Msgr. Esseff addresses the global pandemic of the coronavirus and COVID-19. He offers wise spiritual counsel to guide us through the uncharted waters lay before us. This day many will not be able to go to church and receive the Eucharist. What does that mean? What can your response be to this moment? This is an opportunity for this madly extroverted world of ours to STOP, turn around, and encounter in contemplation God who is before us waiting.
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. Mother Teresa. 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. 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.
Let us fix our attention on the blood of Christ and recognize how precious it is to God his Father, since it was shed for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to all the world.
If we review the various ages of history, we will see that in every generation the Lord has offered the opportunity of repentance to any who were willing to turn to him. When Noah preached God’s message of repentance, all who listened to him were saved. Jonah told the Ninevites they were going to be destroyed, but when they repented, their prayers gained God’s forgiveness for their sins, and they were saved, even though they were not of God’s people.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the ministers of God’s grace have spoken of repentance; indeed, the Master of the whole universe himself spoke of repentance with an oath: As I live, says the Lord, I do not wish the death of the sinner but his repentance. He added this evidence of his goodness: House of Israel, repent of your wickedness. Tell the sons of my people: If their sins should reach from earth to heaven, if they are brighter than scarlet and blacker than sackcloth, you need only turn to me with your whole heart and say, “Father”, and I will listen to you as a holy people.
In other words, God wanted all his beloved ones to have the opportunity to repent and he confirmed this desire by his own almighty will. That is why we should obey his sovereign and glorious will and prayerfully entreat his mercy and kindness. We should be suppliant before him and turn to his compassion, rejecting empty works and quarrelling and jealousy which only lead to death.
Brothers, we should be humble in mind, putting aside all arrogance, pride and foolish anger. Rather, we should act in accordance with the Scriptures, as the Holy Spirit says: The wise man must not glory in his wisdom nor the strong man in his strength nor the rich man in his riches. Rather, let him who glories glory in the Lord by seeking him and doing what is right and just. Recall especially what the Lord Jesus said when he taught gentleness and forbearance. Be merciful, he said, so that you may have mercy shown to you. Forgive, so that you may be forgiven. As you treat others, so you will be treated. As you give, so you will receive. As you judge, so you will be judged. As you are kind to others, so you will be treated kindly. The measure of your giving will be the measure of your receiving.
Let these commandments and precepts strengthen us to live in humble obedience to his sacred words. As Scripture asks: Whom shall I look upon with favour except the humble, peaceful man who trembles at my words?
Sharing then in the heritage of so many vast and glorious achievements, let us hasten toward the goal of peace, set before us from the beginning. Let us keep our eyes firmly fixed on the Father and Creator of the whole universe, and hold fast to his splendid and transcendent gifts of peace and all his blessings.
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Ask—Is life a series of “gifts” from God or tragedies?
Seek—Encounter the empty tombs of life with the expectation that they are signs of the Risen Christ.
Knock—Meditate on 1 John 4:18–19.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us.
How do you view the events of your life, as God punishing you or as God showering you with gifts? Is your image of what God is like from the way Jesus reveals God to us or from some other source?
Transform Your Life—Accept the cross whenever it presents itself to you in daily life. Do not flee from it. Do not shrink from it, but embrace it in the name of Jesus. Learn from it, be enlightened by it, find in it the key to living a fruitful life. Think of this every time that you sign yourself with the cross.
Ask—Do I feel “lucky” to carry the cross that God has given me?
Seek—Keep the cross of Christ before you at all times. Let it be a reminder of Christ’s forgiveness for you when you feel sorrowful for your sins. Let it be a sign of God’s love for others when you are tempted to judge. Let it be a light that you can share with those whose lives you touch.
Knock—Meditate on 1 Corinthians 12:26–27.
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Do you think of yourself as a part of Christ’s body? What changes are necessary for you to make in order to act as a member of the body of Christ rather than as an individual follower of Jesus?
Transform Your Life—Realize the difference that embracing the cross of Christ makes in your life. Learn to see the world in a new way and to see what Jesus meant when he said, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
Seek—Volunteer to do a task that no one wants to do, a menial or unpleasant one, all the while uniting yourself with the Passion and death of Jesus.
Knock—Meditate on Philippians 2:5–8.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
Paul says that we should have the mind of Christ, and Jesus told Peter that he was think- ing like men and not God. How is having the mind of Christ dif- ferent than the thoughts that we are apt to naturally have about life issues? Do your thoughts clash with the gospel message? Are you trying to be like the god you imagine, or the God Jesus revealed by his cross?
Transform Your Life——Seek to follow the example of Christ in all that you do. Be solicitous for the care of others. Learn the truth that in dying to self you are born into eternal life.
Ask—How well do I prepare for the Eucharist I receive at Mass?
Seek——Try to participate fully in the Eucharist each time you are present; if possible, attend daily. Be mindful of what you do at Mass, what you hear and how you respond. Learn more about the Mass.
Knock—Meditate on 1 Corinthians 11:27–30.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
What does St. Paul mean when he says that those who do not discern bring judgment upon themselves? What can you do to examine yourself before participating in Mass to avoid doing it absent-mindedly?
Transform Your Life——Know what you celebrate when you are at Mass; mean what you do with every gesture and prayer, and especially when you receive Holy Communion.
Ask—How often do I trust my own instincts, and how often do I entrust myself to Jesus?
Seek—Try to live each day with a resignation to God’s will, accepting each moment with the expectation that God might be breaking through to you.
Knock—Meditate on 1 Peter 5:6–9.
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.
Think about the experiences of Peter in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles and the words that he writes here. What lesson do they convey? How might the devil be seeking to devour you in your attempts to follow Christ?
Transform Your Life—Make an amendment to live humbly. Cast all of your hopes and anxieties on the Lord. Realize that following Jesus means living a life of trust not in your way but in God’s way, the way of the cross.
Seek—Find a way to adore God today, be it in the Eucharist or in the secrecy of your room, or anywhere. When you see the shape of the cross, say the prayer that St. Francis instructed his brothers and sisters to say, “We adore you Christ and we praise you present here and in all the Churches throughout the world, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”
Knock—Meditate on Hebrews 12:28–29.
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.
What does it mean to offer acceptable worship to God? How is the kingdom we are offered by Christ unshakeable?
Transform Your Life—Make your life one of reverence toward God at all times. Let your focus be on remaining in God’s presence, rather than judging and criticizing those around you.
Seek—Cry out to God to save you. Realize what it means to say that God is your Savior. Frequently call to mind all that you need to be saved from and have recourse to God who alone can save you.
Knock—Meditate on Romans 13:12–14.
Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Paul uses the image of armor that we wear, either of darkness or light. Much of what he terms the deeds of darkness are acts that typically happen at nightfall or in the secret of one’s heart—they are acts that take place when we hide them from God and others. Reflect on how putting on armor of light and bringing all of your cares before God will change the way you see them.
Transform Your Life—Believe and trust in Jesus at all times. Do not allow the enemy to have a foothold into your life. Make “Hosanna, save us, Lord” the prayer that is constantly on your lips.
Seek——Focus on the crucified Christ as you meet him throughout the day. Stand up for your brother or sister, always appealing to the brother or sister who might seek to harm him or her.
Knock—Meditate on Micah 2:12–13.
I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob, I will gather the remnant of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture, a noisy multitude of men. He who opens the breach will go up before them; they will break through and pass the gate, going out by it. Their king will pass on before them, the LORD at their head.
Micah prophesies that the Lord will lead his sheep out of their captivity. In the violent journey of Christ out of the walled city of Jerusalem, we see a lit- eral fulfillment of this prophecy. Are you one of the followers of Jesus on his way of the cross?
Transform Your Life—Realize that you are a child of God, reborn in Baptism when you shared in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Live out your Baptism, dying to yourself whenever you find yourself tempted to be a child of something other than the one true God.