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NOTE: The following letter was published in the June 16, 2016 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It has been an event-filled first month. Right after being ordained a bishop and installed as your new shepherd, I began to meet with the priests in each of our 10 deaneries. Their input was enlightening and encouraging. A Mass and reception was also held in each deanery. I was heartened by your enthusiastic welcome which was most appreciated. In addition, I have visited a few parishes each Sunday and during the week to offer regularly scheduled Masses. I celebrated my first confirmation, and celebrated Mass with our Boy and Girl Scouts to mark milestones in their lives. There were visits to some grammar schools and all our high schools, and I prayed with all our new catechists. With the carnival season underway, I stopped by a few of them last week and officially marked the beginning of summer.
In addition, during the past two weeks, I have been part of a time honored tradition for our young people. On May 26, St. Joseph High School held its graduation where my ordination and installation was held, the Church of the Sacred Heart, South Plainfield. Then on June 4, the three other high schools in our diocese, Bishop Ahr in Edison, Immaculata in Somerville and Mount Saint Mary Academy in Watchung, held their commencement exercises. In all nearly 600 seniors received diplomas. It certainly was an exciting time for them, and it was a privilege to be with our young graduates at their high school Baccalaureate Mass or graduation. In the supplement in this edition, you can read about each of the graduations, their valedictorian’s speech, or in the case of St. Joseph’s, their covaledictorian speeches, and the awards given.
Now many of our graduates are preparing to leave for college or are applying for jobs in the workforce. For many, this will involve leaving home and encountering many new places and people over the coming next months. As exciting as this can be, it will also involve challenges.
Sometimes with transitions we can easily become forgetful or distracted, and then some fears can creep into our lives. For a while, some of our graduates, even though they have been given a firm foundation in their faith, might even try to live without God, or think they are, but we know we all need Him.
I urge our graduates to stay close to Jesus. As they sort through all types of new situations and relationships, Jesus is a known and welcome voice which will lead them in the right direction. The graduates, and indeed, all of us, must remind ourselves at times, we are never alone as we go into the unknowns of life.
Just recently, Pope Francis spoke to a group of youth and this is what he had to say reminding them that the Lord is ever faithful to His friends and He believes in them: “Even if you disappoint Jesus and walk away from Him, Jesus continues to want the best for you and to remain close to you; He believes in you even more than you believe in yourself. The Lord is always with you and He is happy to be with you. Throughout life we will fall many times, because we are sinners, we are weak. But there is always the hand of God who picks us up, who raises us up. Jesus wants us to be up on our feet!” The Pope concluded, “We receive so many gifts from God, and every day we should thank Him, but even if we forget to, he never forgets, each day, to give us some special gift. He offers us His faithful friendship, which He will never take back.”
When we forget Jesus in our daily lives, we also forget His Mercy, and we can then become indifferent or even unable to open ourselves in trust to God. Our hearts can become cramped and we can become confused and sometimes even oblivious to God and even one another. I suggested to our graduates that to help them remember God each day, keeping some kind of religious object in their rooms or wearing a religious object will help them to live every day trusting in God’s ever present love for us. It is a good practice for us all. Physical reminders can help raise our minds to God, reminding us of His presence and love.
So, as we remember our graduates at this time of year, we should remember we owe them our prayerful support. It is a good time, too, for all of us to remember God’s desire to be with us, all the time, especially in times of transition and challenge in our lives. As Pope Francis reminded our youth, God wants the best for us and remains close to us. What a blessing for us all!
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen