Marriage is grace-filled sign of God's love for his people

NOTE: The following letter was published in the October 5, 2017 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

As I write this message to you, on my heart and in my prayers, as I am sure it is on yours, are the tragic events which transpired in Charlottesville, Va., where racism has reared its sinful and ugly head and in Barcelona, where ISIS claimed responsibility for the terrorist act which took almost 20 lives and injured more than 100. There is much good that goes on each day in our diocese, country and throughout the world, but evil certainly gets our attention, and rightly so. It reminds us to further convert our hearts to be more like our Lord's, and to work and pray for the conversion of the hearts of others too.
Now let me share with you some of the good work going on in our Diocese and written about in this edition of The Catholic Spirit. Even though it is summer, and that usually means things slow down some, it does not seem to be the case for our diocese! The mission of the Church continues all the time, and you will see beautiful aspects of that mission in the pages that follow. There are stories on the Mass and Symposium on persecuted Christians in the Middle East, the diocesan multicultural Mass, a discernment day for men considering the priesthood, as well as the candidacy for one of our seminarians.
Although the diocese has kept a hectic pace of life during the last few months, hopefully the summer has provided each of us with a chance for a break, a chance to disengage from our regular routine and to visit with family and friends we might not get to regularly see. In addition to providing us an opportunity to rest, disengaging from our regular routine also allows us a chance to reconnect with our hopes and desires for our lives and loved ones. Vacations remind us to be thankful to God for our blessings and even just for the gift of life itself! Indeed, I remember as a child, my family never failed to attend Mass and pray while on vacation. We would not go somewhere that Sunday Mass was not available. It was a valuable lesson for us children that we never take a vacation from God or prayer! Of course, now as a priest and bishop, it is much easier for me to make sure that happens!
I hope you will all take time this week to reflect on our patronal Feast Day, the Queenship of Mary, which is celebrated on August 22. Of course, we often recall the Queenship of Mary as each time we pray the glorious mysteries of the rosary, the fifth decade has us meditate on the Coronation of Mary as the Queen of Heaven and Earth. Our prayer reveals to us how revered Mary is in heaven. As we celebrate this glorious feast day of hers, join me in consecrating ourselves anew to her and thanking her for being our powerful diocesan patroness who intercedes for us. Indeed, the 90 parishes of our diocese and the 650,000 Catholics we serve, all have much to be grateful for, even as we dare to beg for more, asking our generous Father's continued blessing and protection on all of us and our families. Every day our priests, deacons, religious and laity work wholeheartedly to make over our hearts to be more like the merciful heart of our Good Shepherd's. In this time of new evangelization, Mary our Queen is a powerful intercessor in the court of the King. Indeed Mary our Queen will keep us focused on the mission of her Son; proclaiming the Kingdom, teaching the Word and bringing the sacraments to nourish and strengthen our portion of God's Kingdom here in central New Jersey. 
When I pray to Mary our Queen, you can be assured that she will know how grateful I am for each of you and all you do to prayerfully support the blessed work of our diocese. Each of us has a contribution to make. I ask you to keep in your hearts and prayer the work of evangelization, as it is certainly a pressing need today. Sharing the joy of the Gospel with others who have not encountered it, or may have forgotten it due to the stresses of daily life or the confusion that at times seems to abound in our world. I hope you recall that in my Pastoral Letter, I spoke about creating a culture of encounter with Jesus Christ.
The dark cloud of racism and terrorism that plague our world will only be pierced by the bright light that flows from people with transformed lives of faith, committed to advancing the peaceful Kingdom of God through word and deed. May we be those people to usher in brighter days for our nation as we live faithful discipleship to the Lord Jesus.
As we honor Mary, Our Queen, the Patroness of our diocese, I ask you to make a commitment to help others encounter Jesus this week through sharing Christ enthusiastically with your encouraging words and by your example, so that others may know better the joy of the Gospel. Why not invite someone who has been away from Church to come with you to Mass next weekend; it never does harm to ask. That would be a wonderful way to thank Our Queen and show our gratitude to God for His blessings.

