Bishop grateful for vocations, addresses challenges

NOTE: The following letter was published in the November 15, 2018 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

My dear brothers and sisters,

Today is the second Sunday in November and this is one of my favorite times of year as our minds turn to gratitude and our calendars fill with holiday celebrations. I love the start of this month with All Saints day and All Souls day on Nov. 1 and 2. All Saints day reminds us of our goal in life and spurs us on as we strive to live in a Godly way here on earth, where our goal is to join the saints in heaven someday. The feast is also a time when we are reminded that there are so many interceding for us, as we strive to make the Kingdom of God a fuller reality in our midst by what we say and do each day.

Although we remember the dead on Nov. 2 and all throughout this month, I am comforted by the holy men and women I have known, many relatives, friends and faithful I have met here in Metuchen, who are amongst those souls for whom we pray. I cannot help to think, too, of the many souls already in heaven and therefore praying for us.

As our days are getting shorter, I look forward to Thanksgiving with family and friends. We have so much to be thankful for. Thanksgiving is a time which helps us put everything in perspective, seeing and appreciating the many blessings that we have in life.

This year, however, our gratitude is certainly scarred by sad events occurring in our country as we mourn collectively following the senseless shooting in Pittsburgh. We stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters in prayerful solidarity and commit ourselves anew to working for peace in our day. Likewise, we pray for the victims of the recent shootings in Tallahassee, Fla., and Thousand Oaks, Calif. Let us all pray that these ruthless murders will stop.

Another point of darkness that weighs heavy on our hearts are the challenges we are going through as a Church. It is certainly a sad time as we read about and hear stories of sexual abuse and misconduct, as well as the lack of leadership at times by some leaders in our Church. Sadder still are we for the men and women who have suffered from these actions by priests, and lack of shepherding by some bishops. It does not seem possible, but we know otherwise. As the bishops of our country gather this week in Baltimore, I certainly will continue to work with all the strength and grace God gives me, to make sure we never return to a time when these things happen again. I am grateful for your prayers, suggestions and efforts so many are making to ensure that this is the case.

A different challenge we are dealing with concerns financial matters in one of our parishes. I met last week with our brothers and sisters in Somerset who are grieving and angry over the situation at St. Matthias Parish. It is such a vibrant, committed and loving community of faith. I am so impressed by their determination and commitment to continue to build God’s kingdom in their midst and ensure that no one else ends up in their situation, as well as by their prayerful support for their former pastor, Father Doug Haefner. They had many good ideas for us moving forward. As a diocese, we had already begun during these past months to strengthen our financial accountability, and this situation will certainly cause us to do even more. This experience has been one of the saddest I have had since becoming your bishop, and one I certainly pray and will work to ensure, never happens again.

While I am in Baltimore this week, I will have a chance to visit with our seminarians from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. We are blessed with 21 seminarians who are dedicated to preparing themselves to be shepherds here for our Church in Metuchen. It is not an easy time to be a seminarian, and I am grateful for these men stepping forward and responding to the Lord’s invitation to them. With all the noise in our world, I am grateful that these men made the space in their lives to hear the whisper of God calling to them to follow Him in His holy priesthood. Our seminarians are well aware of the situation in the Church now and see themselves as being part of the solution; Thanks be to God. This issue of “The Catholic Spirit” highlights vocations as we celebrate Vocations Awareness week in our country, and I am grateful to Father Mauricio Tabera-Vasquez, our diocesan Vocations director, and all who help him in the diocese with promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Our recent celebration of World Mission Sunday and our Champions of Charity Gala for the works of Catholic Charities were both uplifting events which left me with a thankful heart. Our dinner had 70 more attendees this year, raising funds to assist the needy right here in our diocese, as we honored three people who have devoted themselves to helping others. Both of these events are covered in this edition of “The Catholic Spirit,” too.

As we prepare to kick off our year of prayer and evangelization in preparation for the consecration of our diocese to Jesus through our Blessed Mother under her title of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at our Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi in Metuchen, I am so grateful most of all for you, the lay faithful, religious and clerics of this great Diocese of Metuchen. You are a blessing and I am so grateful that Our Lord has brought me here to be with you. I look forward to gathering with you in prayer on Dec. 12 as we turn anew to Him who is our way, life and truth, the source of all good things, who desires to give us even more. God bless and keep you, and please continue to keep me in your prayers and know of my prayers and love for each one of you.

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