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NOTE: The following letter was published in the June 1, 2017 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
My brothers and sisters in Christ,
Last Thursday, we celebrated the Ascension of our Lord to heaven. Gratefully, from our point in history, we see this as something grand, as we know that it is by Jesus' going that His promises come to pass. The apostles were deeply saddened by Jesus’ ascension; for them it was a tragedy, not an occasion to celebrate. Life was great for the Apostles with the Risen Lord. He had been physically with them after the resurrection. They met him; they had meals with Him. So after the ascension, the apostle had to wonder, “Why did it have to change? Why couldn't Jesus stay?”
We know the answer as revealed through Scripture. Jesus had to return to the Father so the Holy Spirit could come to us. The Church has grown and persevered all these years because of the abiding gift of the Spirit that followed Jesus' departure.
In the early Church the followers of Christ faced many challenges and difficulties, yet their lives were joyful and peaceful because of their closeness to the Holy Spirit, who descended upon the Apostles on Pentecost and who remains with us to this day.
The Holy Spirit who came upon us in Baptism is the same Spirit who came upon the disciples at the first Pentecost, giving birth to the Church. The Holy Spirit sent the first disciples into the world to proclaim the wonderful works God had accomplished in Christ.
The Spirit now sends us, each baptized person, into the world to witness to Jesus and build up His Body, the Church. We believe that the Holy Spirit equips us through Baptism and Confirmation with supernatural gifts that are called charisms. (1 Cor 12; Eph 4:7-18) The word charism comes from a Greek word which means "gift." Our Diocese is filled with countless charisms in each of you that enable us to make Jesus more known and loved, despite the challenges and sorrows we face in our lives.
The Holy Spirit has come alive for me in a new way throughout this past year as I have been blessed to confirm so many of our youth with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I have also seen the Spirit alive on many occasions in our local Church.
Thanks be to God, we had 15 deacons ordained for service in parishes. Our new Catholics who were baptized and welcomed into the Church this Easter gathered for prayer recently at our pastoral center and exhibited the faith alive and vibrant. Throughout the month of May, my parish visits for Sunday Masses included joyful May processions with crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and I recently participated in our first 2017 high school commencement ceremony where the presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable among the graduates.
I was privileged on May 13 to celebrate Mass at the Blue Army Shrine commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Apparition at Fatima. The Spirit was evident among the thousands of faithful who had come to honor the Blessed Mother.
In this issue of The Catholic Spirit, you will also be able to learn how the Holy Spirit has worked in the lives of our priests, deacons and religious who are celebrating milestone anniversaries this year.
I am anxious for all to experience Pentecost this year and see this same movement of the Holy Spirit gently blowing across our Diocese. Indeed, if we are to live our Christian lives to the fullest, then we must have a renewed appreciation for and relationship with the Holy Spirit.
I ask you to join me in praying that the charisms of the Holy Spirit will flood our Church and set on fire the soul of each believer as we celebrate Pentecost this year.
Know of my prayers for you, and pray for me too! There will be no renewal in our diocese without begging the Holy Spirit to pour out once again those graces that were poured out on that first Pentecost. We must personally and communally expect, yearn and pray for this New Pentecost in our midst.
God bless you.
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen