PORTLAND — When staff of the Catholic Sentinel told Deacon Owen Cummings how excited they were he had consented to write the paper’s Question Box column, the shrewd Scotsman responded in typical style: “Obviously, you all need to get out more.”
Cummings, a 61-year-old professor of systematic theology at Mount Angel Seminary, replaces Father I.J. Mikulski, a pithy Michigan priest who answered questions on faith from the Catholic world for decades. Father Mikulski retired last year, leaving a hole in the Portland newspaper, published since 1870 and read by Catholics statewide.
Born in Glasgow, Cummings holds a doctor of divinity degree from Trinity College in Dublin. A teacher and author, he has theological qualifications and experience. But he also plans to draw on something else when answering reader inquiries on faith.
“I love being a Catholic,” he says. “For me this means trying to provide a sound understanding of the Church’s wisdom tradition — its doctrinal understanding especially — for those who desire it.”
No one, the deacon-theologian says, has all the answers. That’s because faith is about more than answers.
“Faith is primarily about falling in love with the Mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” Cummings explains. “It is a relationship of love. One can try to spell out as carefully as possible what is involved in this relationship in terms of doctrine, but the relationship comes first.”
He says he’ll respond to questions carefully, showing that the Catholic tradition is home to a variety of nuanced responses. He knows that sometimes, readers will be challenged to sift through their presuppositions.
Through it all, Cummings keeps in mind the great truth of theology — before the end, our vision of God is “partial, limited, but we do the best we can.”
A frequent speaker at church gatherings in Oregon and nationwide, he lives in Silverton and has been married to wife Cathy for 37 years. They have five children, including Andrew, an associate professor of theology at Mount Angel.
Cummings has penned 14 books, including a history of eucharistic thought, a look at women mystics, a review of the 20th-century popes and an exploration of the 19th-century shapers of the contemporary church. Coming up this year is a book of Advent and Christmas Meditations.
In 2008, he received the papal honor Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice from Pope Benedict. The recognition, for Catholics who have made extraordinary contributions to their church, was fostered by Portland Archbishop John Vlazny.
Here are ways to submit questions on faith to Cummings: Go to News Tips at sentinel.org; write to [email protected]; or send letters to Question Box, Catholic Sentinel, 5536 NE Hassalo, Portland, OR 97213.
For more information about subscribing to the Sentinel, call 503-281-1191.
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