Rest and be Thankful: Autobiography of a Belfast Missionary – Daniel Cummings C.Ss.R, was published this year and launched at Clonard Monastery in July.
The book chronicles the varied and fascinating childhood and religious career of Fr Cummings (1907-1977). It includes descriptions of his childhood in a troubled Belfast, his ministry at Clonard Monastery, the Philippines, and his work as army chaplain in continental Europe during World War II.
Along with Fr Gerard Reynolds (uncle of the current Fr Gerry Reynolds at Clonard) Cummings also pioneered Clonard’s first ‘ecumenical’ work – the ‘Missions for non-Catholics’, in 1948.
Cummings was prompted to write his memoirs by his young niece, finishing them in 1970. He did not want them published till after his death. His niece, Rosemary Doherty, was responsible for their publication this year.
I recommend the book wholeheartedly. Even for those who think they would not be especially interested in the life of a priest, Cummings’ descriptions of the ‘troubles’ in Belfast in the 1920s – from a child’s perspective – are particularly interesting.
I plan to review the book in full soon, but thought it would be of interest to readers of this blog to provide a bit of a ‘teaser’ with an excerpt in which Cummings discusses the mission for non-Catholics and how it attracted the attention of a young Rev Ian Paisley.
Given that the latest that this passage could have been written is 1970, I think Cummings’ interpretation of how Paisley shared ‘the sweet of peace’ as his ‘first genuinely ecumenical gesture’ is especially fascinating (p. 274-276):
Fr Daniel Cummings on a Young Ian Paisley – from new book ‘Rest and be Thankful’
The Reverend Ian Paisley was deeply interested in all this work we were doing in Clonard. So far as I know, he attended the missions right from the start. During one of my first sermons to our Protestant friends, I spoke about the real presence of Christ Our Lord in the Eucharist. While I was speaking, some listener in the congregation tut-tutted his abhorrence of what I said – it was like the frightened tut-tut-tut of a blackbird alarmed at the sight of a prowling cat or a hovering hawk. I have often wondered if the Rev Ian Paisley was the tut-tut-tutter that night. It is in the compass of his style.
… For years the Reverend Ian kep preaching about Clonard’s errors, issuing challenge after challenge, and holding rallies in the Ulster Hall in Belfast. It is true to say that Clonard’s ecumenical work of those years was the ladder up which he climbed to the platform of notoriety. His hostile sermons led Northern Ireland Protestants to look on him as a “true blue”, a man after their own hearts, a spokesman who would not betray their cause. And that is exactly how Protestants look on him to this day.
… Another day when I was coming from the City Hospital, where I had been visiting some sick people, I met him on the Lisburn Road. He stopped and stared at me. He then tackled me about my being in need of true conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ. Only in that way, he emphatically pointed out to me, would I find true joy and peace.
This was not done quietly, by earnest words alone! Oh no! Standing there on the street, with people passing us, he began to raise his voice, and wave his hands and arms in the air. He ranted at me, as only he can rant, quoting his familiar, worn texts from Scripture. I told him to stop haranguing me. I told him he was only attracting attention in a public street, and that he was quite mistaken about my state.
“My dear sir,” I said, “I am perfectly happy the way I am!”
“Ha!” he snorted. “What you are suffering from, Brother, is false joy!”
No matter what I said, he was going to win. How could you reasonably debate any subject with a person like that? I was meant to accept his word, but he would not accept mine. In the end he discarded that tremulous, urgent, preaching voice he had put on for my benefit and returned to his normal voice. It was an anti-climax!
He was holding a small bag of sweets in his hand: he had obviously been sampling its contents as I came along. He now looked at the sweets and then at me.
“I don’t know whether I’ll give you a sweet or not! But anyway, here you are!” Saying this, he held out the open sweet bag to me. I laughed at this remark – and then proceeded to reduce the number of his sweets.
In the bad old days of the West, the Indians used to smoke the “pipe of peace” with their enemies. In the manner aforesaid, I, standing on the Lisburn Road in Belfast, chewed the sweet of peace with Ian Paisley. I have always interpreted his sharing of the sweets as his first genuinely ecumenical gesture.