Priests of the Diocese were reminded at their annual convocation that there’s no getting around this simple truth -- in order to effectively carry out their ministry, they have to put God first.

Photo Gallery: 2019 Convocation of Priests

Held Sept. 10-12 in Galloway, the Convocation of Priests drew 150 attendees who were encouraged to strengthen their own lives as priests. Main presenter Msgr. Thomas Caserta spoke on the theme “Faith, Hope and Love: Source of Encouragement for Priestly Life and Ministry,” and Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., shared insights during his homily for the Mass he celebrated Sept. 11.

Reflecting on the day’s First Reading from Colossians 3: 1-11, Bishop O’Connell spoke of St. Paul’s conviction as he invited the Church at Colossae “to seek what is above,” to think of where Christ is seated, at the right hand of God, not of what is on earth.

“Such an invitation was good for the Colossians at that time,” said Bishop O’Connell, “and it is good for us now.”

The Bishop urged his brother priests to “seek what is above,” instead of focusing on what is more than likely to be their “earthly concerns” -- “Where we worship, not whom; Where we live, not how; Where we are assigned, not on whom we serve; What we do in the course of our daily responsibilities, not why. Where we are now, not where we need to go; What we say, not what we believe and in whom and why.”

“We have to give ourselves the time and space to remember who we are, why we are here, what we are called to do and to be,” said Bishop O’Connell.

“Our calling is from God and for God. Our calling is from the Church and for the Church. If it’s not about the Lord, it’s not about anything,” he said. The Bishop exhorted the priests to “Put Christ back in the picture” in all areas of their lives including when they are tired, frustrated, have doubts, feel isolated, during times of temptations and when they sin. Christ also needs to be placed in the midst of the priests’ successes, times of joy and consolation as well as in their friendships, fraternity and “the things that unite us.”

During his three conferences, Msgr. Caserta, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., unpacked the virtues of faith, hope and love by recounting the experiences of figures in Scripture and how, even in spite of challenging circumstances, they were led to place God first in their lives.

For the conference on faith, Msgr. Caserta reflected on Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, simply because he honestly believed that was what the Lord was asking.

For the Sept. 11 conference on hope, Msgr. Caserta said it’s a virtue that “asks you and me what we really want from this life.” He then centered on the apostle Peter, who, in spite of his sins and doubts, had come to put Jesus first in his life.

Though he had flaws, Peter became the one whom Jesus would leave the “enterprise of his Church,” said Msgr. Caserta. “Peter came to be filled with the fire of love for the Lord. The change happens when Peter meets Jesus’ eyes; his eyes became the instrument of his conversion.

“I wonder how many of us need to look at the Lord in the eyes,” Msgr. Caserta said to the priests. While many of the priests may know about Jesus through their theology and spiritual experiences, and there are some who regard Jesus as having a management position, “When was the last time you allowed him to look at you in the eye?

“Hope is having our eyes fixed on Jesus,” Msgr. Caserta said. “Hope is our desire for his kingdom and to follow his way. Hope takes the focus of the ‘me, myself and I’ and puts the focus back on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

Divine Word Father Krzysztof Pipa, pastor of St. Ann Parish, Browns Mills, said of the presentation topics, “faith, hope and love are at the heart of Christianity.

“This gives me a chance to think more about our life in relation to the virtues,” said Father Pipa.

Father Edward Blanchett, pastor of Visitation Parish, Brick, was heartened to be reminded about the gift of faith that Peter had “when he realized what he had done” and then was able to look at Jesus. Similarly, Father Blanchett relates Peter’s gift of faith to the gift of faith priests should have in their ministries, even in the midst of challenges.

“I was reminded that our leader is above all that,” said Father Blanchett. “If we put our faith in him, he will guide us through it. This was a good reminder. I needed to hear that again.”