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NOTE: The following are the remarks prepared by The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, Bishop of Metuchen, for the Ordination and Installation Mass on May 3.
Praised be Jesus Christ! It’s good to be home, especially back in New Jersey, and I certainly consider myself blessed to be here in Metuchen!
Two of Pope Francis’ many gifts to the Church have been his first encyclical, The Joy of the Gospel, and more recently, the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, The Joy of Love. Joy seems to be on the Holy Father’s mind, and why shouldn’t it be, as it strikes at the very mission of the Church, to sow joy in our world! Our Savior came so that we might have life, and have it to the fullest, and happiness here and in eternal life. Gratefully, joy is certainly abundant here today and I thank you all for helping to make that so by your presence. As we prepare to celebrate the Ascension of our Lord on Thursday and enter into the greatest novena of the year, we join together in prayer for yet another great cause of our joy, a generous outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a new Pentecost for our Church.
Yes, we have been blessed to have just participated in the most perfect gift God gives us, the Eucharist. We celebrated anew that God sent His beloved Son to reconcile the world to Himself, and then Jesus passes on that mission to you and me, all of us, --- so my friends, it is now our responsibility and privilege to participate in this missionary and apostolic activity. . . so let’s get to work. Is this not exactly what our Holy Father is calling us to in a more intense way during this great Jubilee Year of Mercy?
Just this weekend in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis very conveniently for me, spoke on these words which are the same as my episcopal motto which come from St. Paul: ‘Be reconciled to God’. The Holy Father said these words are an invitation for all Christians, especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. God constantly offers us his forgiveness, and our sins can never keep us from God’s mercy…. as long as He finds in that person some sign of contrition for the evil committed. This Holy Year of Mercy is a time for each of us to accept this offer of reconciliation and to bring it to the world around us. Being reconciled with God not only brings inner healing and peace, but also impels us to work for reconciliation within society at every level, and thus contribute to the building of a global culture of peace, justice and solidarity. Pope Francis concluded, “Let us accept, therefore, the invitation to be reconciled to God to become new creatures and to be able to radiate His mercy among our brothers and sisters.” Our Holy Father, like St. Paul, is urging us all to be ambassadors for Christ, and what a privilege and joy to be a part of this holy work.
Indeed, my heart is full of joy today, but also gratitude and love, and I am grateful for many people and things, so please allow me to express some words of thanks…
First and foremost, I am grateful to God, for the gifts of life and faith, the gift of His mercy in His calling me to follow Him as one of his priests; I love being a priest. I am so grateful to God for His love and for His calling me to be with Him and follow Him in holy priesthood. I am likewise grateful to God for the grace He has given me over these 23 years which has sustained me in being faithful to my priestly promises. I certainly pray that many more young men in our diocese will respond to God’s call, and we need to make every effort to be sure our young people can hear that call and know what a blessed life it is to follow Him through a call to the priesthood or religious life.
I am also grateful and humbled by Pope Francis’ confidence in me that I will be able to shepherd this vibrant Church of 650,000 Catholic souls. I thank Pope Francis’ representative to our country, Archbishop Viganò, who joins us today; you have been a blessing to our country, thank you for your years of service in this our beloved homeland, and for your many kindnesses to me over these years, too. We assure you of our prayers as we continue to pray daily for our Holy Father, even as we count on his prayers for us.
This diocese has been faithfully shepherded by Bishop Paul Bootkoski for these past 14 years, and by Cardinal McCarrick, too, in its nascent years, and so I want to thank the Bishop and Cardinal for their love and hard work on behalf of the good people of this diocese. I pray that I may be able to continue to deepen the friendship of Christ enjoyed by our clergy, religious and faithful of the diocese that you have nourished so selflessly during your years in this vineyard. I will certainly be grateful for your advice and support going forward and am grateful for your leadership, friendship, support and presence here today.
I’m grateful to my mother and father, who are here today with us, for the gift of life and for teaching us children what love looks like in daily life. You are a blessing. I am thankful, as well, to my two sisters, brother, and their spouses, as well as my nieces and nephews; I count it a blessing to be in a family of love, encouragement and patience. Extended family and friends so often take on this role for us, too, and I’ve been blessed with an abundance of these, and am grateful that so many of them could come today to pray with us as this diocese welcomes me as her new shepherd. I look forward to doing what I can to support family life in the parishes of our diocese, and to cooperate with the good efforts already underway through our Catholic schools and faith formation programs, our Catholic Charities, immigrant services, St. Peter’s Hospital and other organizations, to promote the respect for and dignity of human life.
