This Advent, foster faith in God with prayer, sacraments

NOTE: The following letter was published in the December 1, 2016 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

We have truly had some unique blessings in these past weeks. At our diocese’s 35th anniversary celebration and pilgrimage on Nov. 20, we filled the 3,500 seat Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., to standing room only. It was an inspiring and uplifting day. Those of us who were able to make the pilgrimage carried with us many petitions from the faithful all across our diocese. I have no doubt, that as we honored Mary, our patroness, and gave praise to our loving Father for the blessings of these years, we in turn received abundant graces.

At our Mass, we were fortunate to be led in prayer by the Holy Father 's personal representative to our country, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, and he was likewise delighted to have had the opportunity to spend some time with many of our diocese’s clergy, religious and faithful. The Archbishop’s words were thoughtful and challenging as he recalled then-Bishop McCarrick's words on the occasion of his installation as the founding bishop of Metuchen. The Archbishop challenged us anew to not “stand still" as we were renewed by our pilgrimage to Washington D.C., but to continue resolutely on our pilgrim way to heaven. Indeed, the Diocese of Metuchen has much to be proud of, and we look forward to the future with hope as we continue to build this portion of God’s Kingdom into an enduring and convincing sign of God’s love for our world.

The day after the pilgrimage, our diocesan Disciples of Mercy filled the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi as we closed the Year of Mercy yet recommitted ourselves to continuing to be the face of Jesus to those in need, having been inspired by the example of those we recognized as Disciples of Mercy. How grateful we are to have such good examples of mercy, and we know there are many, many more such disciples throughout our diocese who day in and day out attend to those in need of Christ’s love and mercy. The Year of Mercy might have officially ended, but we must continue to do the corporal and spiritual works of Mercy. How right Pope Francis was to call this Jubilee Year to renew our commitment of extending the Father’s mercy to all we encounter.

Now, as we begin another Advent season, a time when we beckon the Lord into our lives more fully, I was thinking of our recent new saint's advice to her sisters in the Missionaries of Charity. Our Mother, now St. Teresa of Calcutta, once wrote to the sisters of her community reminding them not to forget that “God knows us better than we know ourselves, and that all He really wants is to tell you that He loves you, even when you don’t feel worthy. Not only does He love you, but He longs for you!” Those words kind of reverse what we can be tempted to think Advent is about, making ourselves ready, or perhaps somehow even worthy, to receive the Lord into our lives more fully. Mother reminded her sisters, and hence all of us, too, that God not only desires us, but longs for us. Ultimately, in the fullness of time, God sends His only Son to take on our flesh and dwell with us, and to ultimately redeem us.

Yes, all we have to do this Advent is open our hearts more fully to Him who is already standing at the door, knocking. Finding time to spend with Him, in quiet prayer and through the reception of the sacraments, as well as by serving our brothers and sisters in need, are ways to open our hearts more fully to Jesus so He can share His love with us. Yes, He loves us and longs for us, and He did something about it! Saint Teresa of Calcutta gives us a good reminder that as Christmas gets closer and things get busier and busier with the many preparations for the celebration of Christmas, we cannot forget the most important aspect of preparing for Christmas, opening our hearts more fully to be loved by Him who has come, is coming and will come again, making His home within us and amongst us.

Be assured of my prayers of gratitude and for a blessed Advent, and please keep me in your prayers too.

The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen