11th Friday of Ordinary Time
Feast of Blessed Joseph Cassant, OCSO
The life and character of Bl. Joseph Cassant is hardly known outside of France. If we celebrate his memorial today it is because he lived so faithfully and in such a dedicated manner the Trappist life in the monastery of Le Desert in Southern France. For that reason we do well to review the Story of his brief life.
Pierre-Joseph Cassant was born on 6 March 1878 in France to parents who were orchard-keepers It was at the age of 14 that he realized that he wanted to become a priest but learning difficulties prevented him from entering the seminary, so went to the parish priest Father Filhol for advice; he suggested he seek out the Trappists. Cassant entered a Cistercian convent in Sainte-Marie du Désert on 5 December 1894 where he was placed under the charge of Father André Mallet who said to him: “only trust and I will help you to love Jesus”. During his novitiate he received the name of “Marie-Joseph” and he often spent time meditating upon Christ in his Passion and on the Cross, and he depended on Him for strength during his studies. To further advance his chances of studying for the priesthood, he underwent further studies of the French language and began to learn Latin. He made his final vows on the Feast of the Ascension on 24 May 1900. From this point onwards he focused on becoming a priest and he viewed Holy Orders in relation to the Eucharist as being a critical facet of the duties of a priest.
He commenced his theological studies for the priesthood and suffered difficulties in doing so due to the same issue that plagued him when he was in school. The monk assigned to teach him humiliated and ridiculed him in public and said: “You are totally limited! It is useless for you to study. You will not learn any more. To ordain you would be a dishonor to the priesthood”, yet Mallet assisted him with the course. Among his fellow seminarians he became well regarded, and some said of him: “He was always happy. It’s what made the beauty of his face”. Despite difficulties he was ordained as a priest on 12 October 1902. Immediately after this on 13 October, he was granted seven weeks of rest due to the advancement of tuberculosis he suffered.. In his illness it was Mallet who became his close aid and support. Cassant said “when I can no longer say Mass, Jesus can take me from this world”, in relation to his rapidly declining health.
Cassant celebrated his final Mass on 31 May 1903 and received the last rites on the following June 1st. He died of tuberculosis in the dawn of 17 June 1903 Since his death there have been more than 2200 people from 30 countries that have reported miracles attributed to his intercession.
As we commemorate this simple, and wholly dedicated monk of our Order today, we do well to reflect on the meaning his life has for us today. His example confirms Jesus’ consistent teaching and reflects the pattern of his interior life especially in the thirty hidden years. We know so little about the details of his life. Yet we can infer much from his actions and words. Like Blessed Joseph Cassant may we take Jesus’ teaching and his total dedication as the guide of our life.