Bishop reflects on coming home for Christmas

NOTE: The following letter was published in the December 13, 2018 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

My dear brothers and sisters,

Having spent almost 20 years living in Rome, one of my favorite Yuletide tunes is “I’ll be home for Christmas.” About half the time I was able to make it home for a Christmas visit with family. The song was recorded originally by Bing Crosby in 1943. The lyrics are sung from the point of view of an overseas soldier during WW II, writing a letter to his family. In the message, he tells the family that he will be coming home, and to prepare the holiday for him. He asks for “snow,” “mistletoe,” and “presents on the tree.” The song ends, however, on a melancholy note, with the soldier saying “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”  

Yes, even if the soldier couldn't physically be home for Christmas, his thoughts and dreams would take him there. Our thoughts and dreams are powerful, and sometimes they are what motivate us to act. Even though we won't all be physically together this year at Christmas, I want you to know that my thoughts, dreams and prayers are with you and the people of our beautiful diocese as we celebrate Christmas and begin our year of spiritual awakening and evangelization in preparation for the consecration of our diocese to Jesus though Our Lady of Guadalupe. Our Lady has acted powerfully in the Americas and I pray that this upcoming year will indeed provide us with a divine intervention so that our Mother moves us more fully into the heart of her Son. I am hoping that our prayers, dreams and thoughts will motivate us to act to recommit ourselves to be sons and daughters committed to prayer, mercy and love, and that our actions may inspire others to dream with us, so that God's Kingdom is lit afire here in our diocese.  

In 1531, on the day after Christmas, a new chapel opened in Mexico. Our Lady of Guadalupe had appeared to a poor Aztec Indian, named Juan Diego who was on his way to pray. She asked him to go to the bishop and tell him to build a church in her honor. To give credence to what Juan Diego would say, she gave roses to him to place under his poncho. Since it was winter, these flowers were to convince the bishop that Juan Diego was not hallucinating. Before he left for his mission, he asked the woman her name and she replied: "Call me mother."

When Juan Diego arrived at the bishop's residence, he repeated what the woman surrounded by stars told him. As he lifted his tilma or poncho-like cloak to give the bishop the flowers, roses fell to the ground but what caught the bishop's eye was not roses, but an image of Mary that miraculously had been woven into the very fabric of Juan Diego's tilma. It is this image of Mary which still hangs in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Over the next ten years, nine million converts came to the Church through Mary's intervention.

On December 12, we began a year of preparation leading up to the full consecration of the Diocese of Metuchen to Jesus through Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, 2019. Described by Pope St. John-Paul II as “the Star of the New Evangelization,” the spiritual awakening under the auspices of Our Lady which has begun in earnest should lead us to return to the Scriptures, the Word of God, to Tradition which is the teaching, preaching and life of the Church. It should also prepare us to become committed missionary disciples who will bring others into an encounter with Christ or back to the Church. 

Today, “I’ll be home for Christmas” has become a Christmas standard, yet, the significance of the song has spread. It still includes sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, moms and dads in the military who are stateside or fortunate enough to be home for Christmas and, in keeping with the original focus of the anthem, those troops stationed abroad who cannot be with us except in their dreams. This song, perhaps more than any other, congers up images of our sons and daughters in college, who are home for Christmas during their winter recess. It makes us appreciate how grandparents who may not live close to us go out of their way to be in town to celebrate Christmas with us. It drives home the importance of family as our adult children, whose jobs have taken them thousands of miles away, pack up their children, their strollers, playpens and gifts to be with us at home for the celebration of the Nativity. There is no doubt that the scope of “I’ll be home for Christmas” has grown much wider than it was in 1943, but the sentiment is perennial and true—during the year we can roam, but we want to be home for Christmas because we want to stay tethered to our roots: religious, social and cultural. After Masses and spending time kneeling in front of the nativity scene at our Cathedral on Christmas Day, I will head home to be with my family. A blessing! 

There is something mystical about a family gathering around the Christmas tree and exchanging gifts, or sitting around the dining room table and enjoying a meal together or standing side by side in church for Mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I believe in my heart that this unique pining of how we wish to observe our Christmas celebration is what Jesus envisions for us who make up His family, the Church. But He also desires more. Jesus asks us to dream, to pray, and let our thoughts turn us to action, to turn anew to Him in prayer, especially through His mother who always gathers us to Him. 

Just as Mary used Juan Diego to bring millions of people to her Son, she wants to use us in our day to do the same. She desires to gather us all together. Juan Diego was on his way to pray when Mary appeared to him. He was prepared to receive her message. This year, I ask that we all commit to preparing ourselves for a spiritual awakening, so that we can be prepared for Mary's message to us. It is God's one desire to bring us home, not just for Christmas, but to dwell with us here on earth and eventually to bring us home to heaven. That is why He became man. To be with us, now and forever, to accompany us in our journey of life, with its ups and downs, blessings and struggles, joys and crosses. We are never alone! 

Know of my love and prayers for you. May God bless you and your families this Christmas and New Year! May our diocese, through the efforts of our year of spiritual awakening in preparation for the consecration to Our Lady of Guadalupe help us always to live in and spread our true and lasting home in God's kingdom! Merry Christmas!

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