Today, September 18, is the feast day of an endearing Franciscan saint, St. Joseph of Cupertino (1603-1663).
Joseph’s father was a poor carpenter who died prior to his birth. His mother, Francesca Panara, was unable to pay the debts, so the creditors evicted her from her home. She gave birth to Joseph in a stable at Cupertino, Italy.
When Joseph was eight years old, he began receiving ecstatic visions that left him staring into space with his mouth wide open. Children made fun of him and called him "the gaper." He was poorly educated and could scarcely read or write, which led others to think of him as stupid. In addition, his continual ecstasies made it difficult for him to concentrate on any task. When he was seventeen, he decided he wanted to become a monk or friar.
Joseph applied for admission to the Friars Minor Conventuals, but was rejected due to his lack of education. He applied to the Capuchins and was accepted as a lay-brother. However, he continually disrupted others in the community with his gift of levitation and with his sudden, unexpected ecstasies. Consequently, he was dismissed.
Finally, a Franciscan monastery near Cupertino accepted him as an Oblate. He was given the responsibility of caring for the animals in the stable and excelled in his work. He prayed and fasted and performed all his tasks to perfection. Ultimately, he was accepted into the community. At the age of 22, he became a cleric.
He was initially rejected for the priesthood due to his limited learning skills. Although he could recall little of what he learned, Divine Providence made his priestly vocation become a reality. The examiner questioned him on the one subject he had mastered and he passed the exam. At the age of 25, he was ordained to the priesthood.
While Joseph possessed little worldly knowledge, the Holy Spirit had gifted him with a divine knowledge that enabled him to understand profound theological mysteries. A model of purity, humility, and obedience, he had a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and showed great charity toward the poor.
During the last thirty-five years of his life, Joseph was unable to celebrate Mass because of his incessant ecstasies which were easily triggered. However, he was later allowed to celebrate Mass in his private chapel.
Joseph died on September 18, 1663 and was canonized in 1767 by Pope Clement XIII. He is the patron saint of air travelers, students, and test takers.
Joseph was very spiritually gifted, but it's difficult to imagine someone like this in a monastery today, although he certainly would be entertaining! Whenever I think of him, I chuckle, because the learned and wise around him considered him stupid. They were confused and baffled by his strange behavior, yet he abandoned himself to God and accepted with total surrender all that God asked of him and miracles were accomplished through him. He was the one in the community who performed the menial tasks, yet he was the one who was the most spiritually gifted. He never considered himself above the others, but always maintained his humility. The smaller and more insignificant we are, the closer we are to God and the more powerfully He can work through us.
~ copyright 2012 Jean M. Heimann
“God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God” (1 Corinthians 1: 27-29)
This is one of my favorite films: