Be the Lord’s hands, feet to help create a culture of life

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 6, 2016 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

As we head in to October and begin "Respect Life Month," a time to particularly reflect on life issues and to pray for and promote greater respect for all human life at every stage and in every condition, the words of Pope Francis come to mind: "We are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us.” Indeed, this year's theme is "Moved by Mercy." Unfortunately, our society is marked by the ever growing spread of legislation and practices which deliberately destroy innocent human life. We have recently witnessed too many acts of terrorism and violence, abortion is commonplace - with an estimated 30 million per year worldwide - and euthanasia and assisted-suicide are gaining acceptance at an alarming rate. In what Pope Francis has referred to as a "throw-away culture," the unborn, the unproductive, the frail elderly and those who are incurably ill or near death are at great risk.

In a world that, in so many ways, seems to embrace a culture of death, we can be tempted to despair. But our Holy Father reminds us that "Mercy is the force which awakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope." Each of us has been treated with mercy ourselves and Jesus tells us to "go and do likewise." 

The Lord has even given us a roadmap - the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy - noting, "Whatever you do for the least brothers of mine, you do for me." As Catholics, we are called to be agents of mercy by responding to the basic needs - both bodily and spiritually - of our neighbors as we journey together through life. Thankfully, we see examples of this all over our diocese and so many people are to be thanked for this great witness: •

  • Many wonderful volunteers work tirelessly in local Pregnancy Help Centers, collaborating with community resources and benefactors to provide material, emotional and spiritual support to women/families facing unplanned pregnancies - helping them to choose life.
  • Our diocesan Ministry for Persons with Disabilities advocates for inclusion of those living with disabilities and for providing for special needs of all kinds.
  • •A broad coalition of groups, including faithful Catholics, is working to oppose pending legislation in New Jersey - "Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act" - which, if passed, would make doctor-prescribed suicide legal in our state. Likewise, parish groups across the diocese reach out to the sick and elderly with all kinds of support, reminding them that they are not alone.
  • The physicians and staff of Saint Peter's University Hospital are dedicated to honoring the sanctity of human life as they care for life at all of its stages with respect and compassion. Also in keeping with our Catholic tradition, the team at The Gianna Center works with couples struggling with the pain and emptiness of infertility to conceive naturally.

Pope Francis often speaks of creating a "culture of encounter," which can transform the way we live in the world, while affirming and facilitating a culture of life. In our everyday encounters, we can be our Lord's hands and feet in a world full of suffering, tragedy and injustice. To do this, our Holy Father encourages us to cultivate within ourselves "an attitude of the heart, one which approaches life with serene attentiveness, which is capable of being fully present to someone without thinking of what comes next, which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full." Whether it is encountering a troubled teen, a woman suffering from a past abortion, a husband and wife facing infertility or a poor prenatal diagnosis - if we have a listening heart, we can discover the priceless gift of another and help draw them closer to God's endless love.

I am so grateful to Jennifer Ruggiero and all who collaborate with her in our Office of Respect for Life. Their efforts to help transform our culture with mercy, to work for an end to abortion and support our elderly and sick as they are encouraged to "give up," reminding us all to support life in all its stages and conditions, is certainly to be commended. May this October be a time of reflection, hope and inspiration for all people of good will who seek to reawaken in all hearts the zeal for the sanctity and dignity of all human life. Moved by mercy, may we grow to be more effective and compassionate messengers of mercy to our brothers and sisters in need as we continue to promote, nurture and instill the Gospel of life into our homes, our neighborhoods and into the world.

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