Stillpoint

By Bishop Michael McGovern

Last Saturday a moving truck drove down from Lake County bearing most of my possessions. A terrific team of a dozen Knights of Columbus were at the bishop’s residence in Belleville, and when the truck arrived, emptied the contents of the truck and brought everything into the house, placing everything on the living room floor. I am most grateful to the K of C members for their generous service.

That afternoon, after the Knights had departed, as I stood looking at the sixty boxes of books, clothes, vestments, photographs, papers and still more books on the floor of the living room, I thought of our Lord’s words to his disciples: “Take nothing for your journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt” (Luke 9:3). I must admit that I felt a little awkward absorbing the sight of how many things I had accumulated over the years.

Yet as I began unpacking everything, it occurred to me that so much of what I carry with me through life, I could (and should) readily part with. Truth be told, if I gave away much of what I possess, would I miss it?  Saturday afternoon it occurred to me that there are only about three things I own that I really treasure. As we begin to get to know one another, permit me to mention what they are and why they are important to me. 

The first item is a crucifix that I purchased from Watra Church Goods on Archer Avenue in Chicago in August, 1990. I was moving into Mundelein seminary that month beginning studies for the priesthood and wanted a crucifix to place on the wall over my bed. The simple crucifix has been with me for thirty years. Whether I was living in the seminary or a parish in Chicago or the suburbs, I always placed the crucifix on a hook or nail above my bed. I have gazed upon that image of Jesus on the cross on a daily basis, and the love of Christ revealed in that simple crucifix has helped me tremendously through the toughest situations. It is a daily reminder that God loves me and sent his only Son to suffer, die and rise again so that my sins may be forgiven and I can live as a child of God. There are days when I have taken the crucifix down from the wall and held it while praying, receiving such an assurance that God would never abandon me. That crucifix also has been a “presence” that can draw me back to August 1990 and rekindle the spark of joy and  excitement that I felt when I first set out to become a priest. I believe it was St. Bruno, founder of the Carthusian order, who declared that the cross of Jesus is “the stillpoint of a turning world.” The crucifix on the wall over my bed has been that “stillpoint” for me for thirty years.  

The second item that is important to me is an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This small image of Mary has been on the wall of my room since 1994, the year I was ordained a priest. As mentioned at my ordination Mass, it is no secret that I have a fondness for St. Ignatius of Loyola and his spiritual exercises. I have great admiration for St. Ignatius. He used to pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary: “Place me with your Son.” Ignatius’ prayer to the Blessed Mother has become my own; a frequent, simple prayer. Looking at the icon of Mary at the end of a day, I become aware of some of the ways Mary has placed me close to Jesus. Yet, honestly, there are so many times that the Virgin Mary has helped me that I am not aware of. All I can do is thank her and thank Jesus for her.

The third item that is important to me is a cardboard box which is filled with letters my mom wrote to me. Beginning at the age of fourteen, when I stayed for a summer in Colorado with my aunt and uncle, my mother would write to me. Since then I have saved many of the letters she wrote to me when I was away from home in college, when I lived on my own in an apartment after college, when I was in the seminary and then when I lived in different parishes. My mom would write to me regularly; even if we had talked on the phone that week, she would still take out her box of stationary and write to me.  After mom passed away in 2005, I imagined I would read her letters as a source of consolation. It actually took a long time for me to begin reading her letters again. In the past several years I have read them more often, especially this summer in anticipation of moving here and beginning this ministry of bishop. Mom’s advice from years ago continues to be a source of wisdom for me today. 

When I think of my possessions, most of them I can live without. The three things that I hope I never lose are all signs of a powerful love: the love of Jesus crucified, the love of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the love of my mom.  I hope that we can help one another in our Catholic faith to keep a good perspective on what is really important and what we can or should let go of. Last Saturday afternoon, God’s grace was at work helping me to understand better what is my deepest need: to stay close to the love that is the stillpoint of our turning world. 

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