I’m grateful, as well, to the Church which has nurtured me in the faith over the years. Except for my years in seminary, both in formation and on the faculty, I’ve lived here in New Jersey in the Diocese of Camden all my life. I’m grateful that so many priests from Camden made the trip up north here for the day; thank you for your many kindnesses and prayerful support. I had wonderful priests, sisters and lay teachers who encouraged and nourished me. As a matter of fact, I often heard our good and generous Mercy Sisters speak lovingly of their community and motherhouse nearby here in Watchung, and our Fillipini Sisters from my high school also minister here in this diocese; I’m grateful that two of these women religious, my grammar school principal and high school vice principal (who now serves as principal) proclaimed the readings for us at today’s Mass.
I’ve also been blessed with good priest mentors, especially from the presbyterate in Camden and from the faculty, past and present, of the North American College and St. Pius X Seminary: true men of God, some who are present with us today, including two of my rectors, Cardinal O’Brien and Cardinal Dolan, who helped teach me how to be a pastor and shepherd by word and example. Likewise, in Camden we were blessed with great bishops, including with us here today, Bishop Sullivan, Bishop DiMarzio and Bishop Galante, and I consider it a real privilege to have had the opportunity to work closely with a few of our bishops, seeing firsthand the necessity that the Bishop be a man of prayer and communion, in close friendship with the Lord and his priests, his primary collaborators.
I’m particularly grateful to have been involved in the work of priestly formation at the North American College for the past twelve-and-a-half-years. Archbishop Myers, my principal consecrator, and Cardinal O’Brien both served as chairman of the Board of Governors during my time as Rector and have been such ardent supporters of the College’s mission and my work there; I’m truly grateful to you both. My experience at the College has deepened my love for the priesthood and the Church and enriched my own priestly life and ministry, as I, along with our exceptional formation faculty, annually shepherded the 250 generous, dedicated seminarians of the Pontifical North American College, the 78 priests from our graduate house, the Casa Santa Maria, and the 33 priests who came each semester for sabbatical. I have no doubt that the daily inspiration I received from them has been a unique preparation for me for this new ministry here in Metuchen. A good number of both these priests, alumni, and dear friends and supporters of the College are here today….and to you, I say thank you and I love you….
You young priests give such hope for the Church which we all love, and I know that your priestly love for the good people entrusted to your care will bear much fruit for the Church in the years to come. Thank you all for your efforts in coming today to join in our prayer.
Finally, a word of thanks to all who have worked so hard to welcome me back to New Jersey and to my new home, and on all the many details of these days to make sure our worship was so beautiful yesterday and today, including:
I am grateful to the many bishops, who honor us with their presence today, to the Cardinals of our Church who are with us, in addition to Cardinals Dolan, O’Brien and McCarrick, I recognize Cardinal William Levada and Cardinal Roger Mahony, as well two other apostolic nuncio’s, Archbishop Green and Archbishop Auza; thank you and all the bishops for joining us in prayer today; you honor us by your presence.
A special word of thanks to Archbishop Hebda, with whom I studied and worked in Rome, who when I was appointed Bishop of Metuchen, I thought was to be my neighbor for many years to come; and you thought so too! Thank you for your inspiring words in today’s homily and for your priestly example and friendship.
Likewise, I’m grateful for our media, especially the Diocese of Brooklyn/DeSales Media Group who offered to broadcast this Mass so many at home in our diocese could participate and pray with us; (thanks to EWTN, NET TV and Catholic TV for showing the Mass, too); and to our security staff and the men and women of the local law enforcement, and finally to the generous pastor, Fr. Alvarado, the staff and people of Sacred Heart Parish for hosting us today.
To my new, generous brother priests and deacons, here in Metuchen, who have joined us today in prayer, thank you. I look forward to helping to build upon the good and inspiring ministry already taking place here and I will rely upon your advice, support, cooperation and prayers, too. Thank you for all you do, so well, for the faithful of the diocese and know of my love and prayers for you.
To my new family and friends in the Diocese of Metuchen, please know how grateful I am for the love and kindness you have shown to me during these past two months of transition. As the new Shepherd of this beautiful diocese, I look forward to getting to know you better in the coming days as we strive to deepen our friendship with Christ through our prayer and service in His Church. To begin, over the next few weeks, I look forward to visiting and celebrating Mass in all 10 of the deaneries of our four-county Diocese.
I ask for all of your prayers and will be depending upon them. Today is also the Feast of Our Lady, Queen of Poland, so I ask you to pray for me to her, the Cause of our Joy, that I may ever be a worthy instrument of joy for the faithful of Metuchen and that together we may build up this portion of the people of God into an enduring and convincing sign of the Kingdom for our Church and world. Thank you and God bless you.