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NOTE: The following letter will be published in the April 5, 2018 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Christ is Risen! Christ is truly Risen!
Easter is the high point of the entire Church year. Holy Week, leading up to the Sacred Triduum; Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the great Easter Vigil dramatically place before us the mysteries of our salvation. God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten Son, not to condemn the world, but save the world. (Jn 3:16) The most profound act of God’s love is when Jesus opened his arms on the cross and died in complete obedience to God’s will. “But on the third day, God raised Him from the dead and caused Him to be seen.” (Acts10:40) We now have 50 days in the Easter season, where we reflect over and over on the great truth that Christ is truly Risen! During this time we are called to encounter Him mysteriously alive in His Church.
The good news of Christ rising from the dead has to be made personal if it is going to have ongoing effects in our lives. It is a truth so profound that it needs a personal response, right now, and again and again, from each of us. It is interesting that our Church in her sacred liturgy on Easter Sunday does not present us with the Risen Christ in our Gospel. No, we are faced on Easter Sunday morning with the Gospel account from St. John and we are brought to the empty tomb. We are asked to be like those first disciples, those brave women, who go to the tomb, and discovering it empty, must choose “to see and believe.” There must have been many other people who saw the same empty tomb but did not believe. They made excuses and rationalized the event; “His body must have been stolen.” The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the definitive event that has changed the world, forever, but if we do not believe, if we choose not to respond to this great event, then we do not change, and do not allow ourselves to really be renewed by the Easter mystery. That is the challenge for us in our day, a day when many choose not to believe, or do not let it change them into missionary disciples who want to share the good news with others.
Pope Francis is regularly challenging us to get out of ourselves, and not be a self-reverential Church. So rather than looking at those in the secular world around us who do not believe, maybe this Easter we need to look at ourselves and the people in the pews with us. What do we do with what we know, Jesus is Risen. We must pray for Easter faith. We must not only pray for our own renewal of faith, but also that we will have the courage to share it by how we live our lives, our witness, but also in our words when able. Easter is all about evangelization!
In these coming days of the Easter season, I pray that we all would re-double our efforts to be people truly on fire with God’s love. If you recall this was the principle message of my pastoral letter, “Lighting a Fire in the Heart of our World.” In that letter I called our Church here in Central New Jersey to a New Evangelization that would only begin if we each deepen our own friendship with Jesus Christ and fully embrace the saving message of His Church. The recent events of violence in our schools and the escalating crisis of opioid use are signs that all is not well with our world. Young people are searching and unsettled, as are many adults. Many are really yearning for a relationship, whether they know it or not, with Jesus and to experience the peace that only His love can bring.
I am delighted to share with you that I have directed our Vicariate for Evangelization and Communication to begin the preparatory process so that our diocese may be Consecrated for a New Evangelization under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This is being planned for December of 2019. Right now, we are exploring and consulting on the best ways to engage our whole diocese for an event that may light the hearts of many on fire for the love of God. Please pray that this effort will be planned well and fruitfully engaged by all. It is only through prayer that hearts are truly changed and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. May the consecration of our diocese to Mary, our Mother, be a vehicle for deepening our friendship with her Son, and a catalyst for evangelization!
Know of my love and prayers for you, and that I count on your prayers for me. This Easter, I once again entrust you and our diocese to the joyful heart of the Virgin Mary, who is the Queen that rejoices, that her Son, who once was dead, is now alive and reigns! Viva Cristo Rey!
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen