“Nazareth – School of the Gospel” Building a Kingdom Love with Msgr. John Esseff

Msgr. Esseff focuses on the importance of the family in our lives.  He uses the teachings of Blessed Pope Paul VI  in reflection.


Reflections at Nazareth

An Address of Pope Paul VI at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth

(taken from “The Pope Speaks”, Vol. 9 #3, 1964)

At Nazareth Our very first thoughts must be turned toward Mary Most Holy, to offer her the tribute of Our devotion and to nourish that devotion with reflections that will make it genuine, profound and unique, in conformity with the plan of God. It is Mary who is full of grace, who is the Immaculate, the ever-virgin, the Mother of Christ and hence God’s Mother and ours, she who was assumed into heaven, our most blessed Queen, the model for the Church and our hope.

Before all else We offer Our humble filial promise to venerate her with that special devotion which recognizes the wonders God has accomplished in her; with singular homage manifesting the most holy, pure affectionate, personal and confident movements of Our Heart; with such devotion as causes her encouraging example of human perfection to shine upon the world from on high.

Then We present to her Our requests for what is closest to Our heart, because We wish to honor both her goodness and the power of her love and intercession. We pray that she may preserve in our hearts a sincere devotion to her. We beg her to give us understanding, desire, and then the peace of possessing purity of body and soul, purity in thought and word, art and love; the purity that the world of today attempts to shock and violate; the purity to which Christ has linked one of His promises, one of His beatitudes, that of penetrating into the vision of God Himself.

We ask therefore the favor of joining Our Lady, mother of the home at Nazareth, and her humble but courageous husband St. Joseph, in their intimacy with Jesus Christ, her human and divine Son.

Nazareth – school of the Gospel

Nazareth is the school in which we begin to understand the life of Jesus. It is the school of the Gospel. Here we learn to observe, to listen, to meditate, and to penetrate the profound and mysterious meaning of that simple, humble, and lovely manifestation of the Son of God. And perhaps we learn almost imperceptibly to imitate Him. Here we learn the method by which we can come to understand Christ. Here we discover the need to observe the milieu of His sojourn among us – places, period of time, customs, language, religious practices, all of which Jesus used to reveal Himself to the world. Here everything speaks to us; everything has meaning. Everything possesses twofold significance.

“The letter” …

The first is exterior, that which the spectators’ senses and perceptiveness can immediately derive from the Gospel scene. It is the impression gained by those who look merely at externals, who study and examine only the philological and historical trappings of the holy books, that part of which in Biblical terminology is called “the letter.” This study is important and necessary, but it is opaque to one who stops there, and even capable of engendering illusions and intellectual pride in the observer who approaches the external elements in the Gospel without clear vision, humility, a good intention, and a prayerful spirit.

… and “the spirit”

There is also an interior significance – that is, the revelation of divine truth, of supernatural reality – which the Gospel not only contains but also manifests, though, to be sure, only to the person who puts himself in harmony with its light. This harmony is due partly to uprightness of spirit, that is of mind and heart – a subjective and human condition which depends on the personal initiative of each person. At the same time it flows from the mysterious, free, and unmerited outpouring of grace, which, in keeping with the mystery of mercy governing mankind’s destiny, is never lacking; indeed, at the proper time and in the appropriate manner it never fails any man of good will. This second element, distinct from “the letter” of the Gospel, is called the “the spirit.”

It is here, in this school, that one comes to grasp how necessary it is to be spiritually disciplined, if one wishes to follow the teachings of the Gospel and to become a follower of Christ. Oh, how We would like to repeat, so close to Mary, Our introduction to the genuine knowledge of the meaning of life, and to the higher wisdom of divine truth!

But Our steps here are hurried, and We must take leave of Our desire to pursue here this never-ending education in understanding of the Gospel. Nevertheless, We cannot depart without recalling briefly and fleetingly some fragments of the lesson of Nazareth.

The lesson of silence…

The lesson of silence: may there return to us an appreciation of this stupendous and indispensable spiritual condition, deafened as we are by so much tumult, so much noise, so many voices of our chaotic and frenzied modern life. O silence of Nazareth, teach us recollection, reflection, and eagerness to heed the good inspirations and words of true teachers; teach us the need and value of preparation, of study, of meditation, of interior life, of secret prayer seen by God alone.

… of domestic life

The lesson of domestic life: may Nazareth teach us the meaning of family life, its harmony of love, its simplicity and austere beauty, its sacred and inviolable character; may it teach is how sweet and irreplaceable is its training, how fundamental and incomparable its role on the social plane.

