown as blessed in the book are now saints.

  • St. Marie of the Incarnation Guyard (Canada)
  • St. Kateri Tekakwitha (Canada)
  • St. Andre Bessette (Canada)
  • St. Junipero Serra (US)
  • St. Theodore Guerin (US)
  • St. Damien Joseph de Veuster (US)
The saints are organized by country and include saints from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and the United States. I appreciated a book focused on the saints of the Americas because we were able to learn about a few that are less well-known as well as some with closer connections to us in the United States. There are marvelous examples of sacrificial love for the indigenous people of the Americas (like St. Peter Claver and St. Katharine Drexel) and saints and blesseds of non-European ancestry are included like St. Martin de Porres (Spanish father and indigenous mother) and St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

Second Son is an older first grader; he turned seven before the school year began. He may have been able to read the stories independently, but I preferred to read aloud to him to help with pronounciation and understanding.

Regardless of the saint book you choose, consider adding in a calendar exercise. Second Son loved finding the month and day of the feast day so he could mark our calendar. At first, it was just a scribble; by the end of the year he would usually write the saint's first name. When the feast day came around, even if we couldn't remember the saint (remember the scribbles?), I would let the kids have a piece of candy for dessert. This addition took only a few moments, but helped us easily incorporate months into our first grade year.

I purchased this book used years ago. The opinions here are my own. The links above to Amazon are affiliate links.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Such a Lovely Book!


by Marguerite de Angeli

We just listened to this on audiobook from our library for the third or fourth time. I think I love it more each time. It's a book of learning and growing in wisdom and stature despite adversity, beautifully written, and a delight over and over again. Even the 8th grade boy, who had heard it every time, enjoyed it again.

The links above are affiliate links to Amazon. The opinions here are my own. We listened to the audiobook from our library, but we own this book in hardcover, purchased used.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Serious Piety: The Face in the Flames

by Brother Roberto, C.S.C.
In the Footsteps of the Saints series, Level 2 (reading level)

I wrote back in January about Hide the Children, a book from the same series as this one and recommended by our history program, volume 3 of Connecting with History, but that we would not be reading. It seemed appropriate to write a little post about this one, which I pre-read and decided to assign to First Daughter (fifth grade, grammar level in the Connecting with History lesson plans).

Like others in the series, this book reveals some of the odd piety of books written in the 1950s. For example, there was quiet awe when St. Bridget seemed to know of her daughter's husband's death when the women were visiting each other in Italy, but not really any sorrow from either of them despite the fact that this second husband was described as a good man earlier in the book. (Her first husband was not a good man and they seemed relieved and grateful when he died young.)

There was one really extreme example. Late in the book, Bridget is traveling to the Holy Land with her daughter and her son (both grown) when her son falls in love with a princess, although both are married.
When Bridget heard of their desire to marry, she was overcome with anxiety and turned at once to Our Lady and her Son in prayer.
Her prayers were quickly answered. Karl became violently ill while in Naples and after a sickness of two weeks quietly died in his mother's arms. Thus, death ended the evil love affair.
So there you have it. She was apparently better pleased by her son's death than by such a mortal sin. I will probably never be a saint, because I'd rather my son sinned and repented but still lived or (better yet) repented before sinning and lived.

First Daughter will still read this book. I doubt she'll be concerned with this part much.

According to the RC History website, the Level 2 books in the In the Footsteps of the Saints books are written at about a fourth grade reading level. Because of their format (large print and generous white space on the pages), they are not intimidating for younger readers who might be confident enough to read them. I think my third grader could read this book easily, though she has a July birthday and is therefore older than most third graders. But I'm happy to leave it as assigned just for the more advanced level.

I purchased this book new from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts (not an affiliate link) and received nothing for writing this post of my own opinions. The links above are affiliate links to the RC History website.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Learning Letter Sounds: Second Son's Alphabet Books in 2015-2016


We're nearing the end of the school year, the time when I start to think about updating the blog with all the things we've done this year and always discover half-started posts of homeschool plans from long ago. Like this one: the alphabet books I read with Second Son in 2015-2016 when he was in pre-kindergarten. (Now he's finishing up first grade). He had turned five the summer before, but we wait on kindergarten until age six for our July birthday kids.

Doodling Dragons: An ABC Book of Sounds by Denise Eide, illustrated by Ingrid Hess (purchased new)

We read Doodling Dragons the first week. Then, once a week, we read through another alphabet book with Doodling Dragons open near us so we could make all the sounds for each of the letters as we went through the books. I could easily have found enough alphabet books to last the whole year, but I figured we'd get tired of them before that and I also found that Second Son mastered all the letter sounds in Doodling Dragons before we were done. So if you're trying something like this, you might want to plan your favorite books early in the year so you won't feel sad when you drop it because your child is ready to start putting the letters together in proper reading lessons. We followed these books with The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading. (Read my post on that here.)

Here are the alphabet books I read with Second Son back when he was oh so little. Our favorites are marked with asterisks (**). Unless I've said otherwise, we checked all these books out of the library.

A is for Angry (library) and A to Z (own) by Sandra Boynton - We've had A to Z since First Son was an infant and Boynton will always have a special place in our home library memories.

A is for Artist by the Getty Museum - I loved this book which uses details from works of great art to highlight the letters. Each page only has one letter and one word so it can be a simple one to start, except that the illustrations are rich and full. The end of the book shows the whole paintings, though in small size. My son was not as excited about this book as I was, except for the dog. He loved the dog.

The ABC Bunny by Wanda Gag - In this story, bunny encounters each of the letters (or, rather, things starting with the letters) in black and white illustrations. It's sweet and set to a song. The music is included at the beginning and the end.

** LMNO Peas by Keith Baker - This book shows peas performing jobs and activities for each letter of the alphabet. They are adorable and hilarious. It rhymes, too.

** Richard Scarry's Find your ABCs by Richard Scarry - My husband and children bond over their mutual love of Richard Scarry, so of course this book was included in our study. There are lots of details in each page and chances to identify the letter. The matching words are shown with the letter of the page in different colors.

** Alligators All Around by Maurice Sendak - Classic Sendak illustrations of alligators in ridiculous activities. Fun and with few words so a great one to use when just introducing letter sounds.

Anno's Alphabet by Anno Mitsumasa - In general, my children didn't like the Anno books as much as I did. I guess his style didn't appeal as much to them. Sometimes that happens.

Autumn: An Alphabet Acrostic by Steven Schnur - Each page of this book describes a fall scene with an acrostic poem beginning with each of the letters in alphabetic order. The beginning letters of each line are red, standing out well. The illustrations are linoleum-cut and brightly colored as well. I picked this book because we read it early in the school year, when it was fall, but there are versions for Spring, Summer, and Winter as well.

A is for Altar, B is for Bible by Judith Lang Main is an alphabet book filled with pictures of a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium (own)

** The Z was Zapped by Chris Van Allsburg - This book shows each letter of the alphabet being destroyed, mangled, or outright murdered by methods that begin with their letter. The text is on the back of each page, so children have a chance to identify the method before seeing the word. It's grim but my children loved it. They laughed and laughed...Let's not dwell on what that means about their personalities.

** B is for Bethlehem by Isabel Wilner - I just love the illustrations in this book. We read it during Advent (of course) and, though we read a library copy, I've since gotten one of our own. (own)

Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni is a good book to read later in the study because it's not an alphabet book proper. Instead, it introduces the idea of words, phrases, and sentences. Second Daughter (7) enjoyed this book even more than Second Son (5) because she'd learned the secret of reading. The idea of connecting the letters together delighted her.

An Alphabet of Catholic Saints by Brenda and George Nippert is an adequately illustrated book of saints, a saint for each letter of the alphabet with four lines of simple verse and a short description for each one. Kateri Tekakwitha's name is misspelled on the K page, which my nine year old noticed immediately. (She was making cornstarch quicksand a few steps away while I read the book to Second Son.) It also mentions the "legend of Santa Claus," just in case your children are believers who will be confused or dismayed. The main dissatisfaction I have with the book lies in the stories of St. Odilia and St. Ursula. For example, for St. Urusla, it says "When bad men tried to make them sin, / they said "We'd rather die!" These women lived long ago and their stories are clouded. It's possible they were killed because one of them wouldn't marry a pagan, but it's too easy in my mind to read this as the insistence on purity that can make a young girl feel she has sinned when she is a victim. So I've read this book to my kids but I don't really recommend it. (owned, purchased used on Cathswap)

** Into The A, B, Sea: An Ocean Alphabet Book by Deborah Lee Rose, pictures by Steve Jenkins - I wrote about this book a few years ago and I still love it.

I Spy: An Alphabet in Art devised and selected by Lucy Micklethwait is an alphabet book with a painting for each letter. The little reader is drawn into the painting by searching for something that begins with the featured letter. Second Son loved this book. Some items are obvious and easy (apple and dog, for example), but some were more difficult (even for me, luckily the "answers" are listed in the back of the book). A wide variety of interesting and lovely paintings are included.

** If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet by Leslie McGuirk is an alphabet book created around rocks found along the coast of Florida, collected over many years by the author and designer. Rocks form the alphabet and items beginning with each letter sound.

There are, of course, probably millions of alphabet books. I knew of a few of these before I decided we'd read through alphabet books once a week for the first couple of terms or so, but it was easy to find more just by using a few search terms on our library catalog: alphabet and abc.

Here are a few we didn't read, but you might not want to miss.

Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z by Lois Ehlert - We own this book and had read it a hundred times already, so I didn't include it, but it's lots of fun. Bright colors and unusual fruits and vegetables as well as more familiar ones. (own)

A B See by Elizabeth Doyle - This was a new book when we started our study and I think I'd already chosen them all before it was published. Since then, I've gifted it many times. Each letter is shown as an embossed collage of things that start with the letter and a sentence using some of the items shown, so you can search through the letter to find them. At the end is a list of all the things you can find for each letter. The textured pages are inviting even for young pre-readers, but the illustrations and sentences are worthy of any child old enough to be learning to read.

The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC's (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell - This is a new book (fall 2017) and contains few words. Instead, you have to figure out the alphabetic connection of each sketch. It's entertaining and enjoyable for a range of ages, including those who are learning to read and identify letter sounds. If I were doing this study again, I would definitely include it.

D is for Dress-Up: The ABC's of What We Wear by Maria Carluccio - This is another book that came out after we were done with our alphabet book study. There are boys on almost every page, but it's mostly illustrated with girls. I love how the boys and girls are all different colors and shapes. And the girls are not all wearing pink. There is a boy wearing a pink shirt, too. The illustrations are full of colors, designs, and textures. It's a wonderful book and I'm pretty sure I'm going to end up gifting it a time or two.

Because there are so many alphabet books being published and stored in libraries, it's easy to find the ones that will appeal to your child. It's important to take into account age and maturity; lots of alphabet books are designed for babies or toddlers. There are plenty with more integrated plots and quirky jokes to entertain pre-kindergarteners and even kindergarteners.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Challenging Reading: Divini Redemptoris (On Atheistic Communism)



Encyclical of Pope Pius XI
March 19, 1937

The book cover is from Amazon, but it's out of print. I've linked to a free online source for the text above.

First Son read this encyclical in his study of Russia and the Collapse of Communism in twentieth-century history. It's listed as one of the key resources for the Level 4 history program at Mater Amabilis™ in this unit. Because it wasn't very long, I assigned it to read in a single day along with a few pages from another of his books. (My plans for this study can be found in the Facebook Mater Amabilis™ group.)

In this encyclical, Pope Pius XI, reiterates how Communism denigrates the dignity of man, how it is inherently anti-religious, and some of the ways Catholics, including those in the laity, can combat it's pernicious spread. In reading it, I felt like a lot of different ideas settled into place for me. (I'm actually really enjoying the whole unit on Russia!).

