Father James Greenfield, a member of the Oblate of St. Francis de Sales community, presents his keynote address on "Integrative Approach to the care of spiritual, physical, social and psychological wellbeing."
Father James Greenfield, a member of the Oblate of St. Francis de Sales community, presents his keynote address on "Integrative Approach to the care of spiritual, physical, social and psychological wellbeing."
Taking time to step away from their everyday responsibilities and consider questions related to their well-being, more than 100 priests of the Diocese gathered for the annual Advent Spirituality Day Dec. 15 in St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, Toms River.

Keynote speaker, Father James Greenfield, reminded attendees of how important it was for them “to stay grounded and resilient as ecclesial leaders,” even as they deal with many challenges in ministry today.

PHOTO GALLERY: 2021 Advent Spirituality Day for Priests

Father Greenfield, who is a member of the Oblate of St. Francis de Sales and president of De Sales University, Center Valley, Pa., asked the gathering to consider: “What does the Church most need from us as priests today” in light of the “unique moment we find ourselves in and given the realities of these uncertain times for our Church and our world.

“Covid-19 has taught us that many of the things we considered to be normal or necessary parts of life in the 21st century could be interrupted or canceled in an instant,” including  sacramental celebrations, hugs, travel, sharing meals, classes, weddings, even funerals, Father Greenfield said. To cope with the changes, he added, the focus then becomes, “Instead of trying to return to the old normal, perhaps it’s time to create something new?”

Such an approach, Father Greenfield continued, “takes perseverance, persistence and patience.”

He asked, “If our collective experience of the pandemic has released us from a future we did not want and would not benefit from, it would be a shame to miss this singular opportunity to discern God’s sense of the future,” Father Greenfield said.

Several priests in attendance shared that the day’s talk was enlightening, encouraging and thought-provoking.

Msgr. Sam Sirianni, rector of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, found Father Greenfield’s topic to be “on point and timely,” especially in terms of considering what has been learned about the impact of the pandemic.

Gratefully acknowledging the number of priests who turned out, Msgr. Thomas Mullelly, diocesan episcopal vicar for clergy and consecrated life and director of seminarians, felt that Father Greenfield’s had a “reality-based” and positive approach to his topic, and “challenged the priests to discern the will of God in our lives.”

Father Jim Grogan, pastor of Nativity Parish, Fair Haven, appreciated Father Greenfield’s question: “What does the Church need most from us as priests today?”

“First, it sets the lens as looking at the needs of the Church, which includes laity and clergy,” Father Grogan said. “We priests serve the laity, but we also serve each other. The fellowship shared among priests today reinforces our shared service of the people of God.”

He also noted Father Greenfield’s point that “We are a Church that is hurting from nearly two years of Covid.”

“Yes, there are fears that the pandemic is approaching another peak, but we are also a Church that struggles with what I will simply label as ‘laity participation,’” Father Grogan said.

“Some of this is due to the pandemic, but we only had a fraction of Catholics actively participating in our liturgies and Church life pre-pandemic. We, the priests, need to be advocates for reaching out and encouraging participation, welcoming those who have been missing for years.”

Father Grogan extended appreciation to Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., for bringing priests together for events such as the annual Spirituality Day.

“I always get something new from the speaker which nurtures my convictions and joy as a parish priest,” Father Grogan said. “Every priest has a demanding schedule but on the whole, I think most are happy in parish ministry. This support and nurturing truly helps us to approach difficult moments knowing that we are serving God as we serve the people of God.”