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NOTE: The following is the homily prepared by The Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Ph.D., D.D., Bishop of Brooklyn, for the Evening Prayer and Blessing of Pontifical Insignia for The Most Reverend James F. Checchio, Bishop-elect of Metuchen, on May 2.
The Word of God which we hear tonight are probably the thoughts of Peter the Apostle put into words by a faithful disciple, most probably Silvanus. These words contain advice for presbyters, good advice to priests who are also gathered here tonight to welcome a new Bishop to be ordained tomorrow. He will become your chief shepherd and follow the advice given in our reading tonight.
The shepherd must tend the sheep. He must answer the call, as Monsignor Checchio as answered, to be a shepherd in today's world with a multitude of problems. In a shepherd's terms, the sheep seem to stray and there are many wolves that are out there to threaten the sheep. But it is the shepherd who must protect the sheep. Our secularized world and the anti-authority mindset that we find in our world today demands extraordinary leadership. Those who follow, scrutinize very carefully every word and action of the shepherd.
But Peter's advice is as valid today as it was two millennia ago. This shepherd is to oversee and govern, not by constraint, but rather by willing acceptance by those whom he guides. In other words, if you want a good leader, you must be a good follower. How important it is in our Church today that priest and bishop, religious, deacons and laity work together for the common good of the Church. Peter reminds the shepherd that it is not for personal gain or profit, but with eager love for others that he must serve. It is the love of the flock that inspires the shepherd to lay down his life for the sheep, that is to give his wholehearted service for the sake of those whom he is to lead. Peter goes on to remind us, "Do not lord over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock." The best leaders are those who do not require anything from those who follow, anything that they themselves would not do.
I have known Monsignor Checchio for the last 16 years, and I know that there is no task too small for this really big man. His leadership at the Pontifical North American College has proven this to be true. No detail of his administration there was left undone. He was certainly a leader during his tenure as rector. He increased the enrollment of seminarians for formation after a period of decline in the number of men studying for the priesthood in Rome. As an administrator, Monsignor Checchio renovated the North American College on the Janiculum from top to bottom. He oversaw the building of the newly completed tower, the renovation of a convent to be utilized as a place for sabbaticals and the raising of funds to renovate the Casa Santa Maria for the graduate priests. And yet, with all of this, he left a substantial endowment for the future of the College.
Most of all, your Bishop to be is a great priest. Clearly, his leadership at the North American College is proof. Monsignor Checchio was not just a rector for the seminarians, but also their friend. He walked the halls constantly and knew all of the seminarians by name. It is obvious that as a leader he wants to say yes to initiatives that are for the improvement of the Church, but he has no problem in saying no when after he studies a problem and believes it is not good. I might say that in the Diocese of Camden, the priests rather wanted to deal with the Bishop and not the moderator of the curia, who would say no with a smile.
With all of these wonderful qualities Monsignor Checchio has obtained from his formation days leading up to today, he came to them by the strong foundation given to him by his parents, Helen and Jim, and his two sisters and brother, who thanks be to God are here with us tonight for this joyful celebration. With the love and support of his parents and his family, Monsignor Checchio has been able to do many things in his priestly ministry. How fortunate it is, after so many years of study and ministry in Rome, that he now lives only a short ride down the Turnpike from his family.
Bishop Bootkoski, you have a worthy successor, as you are a worthy predecessor. You can pass on the crozier, the symbol of pastoral authority, with confidence to Bishop-elect Checchio. I am sure he can rely on you for advice and a smooth transition.
Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Athanasius. Athanasius, in the 4th Century after the Council of Nicaea, became a great defender of the faith and implemented the decrees of that Council. He was able to understand and preach the consubstantiality of the Incarnate Word of the Father and defended the divinity of Christ. Athanasius suffered much for his steadfast defense of the faith.
Likewise, today a Bishop must be ready to suffer much for his defense of the faith. In the 50 years after the Second Vatican Council, the challenge is still left to implement its central teaching regarding the faithful, which is the common priesthood of the faithful, framing the proper place of the laity in the mission of the Church.
Bishop-elect Checchio will be a great leader for the Diocese of Metuchen. This "Jersey Boy", from the "other New Jersey" understands this great State of New Jersey and will bring to the Church of Metuchen the leadership required.