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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Joseph Of Cupertino

May 17, 2022 saints No Comments


St. Joseph, born in 1603, experienced his first ecstatic vision when he was only elementary school age and, his jaw dropping in astonishment, he was in utter amazement at what was shown him. Classmates not surprisingly bestowed on him the name of “bocca aperta,” or “open mouthed.” The only son of Felix and Frances Desa, he was not bright. However, he was raised piously and even had two uncles who were religious. He used to joke that he had no need of the novitiate, for he had undergone that ritual already under the stern eye of his mother.
His father fell badly into debt and had to flee to escape his lenders. Perhaps a lack of secular ambition was inherited for Joseph Mary, as he was named. He was apprenticed for a long time to a cobbler and though he hung on, he was not especially good at the trade. Neither had he been educated.
Then suddenly he took a mind to become a religious, but his own uncle would not even help him join the Orders of the Friars Minor Conventuals (type of Franciscans), ashamed of him and his lack of knowledge. But young Joseph persisted nonetheless and he was allowed to work in the kitchen as a lay brother. He was such a failure at this, dropping dishes and burning food, that even they had to ask him to leave.
He later said leaving the habit behind was like a form of torture tearing his skin. In shame, he left in abject poverty — shoeless — and avoided returning home to Cupertino, instead trying to reach his uncle at a church, well prepared for the tongue lashing that awaited him.
It is entirely possible that Joseph’s mind was on heavenly things. It took little for him to launch into ecstasy. A painting of the Blessed Virgin, a hymn for a holy day, the Mass…Today people think of him as the saint that flew — actually he often levitated with ecstasy. Did he levitate in the kitchen? Perhaps not at that point, or they might have kept him.
Joseph was extremely humble. Between them, his mother and uncle managed to get him admitted into the Franciscans in Grotella. Some say he worked in the stables. In any case, it seems that he was blissfully joyful and noted for his amenable personality. This willingness to do anything with a cheerful disposition allowed him a second chance to rise up through the ranks. The order tried to teach him, but he still barely learned to read or write. But he had something — what was it? Something unique. And like the Curé of Ars, during his exam when he was quizzed, he was asked the only question he could answer well. He waxed eloquent on the subject!
At Ordination, the bishop examining the seminarians ahead of him found them so good that he never thought to ask Joseph any questions. He became Fr. Joseph at 25.
However, for the next 35 years of his priesthood, he was not able to say Mass in public. He was given a small cell and usually said the Mass there. There were exceptions, but his order soon knew that St. Joseph often experienced ecstasy and levitations during Mass.
“These ecstasies were so astonishing and frequent that hardly any other saint is known to have received such a superabundance in this regard,” states Fr. Angelo Pastrovicchi’s (TAN) biography. “The least thing pertaining to God sufficed to cause him to cry out and lose the use of his senses.” Once in them, nothing short of a call to return by his superior could wake him in obedience from that mystic state.
And yet, that was not his only known gift. Just perhaps his most famous. Like Padre Pio, there was a known instance or two of bilocation, one of them when his own mother had died. He also had the gift of prophecy — for instance, foretelling when or how certain souls would die, such as Popes Urban VIII and Innocent X — and reading of souls, particularly with regard to the confessional.
As we have heard in stories relayed about Padre Pio, so with St. Joseph of Cupertino, that he would prompt those confessing sins which ones they had forgotten and remind them of what happened and when and where.
Joseph also did not shy away from a life of mortification. Early on, he would flagellate himself, but his superiors decided soon to put a stop to it. He would continuously observe one sort of fast or another and, it is said, go days with nothing but Holy Communion at times for food. What he did eat was often sprinkled with some nasty herb so bitter that others were amazed he could even stomach it. He, of course, slept on boards, never a mattress.
His was a vocation that, like Christ, did not hesitate to perform healings, and many miracles are attributed to his active intercession even when still alive, as well as conversions. On one occasion, a Lutheran prince, John Frederick, Duke of Brunswick (name presumably anglicized) came to the monastery to visit the saint, for his fame had spread quite far, even to Germany. The future saint was celebrating Mass and at the time had not been told of a visitor, but he was instantly made supernaturally aware:
“In spite of all his efforts, he could not break [the Host], but had to replace it on the paten. Fixing his eyes on the Host, he wept and with a loud cry rose in a kneeling posture about five paces in the air. With another cry he returned after some time to the altar and broke the sacred Host, though with great effort.” Later when asked why he’d wept, he said, “The persons who were sent to my Mass this morning have a hard heart; they do not believe all that Holy Mother Church teaches, and therefore the Lamb of God was hardened in my hands so that I could not break the sacred Host.”
“Pray, pray,” was the answer of the mystic to all the world’s problems and then some, but then it had been his answer his whole life and it worked. He could literally smell sin, its stench stuck in his nostrils, particularly with regard to the satanic or the unchaste. His obedience was so ingrained that he said, “If commanded to do so, I would not fear to enter a fiery furnace and would trust to be preserved uninjured because of the merit of obedience.”
Because he did all that was commanded of him, he could command unclean spirits to leave those they possessed. “Out of obedience I have come, therefore you must depart.” Yes, the Devil did fear and detest Joseph and also tormented him when given permission.
Just as Joseph could command the Devil to leave a human host, he also was given permission by God to command wild animals about him. He sent a songbird to sing with the nuns of St. Clare at Cupertino. And when they waved him off, he didn’t come back for a while…and St. Joseph knew all about it. When the nuns tied a bell to the foot of the bird? St. Joseph kept him away during Holy Week. The nuns asked why, but the answer should have been obvious: Joseph said no bells should be rung then. (Just as no bells are rung during the Mass, only a “clapper” was used to the solemnity of Christ’s death and Resurrection.)
We should love St. Joseph. Before he entered his cell? He always asked his guardian angel to enter first. He would die of a fever, saying shortly before, “I desire to be dissolved with Christ.” Beautiful! Just as lovely: His brothers issued holy ejaculations to keep up his spirits as he passed away at age 60.
He is the patron saint of pilots, flyers, and students taking exams. Holy St. Joseph of Cupertino, pray for us!

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