Prayers needed to send more workers into His vineyard

NOTE: The following letter was published in the November 16, 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.

I am happy to report that we had an invigorating, spirit filled three-day gathering of the priests of our diocese at our annual convocation three weeks ago. I know you will read about it in this edition of The Catholic Spirit, but I want to share my own joy at what transpired at the event. We had two wonderful talks on evangelization, both of which were focused on reaching out to our youth and young adults.  

Frank Mercadante, a noted national speaker related his experiences in youth ministry and his own family life raising his six children. He presented lots of statistics about the shifting social climate that we find ourselves in ministering to our youth and young adults. The needs and concerns of the present generation obviously has to be taken in to account if we are going to minister in an authentic way with and to them. Mercadante said that many of the young often see their parents and grandparents as their heroes. Hence, thanks be to God, our grandparents and great grandparents have a great deal of influence on them by how they witness to and speak of the faith.  

Sister Miriam Heidland, spoke about her own re-conversion to the faith thanks to a priest reaching out to her. She was very moving in her testimony and witness that reminded us priests that God’s unfailing love for us is the starting place for us to reach out and share that same love in our ministry, especially with the young. Being in contact with God’s personal love is the source of the energy needed for evangelization.

The last day of the convocation, I gave a stewardship report on my ministry as your bishop during this past year. My work is made light, thanks to the good efforts of our priests, religious and deacons throughout the diocese, and bolstered by so many dedicated lay ministers. As I celebrate Mass, attend events and programs, and meet with many different groups throughout our diocese, I realize more and more how blessed we are. I am most appreciative of our wonderful parishioners who are so supportive and eager to live the faith in a difficult time. It is gratifying, too, to see so many encouraging signs in our parishes and the hopeful desires of our priests and deacons who so want to serve you well amidst the challenges of a secular age.  

As grand as the talks and subsequent discussions about them were, the highlight of the convocation was the great joy for us priests to simply be together. I personally came away encouraged and uplifted after being together with my brother priests. We have wonderful, hardworking, prayerful, generous priests in this diocese and I am grateful so many were able to make the sacrifices to spend this needed time strengthening the bonds of our common commitment to Christ and the work He calls us collectively to do here in this part of Our Lord’s vineyard. I know there are great demands on our priests’ time, but being part of a presbyterate provides a place for us to draw strength and offer encouragement to each other as we face the challenges of living our priesthood. After spending these days with our priests, I am more confident than ever that God is doing good things with and for our priests and our diocese. Please keep our priests in a special place in your prayers; they are a great blessing to us.  

Two weeks after the convocation we celebrated Vocations Awareness Week in our country. It provided us with a great opportunity to focus on the mystery of God’s call to those He has chosen to serve the needs of His Body, the Church, in a particular way through the priesthood, consecrated life and the permanent diaconate. These three groups of servants in our diocese bring about so much good. How much richer is our local Church because of their prayers and witness to the Gospel.

To help continue to raise vocational awareness among our young people, our director of Vocations, Father Jay Pavich traveled to some of our parishes to preach on vocations during this week of prayer. He also was invited to St. Alphonso Retreat Center in Long Branch to speak to a group of young men from Immaculata High School. They were on a retreat that included discernment about what God may be calling them to as they are now in their senior year. Likewise, he spoke to students at Bishop Ahr and Saint Joseph High Schools to promote vocational awareness. At the Rutgers Catholic Center, we held a Holy Hour focused on discernment and vocations. 

All of our parishes received vocational information packets and initiatives on prayer and parish activities to inspire vocations amongst their people. We seek to plant seeds everywhere with humble expectation of God’s graces to make them grow. 

Since vocations is something we should pray for not only during one week, but every day, I ask you to keep in mind the men in our Permanent Diaconate Program. Our deacon candidates in formation need our support and prayers as they balance a demanding academic schedule along with the concerns and needs of attending to their family and work obligations. Our deacons are a great sign of service in our diocese and I am grateful for all they bring to our parishes and specialized ministries in our diocese. Thankfully, we have a good number of Spanish speaking applicants at this time, which we need! Religious Sisters and Brothers, too, bring great witness to the Gospel. We must pray that young women especially will see the value in living a consecrated religious life, that can bring so much fruitful love into the world. 

Gratefully, we have 18 seminarians currently in formation for our diocese, and there are more men who are in the process of discerning and applying to seminaries. Please God, we will have even more seminarians in the next year. The need is great to provide our people with shepherds to lead them into greater friendship with Christ, love them and serve them after Jesus’ own heart. Thank you for your continued prayers and efforts to promote vocations! Please consider saying often the Prayer for Vocations which is in this issue of The Catholic Spirit on the page with Father Jay’s column.

One final note. We will ordain two new priests and three transitional deacons this spring for our local Church. Please keep them, and all of our seminarians, as well as those discerning religious life and applying for our new permanent diaconate class in your prayers. God is never outdone in generosity! But, we must never cease to beg the Harvest Master to send more laborers into His vineyard. 

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