Deacon Cummings: Cathedral of the Madeleine 'offers a glimpse of God'

Friday, Sep. 13, 2019
Deacon Cummings: Cathedral of the Madeleine 'offers a glimpse of God' Photo 1 of 2
Deacon Owen Cummings, Regents' Chair of Theology at Mount Angel Seminary, was the keynote speaker at the 2019 Bishop's Dinner.
By Marie Mischel
Intermountain Catholic

SALT LAKE CITY — The 16th annual Bishop’s Dinner, held Sept. 4 at the Grand America, brought together almost 600 people from diverse communities within the Diocese of Salt Lake City to benefit the Cathedral of the Madeleine.

“The cathedral is not only the mother church of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, it is the welcoming church for all people of faith and denominations to find a worshiping place where they can experience the living presence of God,” Bishop Oscar A. Solis said in his remarks.

Among those attending were Elder M. Russell Ballard, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Khosrow Semnani and his wife, Ghazaleh; Senator Luz Escamilla; José Borjón, the Consul of Mexico in Utah, and his wife, Blanca Vallejo; and Phil and Sandy McCarthey of the McCarthey Family Foundation. Those representing the diocese included the bishop; Msgr. Colin F. Bircumshaw, vicar general; Msgr. J. Terrence Fitzgerald, vicar general emeritus; Msgr. Joseph M. Mayo, a former rector of the cathedral; Deacon George Reade, chancellor, and his wife, Mary; and several priests and religious.

The opening and closing prayers were given by the student body presidents of the three Utah Catholic high schools.  

In his opening remarks, Fr. Martin Diaz, rector of the cathedral, reflected on the event’s theme, “From Stone and Mortar to Heart and Soul.”

Aug. 15 was the 110th anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral of the Madeleine, Fr. Diaz said, and “Those very old stones are held together by mortar. Our hearts are and our souls are held together by love. The cathedral is nothing if it is not a testament to welcome; a testament to love.”

During the dinner, a video paid tribute to the memory of the late Alan M. Lipman, Nancy Lipman Giles and Robert P. Evans for “the great contributions they made to the diocese and the cathedral and their respective parishes along their journey, their path of life,” said Msgr. Mayo in his comments.

The dinner’s keynote speaker was Deacon Owen Cummings, an author and native of Glasgow, Scotland, who is the Regent’s Chair of Theology at Mount Angel Seminary in Saint Benedict, Ore.

Deacon Cummings came to the United States with his wife and children in response to an ad for the position of director of religious education at the cathedral, so “in a sense he is coming home this evening,” said Msgr. Mayo in his introduction of the deacon.

Even before the Cathedral of the Madeleine was built in the early 1900s, Catholics in Utah of different ethnicities and backgrounds gathered on the Lord’s Day “to worship, to celebrate the Eucharist, the Mass. That’s what Catholics do. That was and is the Church. It is out of their gathering for worship, for the celebration of the Eucharist, that the building blocks of the Cathedral of the Madeleine were formed, from ‘heart and soul’ to ‘stone and mortar,’” Deacon Cummings said.

Although the worshiping community is primary to the Church, that “does not mean that the building in which we worship is redundant or unimportant,” the deacon said. “It is very important. Human beings need sensible and tangible signs of those things which they value most. That’s why we put rings on our fingers to signify our intimate relationships. That’s why we have photographs – of our families, our spouses, our children and grandchildren, our friends. These are all signs, signs that help to make present and public the realities to which they point. Catholics love signs, especially signs of God’s loving presence among us which is the center of everything.”

Church buildings “are glimpses of God,” the deacon continued. “Our buildings are signs of God’s presence, the God whose best name is Love. The Cathedral of the Madeleine is a particularly splendid sign of God’s presence in this city.”

Therefore, the deacon said, “The holiness of the Christian assembly, of the worshipers, of the people and the holiness of the building of the cathedral are not in competition, it’s not a matter of saying which is more important – they are harmoniously related and mutually constitutive.”

The cathedral, he added, “is a place through which each of us, in our own way, in our own circumstances, may become more persuasively and attractively a ‘light to the nations,’ people of faith, hope and especially love to all our fellows.”

In his concluding remarks, Bishop Solis thanked all those who attended for their support of the continuation of the cathedral’s ministry. Acknowledging their different religious and cultural backgrounds, he said he was grateful for those who are committed to the mission of creating one family “where we can look and talk to one another, not as strangers, but as brothers and sisters.”

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