… of work

The lesson of work: O Nazareth, home of “the carpenter’s son,” We want here to understand and to praise the austere and redeeming law of human labor, here to restore the consciousness of the dignity of labor, here to recall that work cannot be an end in itself, and that it is free and ennobling in proportion to the values – beyond the economic ones – which motivate it. We would like here to salute all the workers of the world, and to point out to them their great Model, their Divine Brother, the Champion of all their rights, Christ the Lord!

And so Our thoughts leave Nazareth and range those mountains of Galilee which once provided the natural backdrop for the words of the Divine Teacher. We lack time and sufficient strength to proclaim at this moment the divine message intended for the entire universe. But We cannot neglect to glance at the nearby mount of the beatitudes, which are the synthesis and summit of evangelical preaching, and to listen to the echoes of that discourse which, in this mysterious atmosphere, now seem audible to Us.

The motive of love

It is the voice of Christ promulgating the New Testament, the new law which both absorbs and surpasses the old, and raises human endeavor to the very peak of perfection. The great motive of man’s activity is a sense of duty which controls the exercise of his freedom. In the Old Testament it was fear; and at all times including our own it is instinct and self-interest. But for Christ, who is the Father’s gift of love to the world, the motive is love. He taught us to obey through love; it is love that moved Him to set us free. According to the teaching of St. Augustine, “God gave less difficult precepts to those who had still to be bound by fear; through His Son He gave more difficult ones to those whom He had deigned to free by love.”

Christ in His Gospel has spelled out for the world the supreme purpose and the noblest force for action and hence for liberty and progress: love. No goal can surpass it, be superior to it, or supplant it. The only sound law of life is His Gospel. The human person reaches his highest level in Christ’s teaching. Human society finds therein its most genuine and powerful unifying force.

We believe, O Lord, in Thy word; we will try to follow and live it.

Echoes of the Beatitudes

Now we hear its echo reverberating in the souls of men of our century. It seems to tell us: Blessed are we, if in poverty of spirit we learn to free ourselves from false confidence in material things and to place our chief desires in spiritual and religious goods, treating the poor with respect and love as brothers and living images of Christ.

Blessed are we, if, having acquired the meekness of the strong, we learn to renounce the deadly power of hate and vengeance, and have the wisdom to exalt above the fear of armed force the generosity of forgiveness, alliance in freedom and work, and conquest through goodness and peace.

Blessed are we, if we do not make egoism the guiding criterion of our life, nor pleasure its purpose, but learn rather to discover in sobriety our strength, in pain a source of redemption, in sacrifice the very summit of greatness.

Blessed are we, if we prefer to be the oppressed rather than the oppressors, and constantly hunger for the progress of justice.

Blessed are we, if for the Kingdom of God in time and beyond time we learn to pardon and to persevere, to work and to serve, to suffer and to love.

We shall never be deceived.

In such accents do We seem to hear His voice today. Then, it was stronger, sweeter, and more awe-inspiring: it was divine. But as we try to recapture some echo of the Master’s words, we seem to be won over as His disciples and to be genuinely filled with new wisdom and fresh courage.


Msgr. John A. Esseff is a Roman Catholic priest in the Diocese of Scranton.  He was ordained on May 30, 1953, by the late Bishop William J. Hafey, D.D. at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Scranton, PA.  Msgr. Esseff served a retreat director and confessor to St.  Teresa of Calcutta.    He continues to offer direction and retreats for the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity around the world.  Msgr. Esseff encountered St.  Padre Pio,  who would become a spiritual father to him.  He has lived in areas around the world,  serving in the Pontifical Missions, a Catholic organization established by St. Pope John Paul II to bring the Good News to the world especially to the poor.  Msgr. Esseff assisted the founders of the Institute for Priestly Formation and continues to serve as a spiritual director for the Institute.  He continues to serve as a retreat leader and director to bishops, priests and sisters and seminarians and other religious leaders around the world.  

Nazareth, a model Bl. Pope Paul VI from the Office of Readings

From an address by Pope Paul VI

Nazareth, a model

Nazareth is a kind of school where we may begin to discover what Christ’s life was like and even to understand his Gospel. Here we can observe and ponder the simple appeal of the way God’s Son came to be known, profound yet full of hidden meaning. And gradually we may even learn to imitate him.