The encyclical is focused, of course, on Communism, but I was surprised how many statements seemed to be applicable even today.
As in all the stormy periods of the history of the Church, the fundamental remedy today lies in a sincere renewal of private and public life according to the principles of the Gospel by all those who belong to the Fold of Christ, that they may be in truth the salt of the earth to preserve human society from total corruption.
Novel idea - live a Christian life both in public and private! Many of the ideas, too, reminded me of the two encyclicals I have read, both by Pope Francis.
The rich should not place their happiness in things of earth nor spend their best efforts in the acquisition of them. Rather, considering themselves only as stewards of their earthly goods, let them be mindful of the account they must render of them to their Lord and Master, and value them a precious means that God has put into their hands for doing good; let them not fail, besides, to distribute of their abundance to the poor, according to the evangelical precepts.
Not that it was only written for the rich:
But the poor too, in their turn, while engaged, according to the laws of charity and justice, in acquiring the necessities of life and also in bettering their condition, should always remain "poor in spirit," and hold spiritual goods in higher esteem than earthly property and pleasures. Let them remember that the world will never be able to rid itself of misery, sorrow and tribulation, which are the portion even of those who seem most prosperous. Patience, therefore, is the need of all, that Christian patience which comforts the heart with the divine assurance of eternal happiness.
Later he talked about how the oppression and injustice endured by the poor create a spiritual environment that leaves them vulnerable to the false promises of ideas like Communism.
But when on the one hand We see thousands of the needy, victims of real misery for various reasons beyond their control, and on the other so many round about them who spend huge sums of money on useless things and frivolous amusement, We cannot fail to remark with sorrow not only that justice is poorly observed, but that the precept of charity also is not sufficiently appreciated, is not a vital thing in daily life. We desire therefore, Venerable Brethren, that this divine precept, this precious mark of identification left by Christ to His true disciples, be ever more fully explained by pen and word of mouth; this precept which teaches us to see in those who suffer Christ Himself, and would have us love our brothers as Our Divine Savior has loved us, that is, even at the sacrifice of ourselves, and, if need be, of our very life.
I couldn't help thinking about these words in terms of immigration today in America, from countries suffering from war and the fear of terrorists sneaking in with refugees, and from countries suffering from violence and poverty and the fear of illegal immigrants disproportionately using resources or abusing support systems. I also thought of people in our country who turn to gangs, drugs, or violence because they feel abandoned and excluded by the economic system. I don't know what the answers are in these complicated issues, but I do think injustice and a lack of charity (love) exasperate desperate and frightening situations and encourage people to seek answers from troublesome sources.

Pope Pius XI offered a few suggestions, and perhaps they would contribute to alleviating some of the problems we continue to encounter. I believe Pope Francis also encouraged the same kind of changes.
To be sure of eternal life, therefore, and to be able to help the poor effectively, it is imperative to return to a more moderate way of life, to renounce the joys, often sinful, which the world today holds out in such abundance; to forget self for love of the neighbor. 
First Son struggled a bit while reading this text. When asked to narrate, he could only manage the most basic ideas from the encyclical, but he did get that! We worked through some of the paragraphs together, talking about the vocabulary and tracing the ideas as Pope Pius XI connected them. I explained that he would be reading encyclicals regularly starting next year and that he should be prepared to be challenged in doing so without giving up.

I printed this text from the online source linked above. The book cover is an affiliate link to Amazon. The opinions are my own.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Reading Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of John


by Francis Martin and William M. Wright IV

Mater Amabilis™ ™recommends reading the synoptic Gospels over three years, following the liturgical readings for the given year in Matthew, Mark, or Luke, in Levels 3 (6th and 7th grades) and 4 (8th grade). First Son was taking Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Level 3 in his sixth and seventh grade years which includes a lot of scripture study and I hesitated to add something to his schedule that was already covered at least in part. This year, though, in eighth grade, he did not attend Catechesis. Because St. John is the patron saint of our parish and we already owned this book, I added it to his schedule rather than one of the synoptic gospels.

The short review is: great book with clear commentary and thoughtful application written at a level that is accessible for a Level 3 or Level 4 student (as well as an adult). It's an excellent example of how to incorporate knowledge Tradition, the Catechism, church documents, and other sources while reading sacred scripture.

The Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series has a consistent structure that I would trust, even though there are different authors for the various books. I would choose the commentaries on Matthew, Mark, or Luke, though, rather than John. John's gospel is much more ethereal gospel than the others and I think it might be a more beneficial study to begin with those (as Mater Amabilis™ suggests).

The chapters of the commentary do not exactly follow the chapters of the gospel, instead dividing them up to conform to the contents of the verses. The chapters have a descriptive title and clearly show the reference for the verses included. Each one begins with a brief introduction. The exact Biblical text (New American Bible, revised edition) appears in bold, broken into small sections. Just below each section are references to other Scripture passages, sections in the Catechism, and any appearances in the Roman lectionary.

In between the sections of Biblical text, the authors provide explanations of what is happening, with quotes from the text in bold and the reference in the margins. They draw extensively on a variety of theological sources to provide both historical context and contemporary thoughts. Every chapter includes at least one section of "Reflection and Application" which directly challenges the reader to consider the meaning of the verses in his or her own life.

Throughout the book are plenty of sidebars presenting historical information and thoughtful commentary on issues that have arisen over the centuries related to the Biblical text. For example, there is one in the chapter on the trial before Pilate called "The Church's Condemnation of Anti-Semitism" with quotes from the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism, and other Scripture references. (There's a very helpful index of sidebars, too, at the end of the book, so it's easy to find them again if you want to return to explore the additional references.)

First Daughter is beginning Level 3 in the fall, as a sixth grader. The 2018-2019 liturgical readings will be drawn mainly from Luke, so I intend to purchase The Gospel of Luke from this series for her. It is scheduled to come out in September, but we'll just wait to start her gospel reading until we receive it.

We used this book in a parish adult education class. The Amazon links above are affiliate links. The opinions here are my own.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Increasing in Virtue: Boys to Men



by Tim Gray and Curtis Martin

This book is recommended by Mater Amabilis™ ™Level 4 (eighth grade) to be read three times a week during Lent. While it is a book written for young men, they believe it is applicable for everyone.

The authors address the virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, faith, hope, and love specifically for teenage boys who seek to grow into men of virtue. Seven chapters are devoted to one of the virtues. Each one ends with questions that guide the reader to draw conclusions from the reading and his own personal life. Many of the questions direct the reader to seek and read specific Bible verses focused on the virtue in question with wonderful open-ended questions like "What do the following passages tell us about wisdom?" The two other chapters are an introduction and a conclusion.

Right from the beginning, Gray and Martin assure the reader that being virtuous takes hard work and planning, but that a life of virtue is open to everyone.
To be a morally good person takes more than wishing to be good or having the right values. Rather, it takes a rock-solid character that has the strength to will what is right, not just value what is good...A virtue is a good, habitual action of the will, and not only is a virtue an action that is habitual, it is an action that is done with promptness and, in a certain sense, pleasure.
I was really tempted to highlight this one for my teenager, but I refrained.
One of the great challenges in this area, but one of tremendous value, is being able to accept correction. We all make mistakes, but to be man enough to take ownership and responsibility for them, and to have the courage to see them when they are pointed out, is the key to real growth in virtue.
The chapters on the virtues are excellent. They delve deeply into the definition of the virtue, what it looks like when lived as a husband, a father, an employee, or an employer, and the kinds of practices that develop the virtue.
Too often we view work as a necessary evil that impedes our fulfillment, but this is not true. It is vital to note that work was given to man before the Fall; it is not of itself a curse. The toil, sweat, and thorns that follow the Fall add an element of suffering to the vocation of work, but work itself is noble.
This chapter, on work focuses a lot of men and business and work in a way that felt a little odd given how many women are in the workforce now (including me for the first ten-odd years of motherhood), but it's not surprising given the audience. I would have liked to see at least a few sentences addressing issues like how to behave toward women at work and the importance of managing a family with two parents in the workforce. The book was written in 2001, recently enough for these kinds of issues to be acknowledged.
The Scriptures tell us that the man who acts justly is called righteous. He is righteous because he has right relations with everyone. The virtue of justice turns our attention to others and to God, calling us to make things right in the world. This begins with offering worship and thanksgiving to God but overflows to care for others. Christians have a special duty to take care of others and influence the world around them because Christ commissioned us to be a light to the world.
The fifth chapter focuses on temperance, and the main issue is sexual temperance. Even temperance in other areas is usually included as practice for the really important one.
The struggle for self-mastery is a dramatic one, but it begins with modest steps. A good exercise is to gain control of one's appetite with food and drink. Disciplining the will to the pleasures of food and drink is a training ground that trains the will to be self-controlled in the face of sexual pleasures. Fasting, as well as abstaining from rich food and drink, is a means of further exercising one's will, putting one's desires into subjection to the will and reason.
It's not a bad chapter, though, and I would think it acceptable for any eighth grade student, but if you're only going to pre-read one chapter, you might want to choose this one on temperance.
If we take our eyes off of the final prize, then we can easily lose the desire that hope enkindles in us. If we lose our desire for heavenly glory, we will sink into the pursuit of earthly goods that are poor counterfeits of the eternal; they are mere trinkets compared to the glorious reward that awaits those who hope for heaven.
The eighth chapter, on love, speaks directly about the how a man of virtue would show love to his wife and family.
The feelings may have been necessary at the beginning of courtship, but if it evolves into true love, feelings become secondary. Marriage is about a choice to commit one's life to another for their well-being regardless of emotions. This is sometimes very difficult, but it is an example of the self-sacrificing nature of love.
The entire book is an invitation to increase in virtue.
In the end, the moral life is about liberty or slavery: the liberty that comes only through virtuous living (acting according to a properly ordered nature), or the slavery that comes from surrendering to our passions and desires (acting according to a disordered nature). 
There are questions at the end of each chapter to challenge the reader to apply the understanding of the virtue to situations, generally found in the Bible. To answer these questions seriously, a student would need a Bible or access to one online. They challenge the reader to work on the virtues each week (if one chapter is read each week) and suggest specific actions to develop the virtue. Most chapters end with memory verses or prayers.

First Son spent two days on each chapter: one to read the text and begin the questions, a second day to complete the questions. He answered them in his reading journal, but I did not read his answers. I wanted him to feel free to write anything in response without worrying about what his mother would think when she read his answers. The Mater Amabilis™ page did not mark this book as one for narration, so I did not require one, but I think it would be possible to narrate the chapter and then answer the questions privately.

While many of the questions are specific to the role of men in the community and the family, most of them either apply equally well to women or can easily be adapted to do so. When my daughters read this book (and I will assign it), I will talk with them before they begin, asking them to consider the reading and the exercises by considering in their minds how they might be able to use them to grow into women of virtue. I will also ask them to consider further how what they read in this book may help them to identify young men of virtue if they are called to the vocation of marriage.

I purchased this book used. The Amazon links above are affiliate links. The opinions here are my own.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Lenin and Mary: 1917: Red Banners, White Mantle


by Warren H. Carroll

This book appears on the list of supplemental history reading for the study on Russia and the Fall of Communism Level 4 history program at Mater Amabilis™. It is recommended to choose one of these supplemental books, many of which are historical fiction, to read over the six week study. I flipped through four or five of the options listed for the Russian study (ones our library had or that I purchased inexpensively) and, without reading any in full, choose 1917: Red Banners, White Mantle because it included information on Fatima, which otherwise we only touched on, and because the writing seemed particularly eloquent. As I read it, in fact, I found the writing so rich I created a list of words for First Son to look up each week before his reading. (He probably could have figured them out well enough to get by, but I wanted him to appreciate them.)

The Mater Amabilis™ page states this book is a "Catholic perspective on the events of 1917." That's clear from the very beginning of the book.
In the short November afternoon, Francis Joseph felt a great weakness coming upon him. He understood what it meant. He knew he faced death, and he knew death faced his empire, hard beset by the enormous, incalculable perils of a world disintegrating under the stresses of a conflict far more protracted and cosmically destructive than anyone had imagined possible. And he knew the quality of the radiant young couple who had visited with him that morning: their goodness, their hope, their relative innocence, their inexperience, their crystal simplicity of purpose and conviction, but with scarcely a trace of the touch of the ruthless which is very close to being necessary in a temporal ruler in the fallen world.
The book covers, in chronological and detailed order, the events on the World War I battlefields, in the fields of Fatima, and in Russia from December 1916 (after a few preliminary chapters) through December 1917, with a chapter to briefly describe pertinent events through the death of Lenin.

Carroll does not shy away from descriptions of the horrific war or the madness of its beginning and repeated refusals of diplomats to come to peaceable solutions.
These gigantic losses were not suffered in a struggle for some overriding moral or religious principle or right that might not be sacrificed at any cost. Except for one small country, Belgium, the war did not involve any nation's essential freedom or existence. It was a war of fronts in border regions, a war of trenches and attrition, a war that pitted the deadly machine gun against unprotected human flesh. 
His description of Lenin:
Lenin was not a monster. He had a happy childhood, his parents taught him Christian morality (though he rejected it), he loved music and the countryside; he could even care genuinely for people when they did not get in his way. But over and through and above all else throbbed the pounding power of his relentless will, fixed immovably on the revolution, to be achieved by any means, at any cost.
While the author's descriptions of the people and events of the book are riveting, it's sometimes difficult to discern how much those descriptions are shaped by the author's opinions rather than facts. For example, a significant part of his description of the actions of Emperor Charles and Empress Zita upon hearing of Germany's return to unrestricted submarine warfare is based on Zita's remembrances many years later. That doesn't make it untrue, of course, merely weakly supported by the evidence he quotes if one were disinclined to believe Empress Zita. Later, he describes President Woodrow Wilson's re-election.
Thomas Woodrow Wilson, the former professor who had first been elected President of the United States when two opponents split the vote against him and was then re-elected by an eyelash because his opponent forgot to shake the hand of the Governor of California, is one of the most improbable figures in Americn [sic] political history.
That seemed surprising to me, so I researched a little, trying to wade through websites online. It seems Hughes (running against Wilson) did neglect to shake the California governor's hand, but it might have been more deliberate than it seems from this statement. Also, while the election was close, it seems unlikely that was the only reason Wilson won and rather flippant of the author to suggest it was.

The book presents a rather confusing series of diplomatic negotiations, with many different people involved. I found an article at 1914-1918 Online that helped me understand exactly what was happening. I added it to a page of notes for First Son as well. The article views Charles's attempts at negotiations more as a result of the ravages of war suffered by his country than his professed desire for peace for all Christendom, which is the view presented by Carroll. It seems likely to me it was both and historians choose to emphasize one or the other as they lean themselves.

The author only touches briefly on the horrors experienced outside Petrograd as the peasants were provoked into violent action by Communist agitators.
The full story of the ensuing horror has never been, and probably never will be told. It is composed of ten thousand local tragedies of burning and looting and smashing and killing, of old scores settles [sic] and envy slaked, of just and imaginary grievances all jumbled together and avenged in blood and ashes, each one a bit in a mosaic which it has never served anyone's interest to assemble, and for which most of the needed records either never existed, or vanished in the cataclysm.
Even as I neared the end of the book, I found it difficult to discern the relationship Carroll was attempting to draw between the apparitions at Fatima and the events as they occurred in Russia. He would make these kinds of grand sweeping statements:
The war that came upon the world from 1914 to 1918 was not only a war of men and nations, generals and armies, monarchs and revolutionaries. The legions and the powers of Heaven and of Hell were engaged as well, as well-attested events from December 1916 to October 1917 clearly show to those with eyes to see, and ears to hear.
The author seemed to believe they were clear, but other than the chronology and the reflections written some twenty years later by someone who was a sometimes frightened and impressionable child, I don't think he made his case very well. I am not saying the apparitions at Fatima did not occur or that the documentation of them made later were inaccurate, just that this book did not seem to explain exactly what effect the prayers of the children and believers at Fatima had on the events in Russia.
It remained to be seen how many, even yet, would hear and heed her words and help her by their prayers, and by lives more pleasing to God, to change the course of history--to convert the Russia which was about to fall into Lenin's grasp.
But...what was the effect? Is he arguing it would have been worse? Or that the people did not sacrifice and pray enough? Or that we should be continuing to sacrifice and pray for the people suffering under Communism in the USSR (in 1981, when the book was published)? I couldn't tell!

Only in one place, late in the book, does he refer to one possibility. Carroll was writing of how Lenin thought all of Europe, and then the world, would revolt and become Communist in the wake of the horrors of World War I.
His euphoria was somewhat premature, even in light of what he did surely know and reasonably suspect. But he was not so far wrong as nearly everyone since has tended to think. There is good reason to believe that the Western world stood very close to final catastrophe in that ghastly autumn of 1917. How many more Passchendaeles could any nation, however disciplined and loyal to its leaders, have endured without breaking? We may presume that no inconsiderable part in preventing that ultimate collapse was played by the prayers offered for peace--by Pope Benedict XV, by the children of Fatima offering their daily rosary for peace as the Lady had asked, by the suffering and the dying, by the victims of the rural terror in Russian, and by millions more throughout Europe and the world.
So, we are presumably to believe that the prayers of Fatima offered in response to Mary's request, did save the world from a massive Communist movement that would have begun in Russia and enveloped the world. There's no way to argue against that and it might very well be true, but it was odd to me that this was the only instance where he mentioned what might have been an outcome. There are other times when he points out how Lenin's plans nearly fell apart (like when he was not arrested the night before the revolution in October, despite being stopped by two mounted officers while wandering the streets without papers). It would be just as easy (thought not in line with the rest of the book) to argue that the prayers of the faithful benefitted the revolution.

Warren talks about how Woodrow Wilson, in his speech asking Congress to declare war, said it was necessary in order to help bring democracy and freedom to the world. Warren contends that almost the opposite occurred.
The principal historical consequence of World War I was to be the establishment, as far into the future as human eyes can see, of the most fearful, pervasive, far-flung tyranny in the history of mankind--a tyranny so gigantic and so evil that, in the end, only the Mother of God in person can conquer it.
A powerful statement, and one that might be interesting to consider: Was the most important consequence of World War I the rise of communism in Russia, especially given Germany's obvious use of Lenin as a disruptive agent delivered to Russia? It's seems a different argument then to move from that to Mary being the only one who can conquer it.

There are clear references to Rasputin's debauchery and lewdness that would be inappropriate for some younger readers. Additionally, descriptions of the trench warfare are also graphic and horrific, as befits the war.

Here's a link to the Google Doc I made for First Son with a list of vocabulary to check before reading and some articles of interest. I divided the book into five readings and planned for him to read one each week. That gave us some leeway, which we ended up needing when his World War II book (the unit just before this one) went a week over.

I am glad I read this book as I found it an interesting and engaging account of the events of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. I have assigned it to First Son, though I didn't finish it before he started it. Having now read the whole book, I will leave the assignments as they are, though I'm not convinced I'll assign it to the other children. I think that will depend on discussions I may have with First Son about it. There's nothing overtly wrong with the book, but I feel like the author makes vast statements without adequate support and I'm not sure how that may come across to a Level 4 student. Will First Son believe it all at face value? Is it necessary that he does not? I don't know! Unless there are some amazing discussions around this book, I'll probably choose something else as there are lots of other options. But we'll see.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Young Austen: Northanger Abbey



by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey was our book club choice, spread over two months (part 1, then part 2). It was one of the first books Jane Austen wrote and our book club thought it was obvious it was the work of a young author. It's almost like there are three different stories one after another. The conclusion, when it comes, is all introduced and settled in the last four pages or so, rather abruptly given the prodigious number of words applied to the meager action of the rest of the book.

Still, it does have some of Austen's flair for revealing the inanity of high society of her time and the difficulty in maneuvering through that society as a young eligible lady (or gentleman) reluctant or unable to participate in the sly manipulations to secure a husband and financial security.

This is not my favorite Austen novel, but I think now I've read them all. Some were long ago, though, and I intend to refresh my memory by revisiting them.

I received this exact beautiful copy as a gift last Christmas. These opinions are my own.