My Brother, the Pope

Author: Georg Ratzinger

Publisher: Ignatius Press, San Francisco, Calif., 2012, 270 pp., $24.95 hardcover; 800-651-1531

My Brother the Pope

One of the most charming stories related to the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI was the way that the world came to know not just the new pontiff, but his close relationship with his brother, Georg Ratzinger. The older of the two siblings, Georg was born in 1924 and has been, for many decades, a priest and musician; from 1964 to 1994, he was the conductor of the Regensburger Domspatzen, the world-famous cathedral choir of Regensburg, Germany. The close friendship that the pontiff has enjoyed with his brother has endured for some 80 years, and now Georg has authored with German journalist Michael Hesemann a revealing and even inspiring look at the Ratzinger family, in general, and Joseph Ratzinger — Pope Benedict XVI — in particular.  

“My Brother, the Pope” is not some tell-all book by a relative seeking some notoriety through a more famous brother. Georg instead offers powerful and often moving stories about growing up in Germany with his brother, their Catholic upbringing, the catastrophe of Nazism, their time in the seminary, the role of their parents in fostering the Catholic faith and the influence of Bavaria on the two future priests. 

As the title indicates, the book is centered on Georg’s brother, and the author — with the help of Hesemann — provides excellent insights into the pontiff’s experiences and the development of his rich and deep theological genius. Notable, too, is Georg’s account of the way that the family encouraged their vocations, a lesson for modern families and for anyone discerning a call to the priesthood or religious life. This is an excellent gift book for Christmas and a must read for fans of the present pope.

The Vatican: A Hidden World

Director: Richard Ladkani

Publisher: Ignatius Press, San Francisco, Calif., 2012, 55 min., $19.95 DVD; 800-651-1531

There are various documentaries available on the Vatican, but “The Vatican: A Hidden World” is especially notable because of the level of access and the genuinely interesting officials and personalities who are interviewed. The documentary reminds the viewer that the Vatican may be the smallest country on earth, but it is populated by men and women dedicated to assisting the labors of the Vicars of Christ. Notable in the interviews are those with Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the Archpriest of the Vatican, and Brother Guy Consolmagno, one of the heads of the Vatican Observatory. Highly recommended for parish libraries and schools.

Bible Top Tens

Author: Mary Elizabeth Sperry

Publisher: Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, Ind., 2012, 176 pp., $13.95 softcover; 800-348-2440

Bible Top Tens

In full, “Bible Top Tens: 40 Fun and Intriguing Lists to Inspire and Inform” is a delightful and valuable collection of Bible topics and people with the aim of helping readers to increase their knowledge of Scripture. The lists are organized according to “People,” “Places and Events” and “Sayings and Such,” but Sperry also offers tips for a fruitful reading of Scripture, things you should know about the Bible and “Bible Misunderstandings.” 

The lists of top tens are amazingly diverse, including holy women with attitude, sibling rivalries, villains, battles, angels, underdogs, journeys, challenges, promises and even animals. Sperry adds a useful commentary at the start of each list and provides a host of scriptural references, and her suggestions for getting the most out of Scripture are genuinely helpful, such as the fact that the Bible is not a book but a library, that the Old relates to the New and that merely reading it isn’t enough.

A Mary Christmas

Author: Kathleen M. Carroll

Publisher: Franciscan Media, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2012, 128 pp., $12.99 softcover; 800-488-0488

A Mary Christmas

The third in a trilogy of books by Kathleen Carroll (along with “A Franciscan Christmas” and “A Catholic Christmas”), “A Mary Christmas” takes a beautiful look at Advent and Christmas from the perspective of the Blessed Mother. Carroll uses as her organizing principle the Seven Joys of Mary: the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity of Our Lord, the Adoration of the Magi, the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple, the Appearance of the Risen Christ to His Mother and the Assumption and Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven. 

The use of the seven joys provides a perfect structure for appreciating Advent and Christmas through the lens of the Blessed Mother, especially as it reminds us all of the joys that Mary would have encountered here on earth, as well as giving an obvious tie to the rosary. A small book, “A Mary Christmas” is a lovely meditation for those who want to add to their understanding of the Marian dimensions of this holy time of year.

Advent and Christmas Wisdom from St. Alphonsus Liguori

Author: Maurice J. Nutt, C.Ss.R.

Publisher: Liguori Publications, Liguori, Mo., 2010, 116 pp.; $10.99 paper; 800-335-9521

Part of Liguori’s ongoing series of Advent and Lenten meditations, this edition collects the wisdom of a sometime forgotten saint, Alphonsus Liguori, who is a Doctor of the Church and patron saint of confessors, moral theologians and sufferers of arthritis. As with the other contributions to the series this one includes nicely chosen quotes, a Scripture reading, a prayer and specific Advent actions to give practical expression to Alphonsus’ moral lessons during the time of expectation and anticipation of Our Lord’s birth.

A Monastery Journey to Christmas

Author: Brother Victor-Antoine D’Avila-Latourrette

Publisher: Liguori Publications, Liguori, Mo., 2010, 209 pp., $16.99 paper; 800-335-9521

Monastery Journey to Christmas

Brother Victor-Antoine D’Avila-Latourrette is very well-known among foodies for his cookbooks “Sacred Feasts” and “From a Monastery Kitchen,” but he is also adept at writing books that assist the average person to apply many of the beautiful ways of the monastery to their own lives, such as “A Monastic Book of Days.” In “A Monastery Journey to Christmas,” he applies his monastic experience to a day-by-day Advent meditation starting on Nov. 15. It is informed, as he puts it, by “the monastic path to Christmas,” and throughout he uses this foundation as his guidepost for the reader. To drive this home he begins many chapters with direct references to the traditions and routines of his community, including the Advent fair. Each day brings its own reflection, from Nov. 22, Maranatha (Come, Lord Jesus), to Dec. 3, Radiant Light of the East, to the seven days of the O Antiphons, and then all the way to the Hypapante, the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple on Feb. 2.  

Brother Victor’s style is gentle, and he is a natural raconteur, but the stories are used to enhance his deeper message in this book: “The Advent and Christmas seasons are the liturgical times dedicated exclusively to reliving the mystery of the Incarnation.” One of the other great strengths here is the incorporation of the sequence of days and the calendar of both the Eastern and Western Churches, for, as he puts it, “In doing this, we find ourselves enriched by the logical complementariness of both traditions.”