Here we can learn to realise who Christ really is. And here we can sense and take account of the conditions and circumstances that surrounded and affected his life on earth: the places, the tenor of the times, the culture, the language, religious customs, in brief, everything which Jesus used to make himself known to the world. Here everything speaks to us, everything has meaning. Here we can learn the importance of spiritual discipline for all who wish to follow Christ and to live by the teachings of his Gospel.

How I would like to return to my childhood and attend the simple yet profound school that is Nazareth! How wonderful to be close to Mary, learning again the lesson of the true meaning of life, learning again God’s truths. But here we are only on pilgrimage. Time presses and I must set aside my desire to stay and carry on my education in the Gospel, for that education is never finished. But I cannot leave without recalling, briefly and in passing; some thoughts I take with me from Nazareth.

First, we learn from its silence. If only we could once again appreciate its great value. We need this wonderful state of mind, beset as we are by the cacophony of strident protests and conflicting claims so characteristic of these turbulent times. The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers. Nazareth can teach us the value of study and preparation, of meditation, of a well-ordered personal spiritual life, and of silent prayer that is known only to God.

Second, we learn about family life. May Nazareth serve as a model of what the family should be. May it show us the family’s holy and enduring character and exemplify its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings, in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children – and for this there is no substitute.

Finally, in Nazareth, the home of a craftsman’s son, we learn about work and the discipline it entails. I would especially like to recognise its value – demanding yet redeeming – and to give it proper respect. I would remind everyone that work has its own dignity. On the other hand, it is not an end in itself. Its value and free character, however, derive not only from its place in the economic system, as they say, but rather from the purpose it serves.

In closing, may I express my deep regard for people everywhere who work for a living. To them I would point out their great model, Christ their brother, our Lord and God, who is their prophet in every cause that promotes their well being.


Excerpts from the English translation of The Liturgy of the Hours (Four Volumes) © 1974, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.


Spiritual Exercise #2 Dealing with Frustration with Msgr. John Esseff

Msgr. Esseff was taken to the ER Thursday afternoon and then admitted to the hospital.  Believe or not, he wanted to continue his series of podcasts on the Year-end retreat for his listeners.  He phoned in this reflection from his hospital bed Saturday morning.  He discusses frustration with God and the marvels of His goodness when we surrender.  This is a very special podcast, please keep Msgr. Esseff in your prayers.

USCCA12 – Mary: The Church’s First and Most Perfect Member – U. S. Catholic Catechism for Adults w/ Arch. George Lucas

Archbishop Lucas offers insights on the US Catholic Catechism for Adults Chapter 12:

The Second Vatican Council remains us that Mary is a member of the Church who “occupies a place in the Church which is the highest after Christ and also closest to us” (LG, no. 54).  She is the first and the greatest of all the disciples of Christ.

The Most Reverend George J. Lucas leads the Archdiocese of Omaha. 

For other episodes in the visit our Archbishop George Lucas page

This program is based on:


More information can be found .

We wish to thank the USCCB for the permissions granted for use of  relevant material used in this series.
Also we wish to thank Fr. Ryan Lewis for their vocal talents in this episode.

IP#317 Fr. Joseph Fessio S.J. – Robert Cardinal Sarah’s “The Power of Silence” on Inside the Pages with Kris McGregor

Fr. Joseph Fessio, founder and editor-in-chief of Ignatius Press discusses one of the most important books of our time,  “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise” by Robert Cardinal Sarah.


You can find the book here

From the book description:

In a time when technology penetrates our lives in so many ways and materialism exerts such a powerful influence over us, Cardinal Robert Sarah presents a bold book about the strength of silence. The modern world generates so much noise, he says, that seeking moments of silence has become both harder and more necessary than ever before.

Silence is the indispensable doorway to the divine, explains the cardinal in this profound conversation with Nicolas Diat. Within the hushed and hallowed walls of the La Grande Chartreux, the famous Carthusian monastery in the French Alps, Cardinal Sarah addresses the following questions: Can those who do not know silence ever attain truth, beauty, or love? Do not wisdom, artistic vision, and devotion spring from silence, where the voice of God is heard in the depths of the human heart?

After the international success of God or Nothing, Cardinal Sarah seeks to restore to silence its place of honor and importance. “Silence is more important than any other human work,” he says, “for it expresses God. The true revolution comes from silence; it leads us toward God and others so as to place ourselves humbly and generously at their service.”

