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NOTE: The following letter was published in the March 8, 2018 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
As I thought and prayed about what to write in this column, I realized there were many things that I wanted to share with you.
Let me begin with Ash Wednesday when we were all stunned and saddened, by the tragic, useless killing of 17 high school students in Parkland, Florida. Last week, I invited students from each of our four Catholic High Schools to come and meet. I had heard much from other students through the media, but I wanted to hear from our own students, to be close to them and pray with them. I was so impressed by their insights and thoughtfulness, and their wanting to help be agents for change and prayer. We are blessed with impressive young men and women in our diocesan Church.
Then on Feb. 18, the first Sunday of Lent, I officiated at the Rite of Election in our Cathedral. It was a full house, with lots of excitement. The Lord is blessing us with 120 people seeking baptism at Easter this year, while we have 165 candidates making the profession of faith and receiving confirmation and first Communion. We thank God for all those who are cooperating with His grace and working so hard to prepare themselves for entry into the Church. We are praying for you all! Thanks, too, to Sara Sharlow our director of the diocesan RCIA office and to all our brothers and sisters who are overseeing the process in our parishes. How grateful we are for these abundant graces.
Currently, I am very aware of the great efforts our priests and deacons, along with our lay leadership in our parishes, are putting in to this year’s Bishop’s Annual Appeal. I am so grateful for the encouraging early returns that have been shared with me. You are generous and kind in supporting this great common effort. I want you to know how seriously the diocese takes our responsibility to be good stewards with what you entrust to us. You will find on pages 19 to 22 of this newspaper, a letter from me and our financial report for last year, which covered my first full year as your bishop. We have made good progress in carefully trimming the budget where possible and increasing our revenue, while trying to concentrate more energy and resources on the needed ministries of our day. I want to thank you for your generosity, which allowed us to have our first balanced budget in a few years!
On March 1, it was 22 years since Bishop Hughes founded The Catholic Spirit. Bishop Hughes said that he wanted our newspaper to help strengthen the faith of our Catholic people, keep them informed about the Church, about what it does and its teachings, and to challenge them. In our day, as our managing editor recently wrote, The Catholic Spirit is a vehicle of evangelization, a tangible medium of communication for Catholics to know what is happening within the diocese and the conduit through which the Shepherd of Metuchen corresponds with his flock. I want to thank all those who contribute to making our paper the effective instrument it is. I thank you, too, for being a faithful reader.
Tragically, heavy on my heart has been was the removal of one of our priest from his assignment due to allegations of sexual abuse from over 30 years ago before he was ordained a priest. I ask you to please see my letter to the parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Virgin in Middlesex on page 4. I will go to the parish next week for a pastoral visit and to pray with parishioners there. I know I can count on your prayers for all who have been hurt and confused by this sad situation.
Yes, as I sat down to write to you, I wanted to share with you the thoughts and feelings in my heart about these events and others, too. It is hard to believe that we are already three weeks in to Lent. As we began this holy season, we committed ourselves to deepening our friendship with Christ, converting our hearts to be more like His, through increased prayers, almsgiving and fasting. As we experience all these ups and downs in our life as a diocese, but also personally too, throughout them all, we know that God is always with us, and He never tires of waiting for us to turn to Him again.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, this midway point of Lent is a good time to ask ourselves, “How am I doing this Lent, amidst all the blessings and challenges I have experienced during these weeks? Do I need to continue on the course I am on, or do I need to start anew, or redouble my efforts?” It is never too late to start anew. Pope Francis is always reminding us that the Lord never tires of awaiting us. His grace is there for us, to be with us and carry us through each day, with all its blessings and challenges. God awaits us in the sacrifice of the Mass each Sunday, in our quiet daily prayer, in the Blessed Sacrament where we can always encounter Him during visits, and in our acts of charity especially to those in need. We only have a few weeks left in Lent to prepare for the glories of Easter. These last weeks can be the best ones for us, as He is awaiting, and will accompany us through the good and the bad we face.
God bless you and know of my love and prayers for you.
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen