Exclusive Interview: Paradise Commander - How a Convinced Agnostic Became a Devout Catholic
for Air Force Systems Command.
Antigua? Paradise! I said it best on page 26. "Characteristic of the Eastern Caribbean, Antigua is an island of easterly trade winds, of swaying palms, cheap rum, and steel bands playing to tourists on moonlit beaches; land of a gentle, long suffering but joyous people of quiet dignity; descendants of African slaves." As a bonus, Antigua was transitioning from colonial status to independence. We worked with the British Empire at its twilight!
Fr. James: It was at Antigua that you had a profound religious experience that brought you to join the Catholic Church. Although you explain this amazing journey in your book with great detail, can you tell our readers about your conversion experience? I am sure that they will be very moved by your story.
Al Hughes: I was at an impasse: looking for evidence of God. From page 135, "I was frozen in my dilemma, could not get to God, so The Voice came to me! He broke the ice with a subtle proposition of relationship. I soon realized that knowledge, wisdom and understanding flow from God through relationship, not only or first from my own mental gymnastics!" With relationship established, in short order He delivered a series of unmistakable miracles and directed me to the Catholic Church. After baptism I encountered the Holy Spirit. We committed our lives in total obedience to the will of God. All of this happened between mid-November 1978 and mid-February 1979. He since has guided all our moves and apostolic works: the latest is Paradise Commander.
Fr. James: Once your conversion took place, what was your wife thinking all of this time? Did she remain quiet and just sit back and watch the whole thing unfold? Did she encourage you? Did she push you a little? Or was your religious experience in Antigua so clear that you did not need any pushing?
Al Hughes: Jeannie never, ever pushed. After the conversion events began, she admitted that she had been praying for my conversion for eleven years. As the conversion events unfolded and the years went by, she was a participant, not an external witness. She lived it, as did I. We shared information on everything that went on. Still do. Some of that is evident in Paradise Commander.
Fr. James: What would you say today to people that are searching for the truth? Also, what would you say to people that are considering the Catholic Church as their Church home?
Al Hughes: Avery Cardinal Dulles once wrote a book titled Models of the Church. He points out that "Church" is thought of by people in various ways: a building, or the hierarchy of the priesthood and so forth.
The best model is the one proposed by Saint Paul. The Church is the assembly of its members as the Body of Christ, with the resurrected Christ as the head.
Since the living head of The Church is the way, the truth and the life (He said so, Himself!), then The Church in union with its head is the Truth. The mission of Christ's own Church is faithfully to teach Christ; not to "evolve, update or modernize" the church to keep pace with secular trends. God does not change. The Church has to be the very definition of orthodoxy. Christ only organized one church. It seems natural that when I posed in prayer the question "Which Church?" the immediate answer was "Your spiritual home is the Roman Catholic Church." Why go anywhere else?
Fr. James: How has the Charismatic Renewal been influential in your life?
Al Hughes: Most directly, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Paradise Commander, chapter VIII); secondly, through studies leading to a Benedictine certificate in Spiritual Direction and some of the studies for a Master of Pastoral Ministry at Seattle U. and finally, through long participation with the Southern California Renewal Communities (SCRC), Dominic Berardino, President.
Fr. James: Since your conversion, you have been very active in the Catholic lay apostolate. You have been very active in the day by day experiences of parish life. What would you say to Catholics that might be struggling with their faith? What would you say to those who are fervent and enthusiastic?
Al Hughes: I would say, "To know and not to do, is not yet to know." I would quote Fr. Georges Florovsky: "The Church gives us not a system, but a key; not a plan of God's city, but the means of entering it. . he who has studied only the plan risks remaining outside and not really finding anything." So get with the program! Pray for Relationship! Find where the work of the Church needs help and serve. You are a member of Christ. Move it! Don't just sit there! Of course you are bored! You aren't doing anything! Read! Study! Explore the City of God! Participate! "To know and not to do, is not yet to know."
Fr. James: Finally, Al, what hopes do you have for your first book? Are you hoping that it will help a lot of people? Do you have any plans for a second book?
Al Hughes: It is as you wrote for the back cover, Fr James. "If you are seeking the truth, read this book. If you have found the truth and need some inspiration, read this book." Much of our apostolic work focused on Catholic converts, but there are far more candidates for conversion already in the Church. If I have helped to awaken even a few to embrace the reality of relationship with the Living God, I am content.
A second book? The epilogue of Paradise Commander is what we would term in the Air Force, a "Lessons Learned Report." It offers some detail, but is necessarily short. It has planted many seeds which I would like to cultivate. I have a title and a chapter sequence. Time to get back to work! This interview, itself, inspires me to "Get with the program!" one more time.
Fr. James: Thanks Al for your time and thanks for taking the time to write this excellent book. I am sure that Paradise Commander will inspire a lot of people.
Paradise Commander can be purchased online from Amazon.com.
Lt. Colonel Albert E. Hughes, (USAF RETIRED) holds an M.S. (with distinction) in Systems Management from the Air Force Institute of Technology, an M.M. in Pastoral Ministry from Seattle University (Jesuit) and a Certificate in Spiritual Direction. He taught adults for 25 years as a Catholic catechist and retreat master. He lives in Corpus Christi, TX with his wife Jeannie.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: year of faith, albert hughes, father james farfaglia, Pentecost, conversion, Holy Spirit, Charismatic Renewal, faith, spirituality
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