Fr. Bryan Kassa celebrated his first year as a priest on July 2nd, 2017. He is currently an associate pastor at St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church in Troy, Michigan.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your call to the priesthood.
I don’t think I was taking my faith seriously until I was dating a girl who really challenged me to confess my sins. I thought, “I don’t need to do that, I’ll just confess directly to God.”
She said, “Do you believe that the Holy Spirit has been guiding the Catholic Church for the past two thousand years?” I said, “Of course, I do.”
“Do you think you’re smarter than the Holy Spirit?”
I thought, “Wow, she’s right. Who am I to say I don’t want to confess my sins to a priest?” I started to understand what the Church teaches is true and I fell in love with the Church. That was the beginning of my vocation.
I see now how God was working in that situation. The Church was able to answer all my questions rationally and logically, and I just started to love the Church even more.
Q: What about the priesthood do you enjoy most?
When I was in high school, I wanted to be a pediatrician. But the “Chaldean” in me didn’t want to wait eight years to finish college and so I changed my major to accounting. With that being said, I always wanted to be a doctor even as a young child because I wanted to bring healing into the lives of others. At the time, I didn’t understand how that desire would come to fulfillment, but now I do. As a priest, I am able to bring healing into the lives of others but it is a different kind of healing—it is spiritual healing. Like the body, the soul is a living component and needs healing. The same way God uses a doctor to heal the bod, he uses a priest to heal the soul. The soul can get sick from sin and/or previous traumatic experiences, and God in His wisdom uses a priest to heal His people through the Holy Bible, the Sacraments, and other forms of healing prayers. That is one of the things that I enjoy most about being a priest.
Q: What is it about the priesthood that you enjoy least?
The Chaldean language is a struggle for me in my priesthood. I love being Chaldean and I love our traditions and customs but the Chaldean language doesn’t love me back sometimes (that is supposed to be funny in case you didn’t laugh). As a priest, I have to use the Chaldean language to read the Holy Bible, funeral prayers and other Sacramental readings. Besides reading it, I have to speak Chaldean to my parishioners—not only in my homilies but also in one-on-one conversations, and it leaves me tongue tied at times; however, my parishioners are very encouraging and motivate me each day telling me that I am growing in my reading and speech. My response to them at times is, “If I am improving, why do I see you laughing at me at times?” which makes them laugh more, and I laugh too. It is important to be able to laugh at yourself. I like the quote, “Take your work seriously, but yourself lightly.”
Q: What have you enjoyed most about being at St. Joseph?
I love the faith of the people here. The majority of them know what a privilege it is to worship their Christian faith freely and they don’t take that for granted. That is something that many of us Chaldean Americans will never experience or understand. They worship with their whole heart! It is truly inspiring. Best of all, they tell me that they pray for me, so I know God hears the prayers of this faithful community!
Q: What does a typical day for you like?
I like to wake up at 7:30 am usually. I like to go for a run in the morning to help give my body the natural chemicals that it needs to help me stay focused. Running helps me channel any anxiety, fear, or worry that may try to creep its way into my life. After taking care of the body that God gave me, I take care of my soul by praying a Holy Hour in the adoration chapel. During my Holy Hour, I read the Holy Bible, which is God’s Word today for me! Even though He was speaking to His prophets thousands of years ago, the Holy Bible makes God’s Word alive today! I need to hear His voice. I need Him to guide me in my upcoming appointments. I need to fill myself up with Jesus before I even dare speak to people about spiritual matters. Next, I celebrate Mass then the meetings begin for the day. Those meetings can range from a married couple struggling in their marriage to someone who wants to learn how to grow in their personal relationship with Jesus. In between what I mentioned, I have to return phone calls, e-mails, text messages, visit people in the hospital, take care of people who want to speak to a priest without an appointment, and any other fun adventure which presents itself in between. It seems like a lot—and it is—but I love it. It is pretty incredible what God can do through a single person in one day.
Q: What can you tell us about Liquor Store Evangelization? How did it start?
Funny question! My parents are hard workers, and I always wanted to help them as much as possible at their store when I had free time. I did not enjoy being at the store, but it gave my parents some time off which made me happy. With time, I realized how miserable I was becoming at the store. I would get annoyed when I would see or hear a customer coming into the store. I couldn’t wait for them to leave at times and then one day it hit me—“What if that customer is Jesus?” So, I prayed this prayer, and my miserable life at the store began to change:
“Jesus, I don’t see You in these customers. I have a hard time loving them, but You love them. I am not sure what You love about them but You do. Since You love them and I am struggling to love them and to see You in them, I give You permission to love them through me! Help me to get out of the way!”
After that, I slowly started to feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit direct me to engage in conversations with the customers rather than rushing them out of the door. I wouldn’t wish people “good luck” after they played lottery, I would wish them “many blessings.” I wouldn’t wish them a “good day/night,” I would wish them a blessed day/night. When people asked me how I was doing, I would respond, “I woke up today, so for that reason alone, I am doing amazing.”
I talked my parents into getting rid of the pornography and condoms which were sold at the store which were against what we believed in as Catholics and when a customer would ask why we don’t sell condoms and pornography, I would bring up God’s law rather than man’s law—it was an opportunity to teach others what I believe in rather than hide what I believe in. If the “truth” that Jesus talks about will set people free, then I wanted my customers to be free from their addictions of alcohol, cigarettes, lottery, etc.
Our store is near a hospital, so when I would see a white hospital bracelet around their wrist, I would ask if they were okay and engage in conversation with them, reminding them that Jesus is the Divine Physician and that He loves them. Often times, I would offer to pray with them and on them right then and there.
Q: Tell us a bit about your spirituality. What is the most spiritually rewarding part of being a priest?
I like the spirituality of St. Therese of Lisieux. She speaks a lot about the “Little Way” to get to Heaven…how “little” souls—because they are weak, broken, and not perfect—need a shorter and easier way to get to Heaven because of their limitations and weaknesses. She really taught me a lot about God’s love and mercy because I often saw Him as a mean judge only. My spirituality is a combination of God’s love and mercy, but also as a Father who wants the best for His children and who continues to challenge His children so they can get to Heaven. As a priest, I love to be able to do the same with my parishioners…teach them about God’s love and mercy but also challenge them to be better Christians and to follow Christ without reserve.
Q: What has been the hardest thing about being a priest?
The hardest thing as a priest is finding a balance between being a happy, holy, and healthy priest. I believe that a lot of it has to do with the evil one.
I think that since a priest wants to save souls and the devil wants to ruin souls, it is hard to not fall for the devil’s tricks and lies. He tries His hardest to tell me that a particular person has no hope and that it is pointless for me to pray for that individual. Or the evil one tries to lie to me and trick me into thinking that I am not a good priest and have nothing to offer. He tries to make me believe that I am superman and that I don’t need a lot of sleep in hopes of me burning out. He tries to make me believe that I am super holy and don’t need to pray at times. He tries to trick me into thinking that I am the Savior of the world when in actuality, the world has a Savior already. His name is Jesus, in case you were wondering.
That is why it is important to stay close to Christ. To build that ongoing relationship with Him, not only as a priest, but also in general as a Christians living in this secular world.
Q: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
In the next 5 years, I see myself still struggling with my Chaldean but loving every second of being a priest!