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

It is always a delight to be invited to attend a wedding. We priests, gratefully officiate at or attend many of them. During these liturgies, many things stand out – the evident faith, the hope, the love of the couple, the joyfulness of their family and friends. But also deeply moving is the obvious honesty of the two young people marrying each other. In marriage they give their word. They promise. They speak an oath. The word they speak is their truth. I promise to be true to you always, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, until death, in word and action. I promise! You have my word. I vow! I do!

We recently gathered in our beautiful Cathedral of St. Francis to celebrate 189 married couples from across our diocese who have been true to their word for 25, 50, 60 and even 70 years! We gathered to thank God for the blessings He has bestowed on them during these past years; especially through the gift of their children. Each of those married couples entered a sacramental marriage and made a promise to God and each other, and no doubt, they have renewed it time and time again. The vows acknowledge “in good times and bad.” Every marriage has felt the challenges and pressures of human brokenness and disappointments that could have easily torn them apart; many husbands and wives have shared that working through these moments of common suffering in their marriage have made their relationships stronger. Yes, we gathered to celebrate the grace of perseverance and gratitude.

The heart of the promise that a married couple makes to one another is the secret to a happy and holy marriage. The secret is what our world does not know. The secret is not in seeking their own self-fulfillment but rather in looking for opportunities for their self-gift to each other. There is a popular slogan from the Marriage Encounter movement that says “A wedding is a day. A marriage is a lifetime.” The commitment to sacramental married life requires that the couple surrender over and over for the sake of their unity. Little by little, this surrender reshapes the couple according to the biblical view of “two in one flesh.” No doubt every married couple have worked to be faithful and quick to forgive; patient and kind with one another; caring and correcting; encouraging and exemplary in their life for one another. This unity becomes a sign in the world.

We know from Catholic theology that the sacraments make God and His grace present to us, real to us, visible to us. Sacraments are outward signs given by God to give particular graces. Many people mistakenly think that the rings that are worn by a married couple are “the outward sign” of their sacrament of Marriage. However, it is the husband and wife themselves that make God present in our world through their love for one another. They are the sign. As they are true to their word and strive to follow the faithful example of Jesus, they will reproduce His sacrifice. At the heart of a Christian marriage is the cross of Christ. The world we live in beckons us to abandon relationships when they do not “fulfill” us. But following the example of Jesus, who poured out His life for us, the married couple pour out their lives for each other. In this way, God is present wherever married love is lived. I am so happy to have had the opportunity to thank them on behalf of His Church for all the “good times and bad,” lived in faithfulness.

Pope Francis frequently reminds us that we live in a new age where marriage cannot be taken for granted. We are now challenged to create a supportive environment for married couples that the wider society just does not appreciate. I hope to see more parish-based support opportunities for couples to be nurtured and strengthened in the various problems that arise, as well as times to rejoice at the good things of married life. Of course marriages can struggle with heavy problems, but we have Retrouvaille, which seeks to find healing for troubled marriages. It is also true that marriages do fail. We acknowledge that divorce is a sad reality that deserves our pastoral care and concern. It is critical that those who have experienced divorce should stay close to the Church. This is where you can find healing, support and renewed courage. I am pleased that we have divorced care in many parishes and hopefully more opportunities in the future. 

We are working in the diocese to discover the best ways to prepare young couples for marriage, taking into account the situations that so many young people find themselves in today as they seek to give themselves to each other in a lifelong commitment. They need more support, not less. I am so grateful for the Engaged Encounters, Pre-Cana Teams and the God’s Plan for a Joy-filled Marriage program for engaged couples. These and other initiatives help to get couples on the way to a life giving marriage.

The Church is made stronger by every sacramental marriage! May God bless all our married couples and their families in our diocese; and from the Church of Metuchen, I say, thank you to all of you for witnessing this love for us and making God present to us!

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