Lent: time for conversion as we move closer to Christ

NOTE: The following letter was published in the March 7, 2019 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

On Ash Wednesday, each of us had a cross traced on our foreheads as a mark of our repentance. We began anew on the road of conversion, recalling our baptismal promises by once again taking up more fully the penitential practices highlighted in our Gospel on Ash Wednesday, those acts of fasting, almsgiving and more frequent prayer. They will hopefully move us from focusing on ourselves to taking on the poverty of Christ, in imitation of our Beloved.

Our Lenten practices will mean little or nothing if through them we are not moved closer to Christ, and if they do not bring about a further conversion of our hearts. Indeed, it will mean little or nothing if we are not moved to become joyful heralds of God’s message of mercy and truly take on the heart of Christ in loving others, especially the poor.

Pope Francis has spoken about this Lent saying: “This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God ‘with all their hearts,’ to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, he patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, he shows us his readiness to forgive.”

Indeed, our Lord patiently awaits us, always. We know that the Eucharist is the premier place He awaits us, and we pray that blessings and graces will flow upon us as individuals and as a diocese from our encountering Him as we adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament.

During an address at the Eucharistic Congress in Genoa, Italy, Pope Francis, referred to the Eucharist as “a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity,” and he called on us to be nourished by it “in order to be fraternally united among ourselves, and cooperate in the building of the Church and good of the world.” He encouraged everyone “to visit – if possible, every day – especially amid life’s difficulties, the Blessed Sacrament of the infinite love of Christ and His mercy, preserved in our churches, and often abandoned, to speak filially with Him, to listen to Him in silence, and to peacefully entrust ourself to Him.” I pray that we here in the Metuchen Diocese will heed our Holy Father’s plea, and make our daily time of adoration a part of our response.

As I stated in my first pastoral letter, “Before all other pastoral initiatives, prayer must be our main priority in this diocese, so that fruitful evangelization can be recognized as a uniquely central pastoral priority in our diocese. In our renewed prayer efforts, intercession for a New Evangelization must accompany every pastoral initiative. There will be no renewal in our diocese without begging the Holy Spirit to pour out once again those graces that were poured out on that first Pentecost. We must personally and communally expect, yearn and pray for a New Pentecost in our midst.”

As we are in the midst of our Year of Spiritual Awakening and Renewal in preparation for the consecration of our diocese to Jesus through Our Lady of Guadalupe, may the return of our hearts to the Lord this Lent be a true conversion. May this Lenten season renew our utter dependence on God so that we might strive more perfectly and faithfully to “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Know of my love and prayers for you during this Lenten season of grace. God bless you all!

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