In keeping the memory of this Cistercian blessed, we open ourselves to the mystery of God’s work and call in the midst of the obscure, the simple and the ordinary. Blessed Joseph Cassant was born on 6th March, 1878, in Casseneuil in France, and died as a Cistercian – Trappist monk and priest only a short time later, succumbing to tuberculosis on 17th June, 1903, at the age of just 25 years.
“The sheer ordinariness of his life has been noted by some: 16 quiet years at Casseneuil and 9 years of monastic enclosure spent in doing the simplest of things: prayer, studies, work. They are indeed simple things, but lived in an extraordinary way. They were the slightest of deeds, but performed with limitless generosity. Christ imbued his mind, clear as the water that leaps from a spring, with the conviction that God alone is our true and highest happiness and that his kingdom is like a hidden treasure or a pearl of great price.
The message of Fr. Joseph-Marie has great meaning for us today. In a world filled with distrust and often with despair but thirsting for love and kindness, his life can provide an answer, and in a special way to today’s young who seek meaning in their lives. Joseph-Marie was a youth without any standing or worth in the eyes of men. He owed the success of his life to a meeting with Jesus that redefined his very existence. He showed himself a follower of the Lord in the midst of a community of brothers, with the guidance of a spiritual father, who was to him a witness of Christ as well as one who knew to receive and to understand him.
For the meek and humble he is a superb example. Watching Joseph-Marie, we learn how to live each day for Christ with love, zeal and fidelity, accepting at the same time the help of an experienced brother or sister who can lead us in the footsteps of Jesus.”Vatican biography on the occasion of Blessed Joseph’s beatification by Pope St John Paul II, 3rd October, 2004
The fact that Blessed Joseph Cassant lived a life which was almost entirely hidden, without any moments which attracted undue attention, is in itself a sermon about both the Christian life and the life of the Cistercian vocation. There is something here which should both appeal to us all and give us encouragement. The witness of our lives as Christ’s followers will, for the most part, be lived in a quiet and unnoticed way – and this is how it should be. We’re reminded in the parable of the seed sown that, day and night, it comes to fruition, how, no one knows (Mark 4:26-29). But that constant, hidden, inexplicable growth takes place in all of us, when we allow the seed of the kingdom of God – God’s own transforming presence – to become the dynamic force which gives us life. And, in God’s own time and in his own way, that seed, hidden but growing, will produce a crop fit for reaping. God’s work always promises fruit, but often we cannot know it, see it, or, for ourselves, experience it – it will be intended for others.
Blessed Joseph Cassant lived a life which had its own difficulties – struggles with basic learning and especially with memory work; the burden of having to learn alongside other boys 6 years his juniors; in his young adulthood the onset of an all too common but incurable disease; neglectful treatment by the Brother Infirmarian during his last illness at the monastery of Our Lady of the Desert (Sainte-Marie du Désert). All of these burdens, as far as we know, while not bearing them lightly, were made bearable by his ability both to share his experiences with a spiritual guide, and his own surrender to God’s grace in his life. That grace didn’t remove obstacles, difficulties and struggles from Joseph Cassant’s experience – but it did form Joseph so that, in his own way, he found a place for each of them in his life. Above all, and especially in his constant reflection on Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, and its sacramental representation in the celebration of the Eucharist, Joseph Cassant allowed the ordinary to be consecrated by the overwhelming sense of a God who never ceased to be present to him, and so the ordinary in Joseph’s life undoubtedly always became a doorway to the extraordinary.
May Blessed Joseph Cassant accompany us as we continually seek God present and wonderful in our lives; may his example encourage us to live the ordinary, the simple, the humble and the obscure in a way which is always transformed by grace; may he, by his prayers, teach us that, by ourselves, we can do nothing, but with the help of God’s grace, revealed in Christ, we can do all things in the Name of him who walks with us.
-Part of our ‘Celebration of the Saints’ series-