Dec 072014
 

John C. Wright’s latest SF short story collection is called The Book of Feasts & Seasons.

Stories are arranged from the Liturgical Calendar starting with “The Solemnity of Mary, The Holy Mother of God.” This provides a thematic presentation of the stories although many of the stories would only generally fit into specific feasts and seasons. All of them are SF stories and include time traveling, contacts with aliens, and even a ghost story. The first story “The Meaning of Life as Told Me by an Inebriated Science Fiction Writer in New Jersey” is really rather fun.

While I enjoyed all the stories, some of them were exceptionally good. Short stories are not my favorite medium, yet I found several stories I want to revisit later. Two of the stories I had read before. “The Ideal Machine” was one I read in volume 1 of the “Sci Phy Journal” not that long ago. Still I enjoyed it even more on the second time around as a unique alien visitation story that takes place in a parish with a priest and two military men. The other one I had read before was “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus” which was posted on his blog. A very powerful story perfect for Christmas or really the Feast of St. Nicholas”. A story that brought tears to my eyes again as did another story in the collection.

The rather unique ghost story “Pale Realms of Shade” was one of these and one that fit with the theme of the book. One of other themes of this book was marriage and sacrifice and surprisingly by the title “Queen of the Tyrant Lizards” fit in there. His explorations of the consequences of time travel as in his other short story collection are really fresh and unique as in this specific story. The one titled “Nativity” is another time travel story going into a territory explored before regarding going back into the time of Christ. In “Nativity” we a presented with a husband’s grief over the death of his wife and his travel into the past seeking answers to his questions. The question of evil and whether anything ultimately matters. I hadn’t found time traveling stories into the time of Christ very worthwhile in the past. Some were much better than others such as Brandon Sanderson’s novella “Legion”, but none of them really made contact with me; much less contact with the premise. “Nativiy” presented in the Advent section of the book is great Advent reading which contains both the wonder of good SF along with the wonder of Christ and was the other story that brought tears to my eyes.

As the theme of this collection suggests these are stories that have a philosophical and theological dimension. Yet this is not pious SF that sacrifices storytelling for piety. These are excellent stories that happen to have a deeper dimension. His description of crucifixion in “Nativiy” was especially vivid to me and strangely I would love a set of reflections on the Rosary from his hands. There was a realism in the movie “The Passion of the Christ” that I liked, yet some sentences in this story brought the horror of crucifixion fuller to my understanding, especially some very unglamorous aspects. Well done Mr. Wright.

Dec 042014
 

Leave it to LarryD of Acts of the Apostasy to come up with a hilarious post titled Star Wars Characters in the Confessional. Quite fun.

Although he left me some low-hanging fruit to add on in reaction to his post.

Ja Ja Binks

Ja Ja: “Father forgive missa for my sinn.”

Priest: “Sorry you can not be forgiven as a character and considering your horrible accent I am quite sure you have commited the sin against the Holy Spirit or at least against all Star Wars fans.”

R2-D2

R2: “twerp beep crang blurp dwing.”

Priest: What?

R2: “twerp beep crang blurp dwing.”

Priest: “One more time please.”

R2: “twerp beep crang blurp dwing.”

Priest: “Hmm, well if you are repentant of your sins beep out a series of binary coded Hail Marys and next time bring C–3PO with you to translate.”

Dec 032014
 

Ever since I abandoned the 4-Volume set of the Liturgy of the Hours for mobile app versions I am still always on the prowl for newer apps and updates. The original entry in this field was iBreviary by Fr. Padrini. While good enough I was never happy with the daily update mechanism and the app itself has not been updated for a year and a half.

I had been interested in the Universalis app, but at almost $30 dollars at the time I stuck with iBreviary. This changed when I got the first iPad and Universalis was the only Liturgy of the Hours iPad app at the time. So for some years I have been fairly happy with Universalis as no daily text update is required. It was also superior since instead of just scrolling the text you turned pages which was much more convenient. It also had options such as what translation of the Psalms to use. My only annoyance with the app is that the text used is not the same text as in the official 4-Volume set and the selection of hymns is repetitive. On the plus side the app has been continually updated with changes made on phone software updates to match the user interface. Very well designed with some attention to detail. At $13.99 now it is still a solid choice and is available on iOS and Android.

During my year using an Android phone I start looking at apps again and at the time the Divine Office app was semi-affordable and so I bought it. It was much like iBreviary as it used scrolling text and also used the official text. The daily experience was rather seamless where you are not concerned about downloading the texts for the day. It has a very unique feature in that in addition it has audio versions for all the hours. I mainly used this feature at times when driving and it was nice to hear a community of people singing the psalms along with professional recordings of the hymns. Still mainly I used Universalis for my daily reading and switching off to the Divine Office app for a change of pace or during octaves when Universalis got repetitive.

The main reason I am writing this post is that recently they have released a new version of the app Divine Office 2. It is now a much better app and one that I will probably now use daily as they have really added some nice new features.