Cardinal Sarah

“This book shows Cardinal Sarah to be one of the most spiritually alert churchmen of our time.”
–Bishop Robert Barron, Creator and Host, Catholicism film series

Cardinal Robert Sarah’s profound exploration of the silence in which we hear the still, quiet voice of God, and thus come to know the truth about ourselves, is a powerful challenge to the cacophony of our times and a summons to a more Gospel-centered way of life.”
–George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, Ethics and Public Policy Center


HR30 -“Who Broke The Bell?” The Life of St. Benedict – The Holy Rule with Fr. Mauritius Wilde O.S.B

We continue our conversation on the life of St. Benedict by using the biography penned by St. Gregory the Great. This episode brings to his interaction with the monk called Romanus and the breaking of the bell outside the cave.


Father Mauritius Wilde, OSB, Ph.D., did his philosophical, theological and doctoral studies in Europe. He is the author of several books and directs retreats regularly. He serves as Prior at Sant’Anselmo in Rome. For more information about the ministry of the the Missionary Benedictines of Christ the King Priory in Schuyler, Nebraska 

“In the fullness of time, the fullness of divinity appeared” – St. Bernard from the Office of Readings

From a sermon by Saint Bernard, abbot

(Sermo 1, in Epiphania Domini, 1-2: PL 133,141-143)

In the fullness of time, the fullness of divinity appeared.


The kindness and love of God our saviour for mankind were revealed. Thanks be to God, through whom we receive such abundant consolation in this pilgrimage, this exile, this distress.

Before his humanity appeared, his kindness lay concealed. Of course it was already in existence, because the mercy of the Lord is from eternity, but how could men know it was so great? It was promised but not yet experienced: hence many did not believe in it. At various times and in various different ways, God spoke through the prophets, saying I know the plans I have in mind for you: plans for peace, not disaster.

What reply did man make, man who felt the affliction, and knew nothing of peace? ‘How long will you keep saying “Peace, peace” when there is no peace?’ And so the angels of peace weep bitterly saying Lord, who has believed our report?

But now at last let men believe their own eyes, because all God’s promises are to be trusted. So that it cannot escape the notice of even troubled eyes, He has set up his tabernacle in the sun.Behold, peace is no longer promised, but conferred; no longer delayed, but given; no longer predicted, but bestowed. Behold, God has sent down to earth a bag bulging with his mercy, a bag that, at the passion, is torn open so that our ransom pours out of it onto us. A small bag, perhaps, but a full one: for it was a small child that was given to us, but in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead.

After the fullness of time had come, there came too the fullness of the Godhead. He came in the flesh, so that at least he might make himself manifest to our earthly minds, so that when this humanity of his appeared, his kindness might also be acknowledged. Where the humanity of God appears, his kindness can no longer be hidden. In what way, indeed, could he have better commended his kindness than by assuming my flesh? My flesh, that is, not Adam’s, as it was before the fall.

What greater proof could he have given of his mercy than by taking upon himself that very thing which needed mercy? Where is there such perfect loving-kindness as in the fact that for our sake the Word of God became perishable like the grass? Lord, what is man, that you make much of him or pay him any heed?

Let man infer from this how much God cares for him. Let him know from this what God thinks of him, what he feels about him. Man, do not ask about your own sufferings; but about what God suffered. Learn from what he was made for you, how much he makes of you, so that his kindness may show itself to you from his humanity.

The lesser he has made himself in his humanity, the greater has he shown himself in kindness. The more he humbles himself on my account, the more powerfully he engages my love. The kindness and humanity of God our Saviour appeared says St Paul. The humanity of God shows the greatness of his kindness, and he who added humanity to the name of God gave great proof of this kindness.

Excerpts from the English translation of The Liturgy of the Hours (Four Volumes) © 1974, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.

BTP-WP7 Chapters 20 thru 26 – The Way of Perfection by St. Teresa of Avila – Beginning to Pray w/Dr. Anthony Lilles

Dr. Lilles talks about the nature of vocal prayer, the prayer of meditation, and the prayer of recollection.

Saint Teresa Painting Convento de Santa Teresa Avila Castile Spain.

CHAPTER 20 – Begins to treat of prayer. Addresses souls who cannot reason with the understanding.

