Friday, October 9, 2009

Kurt Hilgefort, is a Catholic father of six who publishes his thoughts on his blog Shadows of Augustine. He responded to my seven question survey with the following answers. Kurt is the first layperson to respond to the seven question survey and I think that his experience is extremely relevant to me personally and I hope that you are inspired by his thoughts as well. If you would like to respond, please send an email to with your thoughts and I will be happy to publish them as well.

1. What is the biggest challenge to your faith that you have faced so far?
The biggest challenge for me has been the whole dying to self thing. On an intellectual level, there are no barriers. It comes down to a matter of accepting the authority of the Church that Christ founded upon Peter. My challenge is not in the intellect, but rather in the will.

The challenge for me has always been to continually seek conversion. I want to be transformed, but I want it to be over all at once. Instead, it’s been a gradual thing that often seems not to be quite taking hold. I might take several steps forward, then suddenly I’m not moving, then I’m several steps back. The key, for me, is knowing that God’s mercy awaits me in the sacrament of reconciliation, that God loves me too much to want me to stay separated from him, and that true happiness comes only in fulfilling God’s will.

2. What scripture do you find yourself turning to most often?
As a father, I often find myself meditating on Malachi 4:6, “And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.” The verse is invoked in Luke 1:17 in reference to John the Baptist as an indication of the Messianic age. And then there’s that terrible phrase at the end.

Among New Testament verses, I return again and again to Hebrews 5:8, “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” How can I hope to bring my will into accord with his will without suffering, if even Christ himself had to suffer to learn obedience? In a perverse way, it almost makes me desire suffering, that I might learn to obey God.

As Christians, we place a special emphasis on the Gospels. Interestingly, my favorite Gospel passages all involve Peter: his call in Luke 5:1-11, in which Peter, after recognizing the miracle that has occurred with the catch of fish, falls to his knees and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord;” his denial in Luke 22:54-62, where, after the third denial, the Lord turned and looked at Peter, and his rehabilitation in John 21, where three times the Lord asks him if he loves him, and directs him to feed his sheep. Peter failed greatly, and yet he repented and received mercy and love. There is, therefore, hope for even me.

3. How do you think God is revealing his presence to us in the world today?
Creation itself continues to point to God’s presence, as it always has. Just today, I read about how the science of astrophysics increasingly points to a singularity that has no explanation outside of God. Miracles continue to occur, and I don’t mean natural things like the birth of a child. I mean things that have no natural explanation, which the Church herself examines with skepticism. The Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano, Italy has been with us for twelve hundred years. It was subjected to scientific examination in the 1970s. It’s real, it’s permanent, it’s empirical, and it reinforces Catholic doctrine regarding the Blessed Sacrament. And yet, for some people, it’s not enough.

Miracles, however, are rare. I believe that God’s normal mode of acting in the world (other than through the liturgy) is through people. When we receive Christ at mass, we become tabernacles of His presence. It is up to us to carry Him into the world. If people are starving, we need to show them God’s love by feeding them. It might be a cliché, but it is no less true that ours are the hands and feet and arms of God. It’s up to us, as followers of Christ, to show the love of God to the world.

Unfortunately, the converse is also true. Our lack of charity becomes a scandal that prevents others from discovering God.

4. Do you have a book that you would recommend to people trying to develop their spirituality?
My intellectual journey was strongly influenced by works of apologetics. Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Karl Keating and Surprised by Truth by Patrick Madrid both helped me early on to accept the authority of the Church. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, and The Everlasting Man (also by Chesterton) are among the greatest works proposing the truth of Christianity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, with all of its cross-references, is a testament to the organic unity of the faith. Naturally, the Bible, and especially the Gospels, is a bottomless well of living water. Theology and Sanity by Frank Sheed gives the best explanation of the Trinity that I’ve ever read. True Devotion, by St. Louis de Montfort is the best source of Marian spirituality.

5. Why do you think bad things happen to good people?
Sometimes bad things happen to people as the result of free will. Some people make poor decisions that they later regret, other people choose to perform evil actions. At other times, bad things apparently at random, and we call it an act of God. We might never know why God allows, or directs, these apparently random acts. What we do know, is that God somehow draws forth a greater good. Suffering certainly is not pleasant, but it need not be fruitless. Ultimately, all things work for the good, even if we don’t understand how.

6. What have you found is the most effective way to introduce the word of God to a nonbeliever?
St. Francis is said to have preached the Gospel, and used words when necessary. Likewise, I try to let my life be a testament. I firmly believe that acts of love are the greatest tools of evangelization, and so I try to let love be my guide. I don’t usually do a very good job at it. I don’t try to hide the fact that I’m Catholic, and I don’t shy away from it or make excuses for it in conversation. At the same time, I take seriously the counsel of 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” I live and work in an area that is majority Catholic. I rarely meet anyone who is unchurched.

7. Do you have a favorite saint and if so, why?
I like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, for the way in which they incorporated Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy into explaining Christian theology. I like Padre Pio, though I’m not exactly sure why. I like St. Therese of Lisieux for her Little Way, which says that I don’t need to be great, I can excel in holiness by being a little flower if that is what God has called me to be. As a husband and a father, I have a special devotion to St. Joseph as the head of the Holy Family, the Guardian of the Redeemer, the Patron of the Church, and the most chaste spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Of course, I honor Mary, and ask that she wrap me in her mantle to make me presentable to her Son, to whom she is always pointing.