By Rebecca Howerton
One of the Catholic clergy’s newest members, Michael Cassabon of Simpsonville, said he looks forward to serving joyfully, following the example of his parents, Michael and Mary Cassabon, as well as others such as Mother Teresa, who have given their lives in service to others.
Cassabon, who was ordained July 27 in Columbia and celebrated his first mass July 29 at his home parish, St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Simpsonville, said he first felt the call to the priesthood during confession while he was a senior at St. Joseph’s High School.
“It was in that sacrament that I really experienced God, not as a concept but as someone who was in love with me and had a plan for me,” he said.
After studying political science at Furman for two years, Cassabon transferred to the Pontifical College Josephinum to study philosophy. He taught religion and led a campus ministry at Bishop England High School in Charleston before continuing his studies in Rome at the suggestion of the Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, the Most Rev. Robert Baker.
Cassabon lives at the Pontifical North American College, the national American seminary in Rome, which was established in 1855 and is considered an extra-territorial part of Vatican City. He attends classes at the Pontifical Gregorian University, a Jesuit University founded in 1551 by St. Ignatius of Loyola. He received a degree in theology in 2006, and will complete another graduate degree in canon law in 2009. All of his classes — except Greek — have been taught in Italian.
“Being a priest for me means preaching the truth of God’s mercy and the reality of the resurrection in people’s lives that are so often marked by heartbreak and disappointment,” he said. “Letting them know God is there, and that He loves them, that’s where my heart is.”
…Cassabon said he and other young priests feel that by living lives of honesty and integrity they can facilitate healing in the wake of abuse scandals, while helping parishioners find the path to true fulfillment.
“We’re scandalized by it, too,” he said. “The hearts and minds of my peers are on restoring the hope, faith and trust among people. We’re also very concerned about bringing people back to the church. People are trying to fill an emptiness in their hearts with consumerism, with a frenzied search for more and more, with relationship after relationship. Nothing can bring peace and make them joyful and happy but God himself.
As for the shortage of priests, Cassabon related it to a societal fear of commitment, including reluctance to commit to a spouse.
“We also need men and women to commit to good marriages,” he said. “There’s no shortage of vocations, just a shortage of responses.”
Cassabon said that while giving up the chance to marry and have children to become a priest can be seen as a loss, it can also be viewed as a gift and gain, as the desire for family is filled in many ways by the parish family.
“It’s a timeless Christian paradox that to find life, you have to first lose it,” he said. “The responsibility and burdens are huge, but the honor of sharing in people’s lives at births, funerals, weddings, at confession, just being there for them; these are moments of extraordinary intimacy.”