CHAPTER 21 – Describes the great importance of setting out upon the practice of prayer with firm resolution and of heeding no difficulties put in the way by the devil

CHAPTER 22 – Explains the meaning of mental prayer

CHAPTER 23 – Describes the importance of not turning back when one has set out upon the way of prayer. Repeats how necessary it is to be resolute

CHAPTER 24 – Describes how vocal prayer may be practised with perfection and how closely allied it is to mental prayer

CHAPTER 25 – Describes the great gain which comes to a soul when it practises vocal prayer perfectly. Shows how God may raise it thence to things supernatural

CHAPTER 26 – Continues the description of a method for recollecting the thoughts. Describes means of doing this. This chapter is very profitable for those who are beginning prayer

For the audio recordings of  St. Teresa’s “The Way of Perfection” you can visit the Discerning Hearts Spiritual Classics audio page

For other episodes in the series visit
The Discerning Hearts “The Way of Perfection with Dr. Anthony Lilless

Anthony Lilles, S.T.D. is an associate professor and the academic dean of Saint John’s Seminary in Camarillo as well as the academic advisor for Juan Diego House of Priestly Formation for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. For over twenty years he served the Church in Northern Colorado where he joined and eventually served as dean of the founding faculty of Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. Through the years, clergy, seminarians, religious and lay faithful have benefited from his lectures and retreat conferences on the Carmelite Doctors of the Church and the writings of St. Elisabeth of the Trinity.


A Spiritual Exercise #1 “To Listen to God” with Msgr. John Esseff

Are you frustrated, angry, overwhelmed, especially after the holidays?  Have you been trying to do “good things,” but find yourself hitting a wall in your family, in your workplace, or in your ministry?  When to say “yes” or to say “no,”  when to speak and when to silent, when to stay and when to go,  and so forth. Everything hinges on listening to God and discernment.  Are you operating in the “Light?”

Today, Msgr. Esseff asks that you take an hour to enter into the inner self and to listen to what God wants you to do.  Write down what you hear God say in Psalm 139

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

1Lord, thou hast searched me and known me!

2Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up;

thou discernest my thoughts from afar.

3Thou searchest out my path and my lying down,

and art acquainted with all my ways.

4Even before a word is on my tongue,

lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether.

5Thou dost beset me behind and before,

and layest thy hand upon me.

6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is high, I cannot attain it.

7Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?

Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?

8If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!

If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!

9If I take the wings of the morning

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

10even there thy hand shall lead me,

and thy right hand shall hold me.

11If I say, “Let only darkness cover me,

and the light about me be night,”

12even the darkness is not dark to thee,

the night is bright as the day;

for darkness is as light with thee.

13For thou didst form my inward parts,

thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful.

Wonderful are thy works!

Thou knowest me right well;

15my frame was not hidden from thee,

when I was being made in secret,

intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.

16Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance;

in thy book were written, every one of them,

the days that were formed for me,

when as yet there was none of them.

17How precious to me are thy thoughts, O God!

How vast is the sum of them!

18If I would count them, they are more than the sand.

When I awake, I am still with thee.

19O that thou wouldst slay the wicked, O God,

and that men of blood would depart from me,

20men who maliciously defy thee,

who lift themselves up against thee for evil!

21Do I not hate them that hate thee, O Lord?

And do I not loathe them that rise up against thee?

22I hate them with perfect hatred;

I count them my enemies.

23Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

24And see if there be any wicked way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting!

Walk Humbly Before Your God…. In Conversation with Fr. Andrew Apostoli (1942 – 2017)

“Walk Humbly Before Your God:  Simple Steps to a Virtuous Life” is an all-time favorite.  Fr. Andrew Apostoli, a founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and a frequent host on the Eternal Word Television Network, had a beautiful way of shining new light on fundamental truths.  He graciously took time to teach us about the nature of prayer,  how it develops in our lives and how we can nurture it.  He spoke of Jesus and several aspects of his prayer: praise, thanksgiving, intercession, and how it aids in our suffering.  Our traditional vocal prayers, as well as the depths of contemplation, were also discussed including how do we deal with distractions,   Fr. Apostoli, a humble, holy priest, was a master spiritual catechist! He died on December 13, 2017, the morning after the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal.  Contained in this 50-minute discussion, you’ll find guidance that can last a lifetime.

You can find Fr. Apostoli’s book here

From the book description:

Christians, if they are to have any impact in today s world, have something of the same code: we fight the good fight, side by side, ready to lay down our lives for one another. Such heroism doesn t come naturally. As Walk Humbly With Your God points out, it is in the day-to-day training, in taking the simple steps to holiness, that heroism becomes second nature.

Fr. Apostoli provides an inspirational guide to conquering our faults, growing in prayer and acquiring the virtues that enable us to walk with God and live for others.