Graduations offer reminder of God's desire to be with us at all times

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 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