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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Joseph Of Cupertino

August 8, 2019 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Now that the school year is about to begin, students — especially Catholic students — will find recourse to their favorite patron saint of studying. Some may choose St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Augustine of Hippo.
For those students who find it difficult to retain what they read and write about it, perhaps this saint will encourage them: St. Joseph of Cupertino. He was frequently called the village idiot. However, by God’s Providence, he became not only a priest but one of the most amazing levitating saints in the history of the Church.
Joseph was born in Cupertino, a village about ten miles southeast of Rome, on June 17, 1603. His father had contracted so many debts that he was unable to pay them. When his father died before Joseph was born, his mother was forced to leave their home and gave birth to Joseph in a stable, like the Baby Jesus.
Joseph earned the wrath of his mother when he seemed incapable of performing the simplest tasks. Not only did he forget his chores, but he also forgot to eat his meals. He earned the name Boccaperta, or Gaper, because he walked around the village staring aimlessly with his mouth open. Easily provoked to anger, he had few friends. It seemed the only good point about the child was his pious precociousness.
At the age of 17, in hopes that he would learn a trade by which he could support himself, he was apprenticed to a cobbler. The shoemaker also became exasperated with Joseph’s inability to do the simple work, resulting in the termination of his employment within a year.
He next sought to enter the order of the Conventual Franciscans, but they refused his application since he had no education. In short, he was ignorant and they could find little use for him.
Within 12 months, he sought his third place of acceptance when he applied to the Capuchins. Once again, before a year had passed, he was told he was unequal to the minor tasks of a lay brother and was let go. As before, he could not remember to perform his duties and when he tried, disaster resulted, with dishes being broken, cleaning left undone, and the morning fire not being lit for the cook.
Returning home in great discouragement, he sought the assistance of an uncle who curtly refused to come to his aid — he was an obvious good-for-nothing. The uncle did not want to waste his money on Joseph, who was a lost cause.
His mother, completely distraught to have him on her hands again, finally beseeched another of her brothers who belonged to the Conventual Franciscans to take in her useless son. Reluctantly, those brothers accepted him to be a servant.
It is unclear at what age people learned of the cause of his apparent inability to perform the minor tasks he was given. As a child he had begun to have ecstasies and visions which left him completely unaware of his surroundings. Perhaps his gaping mouth and inability to remember to do his work had been caused by the visions.
When he began to work for the Capuchins — not as a lay brother this time — he seems to have changed. His work in the stables brought him back to his humble beginning where he was born. Soon his quick temper left him, as he worked with both enthusiasm and humility. Furthermore, he performed acts of penance and mortification in addition to spending long hours in prayer.
After a few years, in 1625 at the age of 22, Joseph was allowed to take the habit of the Conventual Franciscans. If he continued to improve, they said he might even be allowed to become a priest. Although his virtues earned him the respect of his peers, his lack of progress in academics left little doubt in his superiors about his future. He failed at math, and could barely read, write, or speak. The only subject upon which he could speak was the scriptural passage, “Blessed is the womb that bore thee.”
When it came time for Joseph’s class to be ordained, they proceeded to the venue of examination. Since the first few candidates performed so well, the others of the class — including Joseph — providentially were not examined and were ordained as priests. From 1628, the time of his Ordination, until 1633 he did not taste bread or wine, eating only herbs so bitter that even his fellow Franciscans would not eat them.
Having been ordained, his life became even more mystical. If someone just mentioned the name of Mary, or he walked into a chapel, his joy would be so great that he would literally fly. Because this was so sensational, Joseph lived most of his life hidden from the world. Even with such seclusion, word spread of his miraculous levitations.
So many stories of his levitations in various surroundings and circumstances were told that people began to follow him wherever he went. This brought out those accusing him of acting like a messiah. He was examined and found innocent of the charges.
At one point he was even brought before the Pope to examine his faithfulness. Upon seeing Pope Urban VIII he went into another ecstasy. So moved by what had happened to Joseph, the Pope averred that should Joseph die before him, he would attest to the miracle at his hearing for canonization.
In 1645 the Spanish ambassador to the papal court came to visit Joseph in his cell. When he left the cell and returned to his wife, he related to her the joy of visiting with “another Francis.” Hence, she expressed her desire to see him also and Joseph was ordered to go to the chapel where she was waiting.
Reluctantly Joseph obeyed, saying he would try but was not sure he would be able to talk to her. As he entered the chapel, he gazed on the statue of the Immaculate Conception, immediately flying through the air to the foot of the statue in front of the envoy, his wife, and all the accompanying dignitaries.
For the last ten years of his life he lived in seclusion. Even the friars were not allowed to see him without special permission. On August 10, 1663 Joseph became ill. Like most saints, he recognized that his end was near. In just six weeks, he died on September 18, the day on which the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of this humble patron of pilots and air passengers.
Dear St. Joseph of Cupertino, how frequently we do not understand the sanctity of our neighbors. You suffered from lack of intelligence as well as lack of being understood when your ecstasies distracted you from the world around you. Help us to have infinite hope in God’s Providence to attain great things for the greater of glory of God despite our limitations. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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