‘One of the happiest men I know’

First slide

Deacon Keith Cummings knows the importance of a smile. With only weeks left until he is ordained to the priesthood, he is quick to laugh and make jokes - especially about himself - and he said he feels more fulfilled and satisfied than ever before.

"The joy I've had from the past 10 years, … I've come to understand how much God loves each of us individually and it's made me so happy and content and at peace for where I'm going," he said.

Of course, he was not always this way. For Deacon Cummings, the road to ordination has been a long one, with many detours and U-turns.

Deacon Cummings was born Dec. 9, 1964, in Richmond. The 10th of 11 children, he grew up in a family that moved around a lot. He lived in Detroit, Memphis and Pittsburgh before returning to Virginia, where he graduated from Woodbridge High School in 1983.

Though his family attended Mass every Sunday while he was growing up, Deacon Cummings didn't fully appreciate the Faith. He began skipping Mass almost as soon as he had his driver's license and he didn't seriously return until he was a college student in Richmond in his early 20s. At that time, he learned a lot about Church teaching, but stopped praying entirely when he began to get an inkling of a vocation.

After that, he took a new approach - "a self-centered, self-driven approach to my life." His first job out of college was working on Wall Street in New York. Within a few weeks, his father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Six weeks later, he died.

"During that time, I got a much stronger window into the depth and breadth of my father's faith and the peace and comfort that he received from his relationship with God and the Faith and the sacraments," Deacon Cummings said. "(My brothers and I) always said, our father taught us as we were growing up how to live as men, and in his last six weeks he taught us how to die as men, as men who trust in the Lord."

Though he was moved, Deacon Cummings still was not practicing his faith. Instead, he focused on earning money and having fun, even moving to Denver in 1997 to be close to the ski slopes.

All that changed in 2002, when Deacon Cummings' mother died. Her death left him reeling and resulted in a devastating downward spiral during which time he lost his job in Denver and was forced to bounce from one menial job to another. Eventually, Deacon Cummings moved back to Virginia, where he could stay with his siblings while he got on his feet.

In 2004, at his lowest point, Deacon Cummings gave in to what he had been avoiding since college. One late night, he found himself in St. Bridget Church in Richmond - which, for some reason, had been left unlocked. There he prayed for the first time since his mother had died.

"I went and I said, basically, 'I made a mess of my life. If you help me, I'll do whatever you want,'" Deacon Cummings said. "And that started the slow process of me returning to the Faith. I started going to Mass every Sunday, I went to confession for the first time in 20 years and it was the greatest experience of my life. I felt three inches taller, like I was floating on a cloud."

Soon Deacon Cummings enrolled in adult confirmation classes. He was confirmed in June 2005 and joined the church choir. He began attending Mass several times a week and doing weekly Holy Hours.

"My friends and family noticed a real change in me," he said. "I was not grumpy, not selfish, I tended to be happy a lot more, and, of course I had gotten my life back."

Then, things intensified. On Easter Sunday 2006, Deacon Cummings was singing in the choir during Mass at St. Joseph Parish in Richmond when he had a deep sense in his heart that God was telling him something.

"I had a very real sense that I was being told, 'You said you would do anything I asked,'" Deacon Cummings said.

For months following that Mass, Deacon Cummings waffled back and forth with a possible vocation. He got a spiritual adviser and attended a discernment retreat before finally applying to the seminary. In July 2007, he was accepted.

Flash forward nearly five years and Deacon Cummings has just finished his diaconate year- an experience that took some time getting used to.

"The first couple of weeks were surreal," he said. "People were calling me 'Deacon' and, it was like, 'Who are you talking to? Wow, I really am a deacon. That is so … weird.'"

For his diaconate year, Deacon Cummings was assigned to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Braintree, Mass. While there, he served in more ways than he could have hoped for and enjoyed tremendous amounts of support from the parishioners.

"People love their priests and their deacons and they have been so fantastic here, so supportive," he said.

Now, Deacon Cummings is excited to take all the experience he has gained and put it to work as a priest. He is most excited about celebrating the sacraments, especially hearing confession, and discovering how God will use him.

"God uses us broken human beings to work amazing wonders," he said. "I'm hoping to bring that love and mercy and tenderness to those people. To be an instrument of that is what I am looking forward to."

Looking back, he said he is grateful for the many positive role models he has had - from his father to the many priests he has worked with, to Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde. In his time in the Church, he has come to admire the joy and peace he has seen in many of those men.

"Being under their tutelage, I've seen that they've got something and I want it," he said. "I want the same message to go out from me - 'I don't know what he's got, but I want it.' What I've got is the only thing worth having. It's all grace, a gift from God, but it is a wonderful gift that has made me one of the happiest men I know."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2012