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NOTE: The following letter was published in the December 28, 2017 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As we come to the close of another year, many people take this opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months. I, too, think it is a good time to take a look back and give some thought to the year ahead. For me a lot has happened in the past year, my first full year as your Shepherd. It was certainly a blessed time for me visiting all our parishes and most of our other institutions too. In March, I wrote to you about my prayerful reflections on the diocese in my first pastoral letter, and some goals for us to focus on. Gratefully, many have embraced the evangelization of which I wrote and are supporting our mission of building up our local Church.
June 20th, I had a personal milestone: the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. It was a joy to celebrate that happy occasion with you. I could never have imagined or planned that I would be here in Metuchen for this celebration, but I am so grateful to God in His providence for having brought me here to serve you; you have been a blessing. It is at the end of December, too, that many newspapers and television shows include a "best of the year" section or program, highlighting the highs and lows of this past year in our world and communities. It is always interesting to see what they choose to highlight. However, regardless of their choices, I think that this exercise reminds us that a lot has happened in the past year, usually a mixture of good and bad. This is also often true for each of us, as we think about what is going on in our world and nation, in our own families, or even thinking about our own actions this past year. We see things that we are able to thank God for, but also things that can cause us to worry.
As we come to the end of the year, it is also a good time to pause to look at our own relationships in the past year, our marriage and family relationships, and friendships, but especially our relationship with the Lord. One thing that we can be sure of in the new year is that the Lord longs to share His gifts and His power with us in a deeper way in the coming year, and He desires that we share that with others.
We begin 2018 with our celebration of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, January 1. This is most appropriate for us, as she is rightly, the Mother of Hope. If the first thought of God in the plan for the salvation of the world was to send His Son, then His second thought must have been Mary, the instrument of His salvation, how His Son would be born. So, as we begin the new year let us pray through her intercession for ourselves, our loved ones, for our Church and our nation, and for all those in need of her assistance. Let us ask her to join us in invoking God's blessing upon us.
Last year during Advent, Pope Francis reflected on hope saying, "We have such need, in these times which can appear dark, in which we sometimes can feel discouraged at the evil and violence which surrounds us, at the distress of so many of our brothers and sisters. We need hope! We must not let hope abandon us, because God, with His love, walks with us. Each one of us can say, 'I hope, I have hope, because God walks with me.' He walks and He holds my hand. God does not leave us to ourselves. The Lord Jesus has conquered evil and has opened the path of life for us."
Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ, our hope comes from our confident trust that just as God chose to come among us in Jesus, born of Mary in Bethlehem, so He continues to be true to His promise and he walks with us even now. That is good news....and we should share it as we begin the new year.
God bless you and your loved ones. I pray that you will be blessed with a happy, healthy new year filled with hope, and as I continue to pray for you, ask that you please pray for me too.
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen