Priests of the Diocese listen to Bishop O'Connell's remarks.
Priests of the Diocese listen to Bishop O'Connell's remarks.
It was a beautiful summer evening Thursday July 22 as the priests of the Diocese of Trenton gathered together in St. Robert’s Co-Cathedral Parish for dinner!  Over 100 priests from the four counties joined together in wonderful priestly fraternity as the mid-point of summer (FYI, August 7!) quickly approaches.

The pandemic kept the presbyterate from sharing their traditional meal together preceding the Chrism Mass for the last two years.  Similarly, the cancellation of the Annual Convocation of Priests last year as well as two years’ worth of days of recollection were sorely missed by the priests, since those are the only scheduled occasions to be together during the year.

PHOTO GALLERY: Bishop hosts summer picnic for Diocese's priests

I was happy to host the meal, arranged by the Co-Cathedral’s rector-pastor Msgr. Sam Sirianni, and to be able to greet and speak with each of the priests from the Diocese and religious orders serving in the local Church. It was very evident that we all missed one another’s company and enjoyed being together again, calling to mind the opening words of Psalm 133: “how good and how pleasant it is when the brothers dwell together as one!”

The gathering gave me an opportunity to thank the priests present for their generous, continuing care for the faithful during the difficult – often sacrificial – days of the pandemic. I was grateful to be able to express my continuing care for each of them, and to encourage my brother priests “in a full court press” to promote and foster holy vocations to the priesthood within their parishes and schools.

I told them what I earnestly believe; that it is so important for priests to build up our own support systems for one another.  We need one another, we belong to one another as true brothers.

In the first century of the Church’s history, St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 108 AD) observed that priests, in service to the People of God, live and minister “in harmony with its bishop as the strings are to a harp.”  Almost 2,000 years later, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests noted that “priests should seek to understand each other; they should extend hospitality; they should come together for spiritual, intellectual and social purposes, and should show care for those who are ill, troubled or in danger.”  That observation has never been more urgent in the Church.

In his book “Gift and Mystery,” Pope St. John Paul II, celebrating the 50th anniversary of his own priestly ordination, referred to the priesthood in a diocese as a “fraternity” – a “sacramental fraternity” – rooted in the very Sacrament of Holy Orders that priests receive at the hands of the bishop.  It is not an optional fraternity or simply a by-product of their ordination.  It is intentional, foundational and integral to it.  And It is strengthened and supported by the presence of religious order priests in their midst.

With these thoughts in mind, a summer gathering and dinner takes on a much greater significance than simply a “get together” of priests working in a diocese, serving the faithful.  It is an expression of the deep, sacramental brotherhood that they share in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest. And, so, it is indeed good and pleasant “when the brothers dwell together as one.”