The user interface is familiar as it follows the skeuomorphic design pattern of mimicking a physical book along with giving a patina of an old book. I think the design is a little overblown as I am preferring the more flat design pattern as in iOS7/8. What I like most is that on the iPad you now have regular pages that you turn instead of the continual scroll. I am not sure why they didn’t do this before since Apple has APIs to fairly easily access the same libraries as used in their iBooks app. Regardless it make the app easier to use. Unfortunately the iPhone version still scrolls the page. It has also been updated to fit the new larger iPhones.

divineoffice2ipad-resized

Playing back the audio versions of the various hours has been totally revamped. For example now you can change the playback speed along with skipping forward and back easily. While I did enjoy the audio versions the length of them could be quite lengthy at times. Adjusting the playback speed corrects this for me. Since this audio must be downloaded there is a setting for how many days you want downloaded at a time. A default of seven days which can be decreased or increased up to 21 days. This is important if you are on travel when you less likely to have access to a reliable WiFi connection. You can also select to have this download on WiFi only. Unfortunately it defaults to using both your cellular connection and WiFi. WiFi only should be the default and since this is buried in a setting some people might get a nasty surprise regarding their cellular download cap. Oh and just because I am rather picky app-wise I was also annoyed that the title of the apps as it appears on iOS is the same icon and title as the previous version.

divineoffice2iphone-resized

There are some other features for the Divine Office app that are more interesting than really useful. It has a status telling you how many people are praying the Divine Office using this app. Along with a turning globe that can be viewed showing around the world who is using this app. There is also a liturgical calendar. Still I would have preferred having the daily Mass readings like Universalis instead of the spinning globe. They also have sharing capabilities but it is rather crippled. Instead of using the iOS 8 share sheet it has a custom one that will only send a link to and About Today page via Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. Just not very useful. Plus there is no way to copy or highlight text displayed. I especially find that the Office of Readings sometimes contains something I want to copy for future reference. Universalis allows you to copy a column on a page, but not much else.

For those who bought the original version there is an upgrade package where you can buy the new version for $4.99. Otherwise their pricing is currently five dollars off at $14.99. So overall I found this to be worthwhile upgrade and it is finely nice to have page turns with the official text. If you ever pray the Divine Office with others this is quite important.

No doubt I will still be switching back and forth at times between Divine Office 2 and Universalis, but I just like the change off. I am still waiting for the perfect Liturgy of the Hours app, well perfect for my use. Until then still we have some good choices.

I don’t know what the status is for an Android version of Divine Office 2 since there is no new information on their page and the original app does not include the new changes. The Android version for the tablet like many Android tablet apps is just scaled up without putting the larger form factor to use.

Dec 032014
 

After listening to Tim Staples for many years on Catholic Answers I was always hoping he would finally get around to writing a book. He has produced lots of audio CDs along with one book containing a collection of his excellent columns in This Rock (now renamed) magazine. So I finally got my wish with Behold Your Mother – A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines.

The Marian doctrines and the high place Mary occupies for Catholics was never really a problem with me during my conversion. Once I got over the “Yes there is a God” and accepted the authority of the Catholic Church I was in the wanting to learn more mode. Still Catholic radio has certainly demonstrated that this is very often a stumbling block for Protestants. Whether they are heading towards the Church or just dumbfounded by this it is an obvious problem to address in the area of apologetics.

With Tim Staples bing an ex-Assembly of God Youth Pastor he has experienced this reaction personally. The focus of this book is largely of an apologetics nature in working with Protestants, but can also be useful for Catholics not quite sure what the big deal is about Mary.

As a one volume work in popular apologetics it really packs a punch. As the subtitle suggests it looks at all the Marian Doctrines along with a lot of the titles associated with the Blessed Mother. I really enjoyed the tone of the book which was instructional without being dry. Common and other objections are dealt with during each chapter along with later chapters and appendixes providing deeper information.

Tim really did his homework and there are a wealth of footnotes. These footnotes go beyond just references, but also contain further information along with fuller quotes. For a change instead of just skipping over the footnotes, I actually read many of them. As you would expect there is also plenty of Patristic references matched up to the chapters in the book.

Al Kresta on his radio show when talking about this book said that he wished such a work was available in his Protestant days as he would have returned to the Church much sooner. This illustrates exactly why a book like this is so important since there are so many objections to Catholicism based on our special veneration due to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Dec 022014
 

I’ve read some books on the history of the Crusades and it is a rather fascinating chapter of Church history. It is kind of like the Facebook relationship status “It’s complicated.” Yet as interesting as the history of the Crusades is, it is usually a history that was filtered and altered down to us as a synonym of evil. In a Robert Heinlein book I recently read the Crusades were put on the same par as the Holocaust.

So when I first heard mention of a new book put out by Catholic Answers on the subject I was of course intrigued. Especially since it has the provocative title of The Glory of the Crusades. So I was very happy to get a review copy.

The author Steve Weidenkopf is a lecturer of Church History at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. As with other books on the history of the Crusades I have read there is a robust debunking of the various myths associated with them. I really enjoyed getting a much broader look at the historical context especially all the events that lead up to them. These events make it more understandable to see why Pope Urban II called for what became known as the first Crusade. In the past I had thought that it was the case that pilgrims to the Holy Lands were harassed or killed. I had no idea the scope of this such as when a group of 12,000 pilgrims were massacred by the Seljuk Turks. At the same time there were incursions on the Byzantine Empire as the Seljuk Turks took over Nicea and were in range of Constantinople. This caused Emperor Alexius I Comnenus to send ambassadors to the pope seeking help in a rescue effort. An irony of history considering the tragic events of the Fourth Crusade.

One of the problems with reviewing this book is that I learned so much from it along with the book being chock-full of surprising tidbits. It would be so easy to want to fill the review with all this information. I was totally absorbed in his relating of this history the good and the bad. While called The Glory of the Crusades this book does not shy off from the shame of some of the actions during them such as the despicable Sack of Constantinople. Lots of contrasts between men like Godfrey who rejected the title of king and his brother Baldwin who had no qualms about being named King in Jerusalem. Contrasts between St. Louis IX and Frederick II. The retelling of this history is such that at times I felt frustration over the stupidity of how the Crusades were managed from a logistical point of view and how they seemed to learn no lessons from previous Crusades. Along with anger regarding the evil done during the Crusades. This history became bright in my mind like it was a recent event. In modern times we think of national armies like the wars in the last 100 years and how different this was from the reality concerning the centuries the Crusades occurred in. The picturesque phrase “herding cats” seems to be an apt comparison to the loose associations of the men signed with the cross.

The term Crusades is a modern word as the author notes.

“Crusading contemporaries used the term passagia, among others, meaning an “exceptionally large military expedition declared against unbelievers.” Those who undertook the passagia were known as crucesignati, or “those signed with the cross.”

One final aspect of this book that I enjoyed is it also went into a more detailed history of how the well-known myths became the accepted history for many. It is easy to see how this was done as we have experienced in recent history regarding Pius XII. A history retold through through anti-Catholic bias by first Protestants and then secularists, Communists, and eventually Muslims. There was enough evil in the Crusades that it didn’t need to be embellished, yet still it was recast as if the Crusaders were the invading armies bent only on riches. At least modern Crusades scholarship is now more focused on studying this history through the perspective of the participants instead of simply projecting on them their motives.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read with close to 700 footnotes. Usually a large number of footnotes is inversely proportional to how enjoyable something is to read.

Dec 012014
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 13–30 November 2014.

The Weekly Francis is a compilation of the Holy Father’s writings, speeches, etc which I also post at Jimmy Akin’s The Weekly Francis. Jimmy Akin came up with this idea when he started “The Weekly Benedict” and I have taken over curation of it.

Angelus

Apostolic Letters

General Audiences

Homilies

Messages

Speeches

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Papal Tweets

Nov 292014
 

Nine years ago I decided to create my own Advent Wreath graphic instead of just using the normal animated gif that I had used previously. If you would like it for your own blog you can use the html code below. I will replace the graphic each week so that it correctly shows the number of candles that should be lit. On Christmas I will change it to another graphic I created for Christmastide.

<img src="http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/wp-content/uploads/Advent/curtjester_advent.gif" width="170" height="189" />
Nov 262014
 

Via Brandon Vogt:

This morning Fr. Robert Barron launched AdventReflections.com, a place where people can sign up to receive FREE daily reflections throughout Advent.

Each day, from November 30 until Christmas Eve (December 24), Fr. Barron will email a short reflection on an Advent theme, in either English or Spanish (your choice!). In addition, subscribers receive exclusive videos not found anywhere else,** special discount codes** for new products, and several giveaways throughout Advent including DVDs, CDs, signed books, and more. The best part? It’s totally FREE!

Sign-up now at AdventReflections.com.

Also Amy Welborn has a new Avent devotional out. Prepare Him Room: Advent Family Devotions. Kindle version is a steal at .99! I super enjoyed her Lenten devotional and so look forward to reading this one.

Nov 242014
 

Thomas L. McDonald at God and the Machine started a series called “How I Pray”. As Tom said this is a “shameless rip off” of the Lifehacker series “How I work”.

Every Monday in How I Pray, I ask various Catholics about their prayer routines, their prayer lives, and their experience of prayer.

In the first week of the new series he subjected himself to the questions to be answered, in the second week it was my turn to answer How I Pray and this week it is Jimmy Akin’s turn.

Tom’s and Jimmy’s answers are a nice read and I look forward to further entries in this series. It is really excellent to see concrete examples of how other work out their prayer life and what helps them.

Nov 242014
 

pope-francis2-300x187This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 6 November – 22 November 2014.

The Weekly Francis is a compilation of the Holy Father’s writings, speeches, etc which I also post at Jimmy Akin’s The Weekly Francis. Jimmy Akin came up with this idea when he started “The Weekly Benedict” and I have taken over curation of it.

Angelus

General Audiences

Letters

Speeches

Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

Papal Tweets

Note: There are still a large number of documents that have not yet been translated into English.