Posts Tagged ‘theology’

I’ve never been me before

October 5, 2018

With the early morning fog
All was white-gray
Seeing nothing for more than 100 yards
Islands were not to be seen
Nor the far shore

Well, not quite
Soft, gentle movement heard
Water caressing the rock-strewn

I was thinking, for me,
This is a new experience
And certainly so
On this day, in this place
At this age

Who I am today is new
What I experience today is new
All I see and all I hear, new
The me of now
Has never existed before

I’ve never been this me before
I should be in awe of everything
Tired of nothing
Open to the grace
Of all things

©2018 Thomas W. Cummins

A half smile and a nod

January 30, 2014


If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
And if I am only for myself, then what am I?
And if not now, when? – Hillel

Last evening, at the offender’s request, I was a ministerial witness to his execution. There were only two witnesses for him, and I was the only one who actually knew him. During the past 13 years, we had conversed countless times as I visited the prison where he lived. My role there is as an assistant chaplain.

From what I could tell, my eyes were the only ones he made contact with as he was lying on the gurney. He gave a half smile and a nod in response to my nod.

The above quote bubbled up as I reflect on this morning after.

But I’m a Christian first!

September 12, 2011

Note: If you are really pleased with the Catholic Church as it is today, you may not want to  read any further.


There was an unexpected comment from inside a prison cell during my visit on Wednesday of last week:

“The one religion I have no use for is Catholic.” He’s Muslim.

“Really?” I said

“Catholics are creepy! All that sexual abuse of kids.”

“You know, I’m Catholic.”

“You are?”

“But I’m a Christian first!”

Ever since that exchange (and we did continue talking), I have wondered what prompted me to say that. My not identifying with the institutional church is certainly part of it. Wondering what bishops, cardinals, and the pope bring to the party is another part.

The thing that keeps me in the Catholic faith is that there is nowhere else to go. Also, I need to remember the influence of the Sacraments and of our tradition upon who I have become … along with God’s grace.

I’m simply not big on the hierarchy and all the pomp and trappings that go with it. I still imagine Jesus roaming around the Vatican or any diocesan office wondering how all this came out of his demonstrating and talking about leading a humble and loving life.

Our local bishop provides ceremonial, administrative, and managerial support to the faith communities in the archdiocese. That is good and necessary. But I don’t look to him for guidance in matters of faith and morals. I look to the members of our faith community under the guidance of our pastors.

To me, the bishops in this country have nothing to say. Perhaps they will someday, but for now their voice lacks credibility and is usually out of step with those in the pews. The corporate  insensitivity and cover-ups displayed toward the sexual abuse of our children can never be excused. Forgiven by some, but never excused.

I believe to be a good Catholic is to be a good Christian, to follow Jesus in his words and actions, to hear and keep the gospel message. Is that what we see and hear from the hierarchy? No.  What we see and hear is exclusion, intolerance, arrogance, a group that is tone-deaf, a group that fails to listen to the faithful (at least those of us without money).

We see and hear from the hierarchy an asymmetrical view of the human experience, an undue focus on sexual issues rather than on loving relationships. Other things in their portfolio of issues include abortion, gays, maintaining 7 Sacraments for men and only 6 Sacraments for women. Gee, that last issue said that way smacks of theological ignorance, except we know it’s all about power anyway and theology has nothing to do with it.

The U.S. bishops’ bi-annual inserting of themselves into the political process is nonsense and, as we have seen, can cause much damage through encouraging voting for those who are insufficiently pro-live, voting for those care more for the unborn than for breathing citizens in need. I should say that they claim to care for the unborn.

Our bishops also encouraged voting for and electing an administration filled with fear and vengeance rather than hope and forgiveness. But unthinking conservatism doe spawn more unthinking conservatism, and election time is just around the corner once more. The archbishop before this one thought the war in Iraq was a “just” war. And so it goes.

I could go on, but a conversation at a cell door does bring up many, many things to reflect upon.

Confusion among the faithful

June 19, 2011

Father’s Day. Lots of memories, reflections, gratitude. It is a good day.


Friday, I led a discussion on the Trinity following my third-Friday communion service at the prison. The information I drew upon came from Elizabeth Johnson’s book,  Quest for the Living God. Her chapter on the Trinity was very helpful. Much more helpful than the usual “three persons in one divine nature.” How understandable has that ever been?

I’m well aware that the bishops don’t like Elizabeth Johnson’s book. I loved it! In fact, if the bishops hadn’t objected, I most likely would have missed it. Thanks, guys. The book sits on my shelf next to  Roger Haight’s book, Jesus Symbol of God. The bishops really hated that one.

Both of those books I inhaled with great interest. I commented in an email to Sr. Johnson, “I don’t know where I would be without an inclusive theology that makes sense.” It remains a mystery to me what the bishops found objectionable in her book. I’ll admit I haven’t read their report, but I did read her book.

We know that pluralism does give the bishops indigestion. But I don’t want a God who thinks the Catholic Church is “the only way” to salvation. The God I know is the one described in the Gospels through the words and behavior of Jesus, open to everyone, not the one described through the words and actions of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

Departing from official Church teaching is a no-no, that much I have gleaned from news reports regarding their objections. They would love to have every theology book require an imprimatur. But can you imagine if we never knew more than the bishops? If all we ever heard about was what the Church already thought she knew? Are we to be constrained by what is often the least common denominator in awareness of  living faithfully in today’s world? Isn’t it possible that the church can teach from below as well as from above?

My understanding is that the bishops don’t like her treatment of the Trinity. Granted it was understandable and relevant which could cause “confusion among the faithful.” Confusion of the faithful is really the province of  the hierarchy itself, not the work of our theologians.

A blessing beyond measure

May 7, 2009

Last Saturday marked the eighth anniversary of my work as a volunteer chaplain at a maximum security prison. Eight years which have transformed my life.

How did all this unfold?

I retired at end of ’96 from a career of engineering, manufacturing, and executive management.

Having retired, I went back to school to study theology.

Studying theology, I wanted a means to express what I learned.

To express what I learned, I majored in preaching.

Majoring in preaching required a venue for my internship

A venue for internship came to be a jail/prison environment

Working in a prison environment led to the lay chaplain role I am now in.

So, eight years of ministering to those in solitary confinement have given me the confidence to minster to those awaiting execution, have led to more impactful preaching at prison prayer services, have made me a more patient listener to those who struggle, have prepared me for a whole spectrum of emerging spiritualities, have been a blessing beyond measure.

A time for reflection

January 22, 2008

Yesterday’s Martin Luther King holiday was a time for reflection. Just as Dr. King frequently reflected upon scripture as he shepherded the civil rights movement, it would be appropriate to use a gospel message to reflect upon him and his mission.

During the afternoon yesterday, I found a prayer service preaching I had done in February, 2000 — Black History Month. At that time, I was still a student at Aquinas Institute of Theology working on an M.A. in pastoral studies.