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NOTE: The following letter was published in the July 13, 2017 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
These past weeks for me have focused on the priesthood and what it means to be a priest of Jesus Christ.
It was a joy to celebrate the ministerial priesthood of Jesus Christ and my 25 years of participation in it with you here in Metuchen. I feel as blessed today, as I did on my ordination day, to have been called to be with our Lord in this way. While I was actually ordained a priest at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Camden on June 20, we celebrated the anniversary at the Cathedral of St. Francis on Friday evening June 23. The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart was certainly a fitting day for a celebration of the 25th anniversary of priesthood, and set a good reminder and goal for me for these next 25 years of priestly ministry of trying to further configure my heart unto His.
From my family life and early years in Collingswood, N.J., and at St. John's Elementary School and Paul VI High School, to my seminary experiences and friends I made in those years, to my pastoral experiences in parishes in Camden as well as my ministerial experiences in the administration of that diocese, to my years in helping to form 490 priests who were ordained during my years as Rector at the Pontifical North American College and now this past year in service as pastor in this beautiful local Church of Metuchen, I have been so abundantly blessed! I have strived to keep my friendship with Christ permeating all those experiences and guiding my ministries. God has revealed Himself to me in these different assignments and through the people I ministered with and ministered to, inviting me to be responsive to the direction He graciously gives in so many varied ways. God always wants to share more of Himself with us, opening our eyes, hearts and minds to Him anew.
I am grateful to all those on our diocesan staff and at our Cathedral who worked so hard to make the liturgy so beautiful and the reception enjoyable. Additionally, the many priests, deacons, religious and parish representatives who came and joined in this special moment of prayer was edifying and moving. Thank you to so many of you who sent in good wishes, cards and prayers for my anniversary. I am humbled by the love which you expressed in this way. May all of us be renewed in our commitment to deepening our friendship with Christ as we strive to make our hearts more unto like His, so that we, too, may serve and love as He did.
As I write this column, I am involved in an international conference at the Vatican on the formation of priests. The presentations at this gathering emphasized the need for seminarians to be deeply rooted in Christ as disciples, before being configured to Christ. To provide good and holy shepherds for the Church, our seminaries strive to form us priests humanly, spiritually, pastorally as well as intellectually for ministry. It was inspiriting to be with more than 150 rectors and seminary formators from around the world, and I was happy to have a small part in helping the Congregation for Clergy in hosting the conference.
The last edition of The Catholic Spirit, as well as this one, includes new priestly assignments in our diocese. Some of the priests requested changes for various reasons, and some were discerned by pastoral necessity, but hopefully each priest fits where his needs and the needs of our people will be fulfilled through God's grace. Our diocese is blessed with good priests. I ask you to join me in saying a prayer of thanksgiving for our priests, and for those in seminary formation, too. Likewise, please continue to pray for an increase of vocations to the priesthood in our diocese, so that we may have good shepherds for the future. Often, the Lord may call your sons, grandsons, nephews, friends or fellow parishioners to the priesthood through you. Let your voice be heard.
God bless you.
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen