May Year of Mercy inspire us to lives of service to needy

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 September 8, 2016 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

As I continue to make my rounds of the diocese, getting acquainted with you, I have been very impressed by the commitment to the faith I witness by all sorts of people, young and old, converts, reverts and cradle Catholics, clerics, religious and laity. One group I know we would all agree, are truly Christ’s disciple, are the permanent deacons who serve in our parishes. Recently, I had the opportunity to be with these deacons and their wives for a Mass and gathering at the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi. 

Every day, I thank the Lord for our diocese’s clergy who go to heroic measures to ensure that the faithful are nourished by the sacraments. From what I have seen in my short time with you, our clergy are filled with a spirit of diaconal service, from their parochial and sacramental work, their preaching and teaching, their work with the poor, hungry and disadvantaged, the sick and elderly, their work with married couples, families and youth; so truly they deserve the gratitude and prayers of all of us. It is inspiring, too, to know this good work is generously done by our retired deacons and priests. 

Our deacons are blessed with such great support, the greatest for so many of our deacons being their wives, who not only support them, but so often join in ministering in their parishes. I’m truly grateful for the love, support and service of the wives of our deacons. 

It is also a blessing to have Pope Francis show us what it means to be a true servant of God. As I watched the Holy Father one Holy Thursday at the washing of feet, I was struck by how he exemplified by how he lives his life, how he wants us clerics to live our lives of service too, whether as permanent or transitional deacons, priests or bishops, dying to self in service, modeling our lives on Jesus himself. The Holy Father, turns his stole as he washes feet on Holy Thursday, symbolizing his deep love of his role as an ordained deacon, even as Pope. 

When each of our clerics dons the dalmatic and stole for the first time, we put on the person of Jesus the Servant, and therefore we can never stop serving. We have to always be prepared to serve no matter what the Church asks of us. True diaconal service requires that we follow Jesus’s model of service all the way to Calvary. Each day, particularly during this year for Mercy, Pope Francis is encouraging us all to pray trustingly that we grow more like Our Lord who “no longer calls us servants but friends.” 

In another recent visit, I went to the East Jersey State Prison in Rahway to celebrate Mass and fulfill a corporal work of mercy by visiting those in prison. I was joined by some of our priests and Deacon Walter Pidgeon, who serves as chaplain at this prison, as well as some lay persons from St. Augustine of Canterbury Parish, Kendall Park, who regularly and lovingly minister to those in prison.

The communion hymn sung at the Mass was one I had heard so many times, but on this occasion truly moved me to see the Lord in a new way. You might know the hymn too, "Open My Eyes Lord," by Jesse Manibusan. 

Open my eyes, Lord
Help me to see Your face
Open my eyes, Lord
Help me to see
Open my ears, Lord
Help me to hear Your voice
Open my ears, Lord Help me to hear 
Open my heart, Lord
Help me to love like You
Open my heart, Lord
Help me to love 
And the last shall be first
And our eyes are opened
And we'll hear like never before
And we'll speak in new ways
And we'll see God's face in places we've never known 
I live within you
Deep in your heart, oh, love
I live within you
Rest now in me

Yes, how we always need to see others as God sees them, even in perhaps unexpected ways. May this Year of Mercy help up to see more clearly, as God sees, and respond always by lives of service to those in need.

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