Pope, Church resources offer sound advice for voters

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
St. Paul often wrote these words to greet the faithful in the newly founded Christian communities of the early Church: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  As your new Shepherd, I happily borrow these words of the great evangelizer to greet you, my newfound Catholic friends of the Diocese of Metuchen. 
Since I arrived in early March, I have been so inspired by your warm welcome and all that you do to spread the Good News here in Central New Jersey.  Likewise, I have been overwhelmed by the kind letters, notes and promises of prayer as I begin my ministry here. 
The May 3 ordination Mass and installation as your fifth bishop truly was a joyful day! For me, the experience of joy continues as I travel around the diocese to celebrate Masses and visit parishes and schools, where I am able to greet so many of you.
Thank you so much for the kindness you have shown me throughout these first weeks. Through your loving witness, you have encouraged me to give of myself more generously. In return for your goodness, I hope to be an instrument of God in assisting you to be reconciled to Him and to be instruments for His work here in this diocese, making us an even more effective and enduring sign of His Kingdom.
“Be reconciled to God” will be my motto and guide my episcopal ministry amongst you. This motto is inspired by the writings of St. Paul, who urges us always to be reconciled to God, and then to become ambassadors for Him in reconciling others to God our Father. The whole reason God sent His Son to us was to lead us back to the Father; and this reconciling is the one true route to grace-filled and peaceful hearts and lives, resting in God now and hopefully forever in heaven.
I am grateful for Pope Francis’ confidence in me and delighted that he has asked me to come to this wonderful diocese in my home state; and I am looking forward to making this my home for a very long time. Our Holy Father’s love and hopes for this local Church are expressed in his letter appointing me as fifth Bishop of Metuchen, reprinted below.  Please remember to pray daily for our Holy Father, as he guides our Church throughout the world.
As I begin my time here in the local Church of Metuchen, I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the ministry of Bishop Bootkoski along with the priests, religious, deacons and lay ministers, who have worked so well in building up this beautiful portion of God’s vineyard. I look forward to working with you as, together, we continue to build upon and strengthen our local Church.  In particular, we pray for our Bishop-emeritus and all the priests of the diocese who are celebrating anniversaries this year and are commemorated in this edition of the Catholic Spirit.  Likewise, with much gratitude to God, we support in prayer the three new priests who will be ordained in our Cathedral on May 28.  We also need to pray that many more of our young adults will respond to God’s call to give their lives in service of this local Church as her priests.  No doubt, God is calling more of them to be with and follow Him as His priests, and we need to do all we can to ensure that they can hear the quiet call of the Lord and encourage them to respond “yes” to His invitation. 
Finally, in the days ahead, I ask for your continued support, assistance and prayers that I may be an effective shepherd and servant. Please know my joy-filled and grateful heart offers up a daily prayer that God’s grace and peace fill the hearts of you and your families.
Thank you and God bless you.
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen

NOTE: The following letter was published in the October 20, 2016 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

In the midst of so much discouraging news about both of our presidential candidates, as I visited parishes and encountered our faithful in recent weeks, more and more people have asked me about the upcoming elections. “What do we do as neither candidate seems ideal? What is my responsibility regarding voting?” 

Let me begin by sharing with you what Pope Francis said about our presidential elections. Flying back to Rome from Azerbaijan Oct. 2, a U.S. reporter asked the Pope what should Catholics do in an election where both candidates hold some positions contrary to Church teachings.

The Holy Father answered, “You are asking me a question about what you describe as a difficult choice, because in your view there are difficulties with both one and the other. During an election campaign, I never say a word. The people are sovereign and all I will say is this: study the proposals well, pray, and choose in conscience!”

Pope Francis’ answer may be very broad, but it points us to two resources which provide the specifics many Catholics are seeking.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has produced a comprehensive document, “The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” A two part summary of the document was sent to all our parishes last month.

Part 1 of the bishops’ guidelines focuses on our call as Catholic citizens. It explains what the Church teaches about issues affecting public policy; who should participate in political life, and how Catholic social teaching can help guide our participation. One point I think bears repeating states, “In the Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation.”

The second part of the bishops’ “Faithful Citizenship” document addresses questions about making moral choices and applying our principles. As is noted in the summary, “Part II is a consideration of the process by which these principles are applied to the act of voting and taking positions on policy issues.” In answering the question, “How does the Church help the Catholic faithful speak about political and social questions?” the bishops discuss how we should form our conscience, the virtue of prudence, doing good and avoiding evil and making more informed choices. 

One section of the summary I think all will find enlightening deals with avoiding two temptations. In the document the bishops write, “Two temptations in public life can distort the Church’s defense of human life and dignity: The first is a moral equivalence that makes no ethical distinctions between different kinds of issues involving human life and dignity. The second is the misuse of these necessary moral distinctions as a way of dismissing or ignoring other serious threats to human life and dignity.”

The summary also includes a listing of what public policies should concern Catholics most. In its conclusion it reminds us: “The Church is involved in the political process but is not partisan. The Church cannot champion any candidate or party. Our cause is the defense of human life and dignity and the protection of the weak and vulnerable.”  

If you have not yet received a summary in your parish, you can get it as well as the complete USCCB document and if you prefer, a 32-minute video which provides a basic overview of the “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” at: www.faithfulcitizenship.org

Another resource New Jersey Catholics can access for information on issues can be found at the website of the New Jersey Catholic Bishops: www.njcatholic.org/issues. Respect life, family life, social concerns and education are the major sections included, each of which contains several specific topics. It is a place where you can obtain up to date information on key issues.

While it may seem burdensome to research these issues, it is a very important election and so your vote will be important. I ask you to do exactly what Pope Francis suggested, study the issues. The candidate’s positions can be found on his or her website. Then prayerfully consider them through the lens of our Church’s teachings and your informed conscience. 

While this election is disappointing in so many ways, I have been heartened by the interest our faithful have shown in wanting to do the right thing in this coming election and pray we will all avail ourselves of the resources which can help us in making the best choice at the ballot box.

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