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NOTE: The following letter was published in the June 14, 2018 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.
On September 18, 1864, Pope Pius IX declared Margaret Mary Alacoque Blessed! She would of course, later be declared a Saint. St. Mary Margaret Alacoque received visions of the Lord exposing His heart and urging public devotion. Her apparitions gave impetus to the devotion we have today to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Pope Pius beatified her in a chapel at the Casa Santa Maria in Rome, where as a young boy he often served Mass for her community’s sisters living there.
Today, the Casa Santa Maria, which became the Pontifical North American College in the 1850s, houses U.S. priests sent to Rome for graduate studies. There is a beautiful painting of St. Mary Margaret in the chapel to mark the honor it had on the day she was beatified. Having served as Rector of the College, this was always a special place to pray and implore our Lord to make my heart more unto His merciful heart.
The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart was celebrated this past Friday, June 8. On Saturday, we also honored the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a heart that was totally dedicated to God and urges us to do the same! These two celebrations are wonderful reminders for us to reflect on how we share the love of Jesus' merciful heart with others.
Last weekend I encountered people who do this so well, who share Jesus’ merciful love. They inspired me and my ministry, so much I want to share these occasions with you.
On Thursday, I went to McAuley Hall in Watchung to celebrate Mass for the retired sisters living there, as they were on retreat this past week. It is the same community, the Sisters of Mercy, who taught me in elementary school and my elementary school principal now ministers at McAuley Hall. It is always a joy to be with these sisters, many of whom dedicated their lives to educating children. Their love and concern for our youth is clearly evident, and no doubt being on the campus of Mount Saint Mary Academy, they regularly pray for the girls enrolled there. My former principal still teaches me, as I have heard her say a few times when she has asked me to come for one event or another, and I cannot because of Confirmations, “That’s more important. The children first!” Amen! Indeed, I was blessed to confirm over a hundred children that very evening at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Perth Amboy.
On Friday, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, I presided at the first profession of vows for three new sisters for the Missionaries of Charity in Plainfield. They are a contemplative community of sisters, who also, three days a week, leave the convent to serve the poorest of the poor, visiting homes in the parish. I had the privilege of serving with them in Rome at the Vatican’s soup kitchen, Dono di Maria. Once, I took my mother and aunt with me to help prepare a meal and serve it while they were visiting me in Rome. I also served with their sisters at a men’s shelter they run at San Gregorio Church, their motherhouse in Rome, where I was blessed to meet Mother Teresa on various occasions, and even celebrated Mass for her one time. Their hearts are full of love for the poor, and they give us such good example by their radical life of prayer and serving the poorest of the poor.
That evening, we had a holy hour for vocations at the St. John Neumann Pastoral Center in Piscataway, then on Saturday morning the priesthood ordination of Father Tholitho and Father Robert Pinnisi at the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assis in Metuchen. Bishop Emeritus Paul G. Bootkoski and almost a hundred priests joined in concelebrating the Mass, along with many deacons and our faithful. Saturday evening I attended Father Tholitho’s first Mass at St. James the Less Parish in Jamesburg. As all first Masses, it was a special time of grace.
I cannot think of a better way to have celebrated the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary! To be with these five men and women dedicating their lives to serving the Lord and His people and praying with so many individuals striving to love as Jesus loved, was certainly a good boost, as we strive to do the same each day. Growing up, I had an aunt who was at a Dominican cloistered monastery, and I always was intrigued by those who lived their lives so close to God in prayer. I think our family visits there certainly had a part in my call to the priesthood. I am so grateful for the examples God has given me over my lifetime, and for the protection and love He has shown me in living faithfully my promises of prayer, celibacy and obedience over these 26 years of my priesthood!
As we strive to light a fire in the heart of our local Church, I am also grateful to you for your example, and your dedication to the Sunday Eucharist which nourishes us for living with a merciful heart of love. You were certainly in my prayers during these inspiring, prayerful moments as we honored and try to emulate the Hearts of our Lord and the Blessed Mother. God bless you all!
The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen