May 13, 2019
“Video games are sort of an unexpressed area of theology,” Evan Cummings, CSP, says–without a hint of sarcasm one of a previous generation might expect.
Like many Paulists, Evan’s an eclectic man. His interests include–at the low end of the technology spectrum–making bread from scratch, an activity that enables him to explore the divine.
But his love for tech has manifested in making his own arcade game with a fellow seminarian, producing a 10-episode Steampunk podcast, and preaching about the virtues of popular video games.
“Thomas was Alone is the only video game about squares which just made me cry,” Evan says about a game he included in a talk about virtues and video games. In the game, one square sacrifices itself to empower others.
“(Thomas) has that courage to say, ‘There’s something greater out there that I’m willing to die for,’” Evan says. “And so by engaging in that, by playing that, by being a part of Thomas’ story, we ingrain that in ourselves and can reflect on the way in which we’re called to be courageous in the world, the way in which we’re called to reflect the self-sacrificial nature of Christ in the world. and how Christ’s courage–Christ’s ability to say ‘Yes’ to the Father in giving of himself has given us the ultimate gift of eternal life.”
Evan’s technology skills and interest may come from his father, Kevin, who had a community TV show and needed Evan to work the camera. At home, Kevin kept a pile of computers in the basement.
Once Evan dreamed of working as an engineer at NASA—what he saw as the height of technical innovation. So he initially pursued an engineering degree at Utah State. Then one night at school, he was killing time surfing the web and came across the Paulist Fathers. Not long after, he changed his course of studies to philosophy.
The Paulist Fathers’ historic use of media in ministry stuck out to Evan. When he looked up the Paulists online, he saw a modern website, an established film production company, and a long-running radio and web outreach program in Busted Halo.
“To see a group of priests who were sort of on the forefront of this and asking the same questions, but asking it with a spiritual angle that just really got me interested and I was like, ‘Wow, this is a group of guys I could spend my life with and working with,” Evan says.
Evan was also drawn to the Paulists emphasis on campus ministry, since he was loving his own college campus ministry experience as a student. And because Evan grew up in a religiously diverse family, and as a religious minority–a Catholic in Church of Latter Day Saints-dominated Utah–he liked the Paulist openness to ecumenism.
“My dad is a convert from Southern Baptist. His father was a convert to Southern Baptist from Methodism,” Evan says. “I have LDS members in my family. I even have a Buddhist aunt. We have Catholics, of course, because my mom comes from a big Polish Catholic family.”
While on a pastoral year at University of California at Berkeley as part of his formation for the priesthood, Evan needed to walk a line not between religions, but between generations of Catholics that practiced the faith differently. For example, younger Catholics desire to return to practices like adoration created tension with an older generation who had negative experiences of being forced to worship this way.
“I empathize with the older congregation who thought that things were going to return to the church that they sort of grew up with that they had a negative experience from but had overcome and been healed,” Evan says. “But I also empathized with the younger generation who are just looking to explore their prayer life and find ways in which they could express a Catholic identity. …And so the way I tried to navigate it was listening to the complaints of both sides and being empathetic of listening to them and just being a sympathetic ear but also being willing to challenge at the appropriate time–helping each side to see the perspective of the other to help them to grow to understand each other.”
To bridge understanding of cultures in another way, Evan’s parents created their own ministry. Kevin and Kit developed the blog seminarianparents.com to support family members who have a loved one becoming a priest. Recent entries include a post from Evan’s brother who just made good on a bet that he’d get a tattoo with the Paulist logo when Evan made his final promises to the community. Evan got to bless this modern treatment of the age-old tradition of the priesthood when he was home for Christmas.
Evan enters the Paulist Fathers at an auspicious time. It’s the community’s 160th year and the 200th anniversary of the birth of Paulist founder and Servant of God Isaac Hecker.
“He’s a polite and gentlemanly rebel,” Evan says about Hecker, who was kicked out of the Redemptorists to create the Paulists. “Hecker was just so driven by the Holy Spirit that he knew there had to be an English-speaking House and mission band to serve America…You know sometimes there needs to be that prophetic push to push us into that greater relationship with God and Hecker just really embodies that for me.”
God-willing, Paulist Deacon Evan Cummings will be ordained to the priesthood during a special Mass on Saturday morning, May 18, 2019, at the Church of Saint Paul the Apostle in New York. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, will be the principal celebrant of the Mass and serve as the ordaining bishop. The Mass will begin at 10 a.m. A reception will follow. All are welcome.
Jennifer Szweda Jordan is a writer and audio producer based in Pittsburgh.