A number of months ago I tried to watch an old movie about St. Joseph of Cupertino, a saint that I knew little about. The film turned out to be so ridiculous that I only made it about a third of the way through before bailing out. However, a few weeks later I came across mention of St. Joseph again, so I decided to get to know more about him. The corny film notwithstanding, I was reluctant to pursue this saint because the only thing that I did know about him was, well… odd: St. Joseph of Cupertino had a propensity to ‘fly’ when he went into prayerful ecstasy. Trying to put that aside, I researched his life only to discover a truly inspiring man. It provided a good lesson: instead of relegating him or any other saint to the ‘disregard’ category, it is important to go deeper than what is on the surface. There are always good reasons why a person is canonized, but it especially serves as a reminder that evidence of spiritual phenomenon is not a criterion for Sainthood.* It is also important to remember that pre-judging and dismissing any person because of one thing we have heard can be dangerous and can lead to false conclusions. There is always more to a person than what we see.
St. Joseph, often (unfortunately) referred to as the flying saint, was born in Cupertino, near Naples, Italy in 1603. He was considered stupid, clumsy, and unreliable, enduring cruel comments or pranks quite regularly. Today we would recognize that he had learning and perhaps physical disabilities, but during his lifetime there were no such sensitivities. Joseph had a compassionate, forgiving heart, so being mistreated did not seem to deter him from being who he was. He loved God deeply, and desiring to serve Him, he attempted to become a monk, though no congregation would have him. Eventually the Capuchins let him take care of their mules, but soon discovered his considerable holiness evident in his great humility and obedience. God graced Joseph with infused spiritual knowledge and wisdom, so even with his almost overwhelming disabilities he was able to be ordained to the priesthood. Joseph was beloved as a confessor, but even with his reputation for holiness, he still suffered greatly at the hands of those who did not understand him.
It is important to look past the distraction of the ‘flying’ and focus on the reality that the Church saw something in Joseph worthy of emulation as well as canonization. There are many reasons, but his humility underscores that God chooses the foolish to shame the wise. (1 Corinthians 1:27) There have been many saints throughout history to whom this could apply, and we should not forget that Jesus was also one who was scorned and rejected. The saints who were undeterred in loving and serving God openly, without thought of how they were treated, were in some ways the most like Jesus. St. Joseph approached God with a childlike trust that bore fruit so abundantly that he became well sought after as a confessor and even as a great preacher. He suffered greatly at the hands of those who only fixated on his disabilities and ‘shortcomings’ which were in reality the source of his strength and also his holiness. Rather than viewing his flying during ecstasies as a ‘turn-off,’ we should consider that perhaps his spirit soared with such joy in loving God that his body could not contain it and so it found expression in an unusual way. That St. Joseph loved God to that degree is quite inspiring. With his humility, compassion, and love for the Lord he truly is a saint one might choose as a patron and indeed, is someone to be emulated.
The life of St. Joseph of Cupertino reminds us that followers of Jesus are outcasts, given that our society is becoming more hostile to Christian virtues with each passing year. From him we also learn that even the least likely people, including ourselves, can inspire others to reach the heights of sanctity, (pun intended), and that we should never discount anyone due to a disability or trait they possess that seems strange. In fact, all of us are sinners filled with imperfections, yet all are called to grow in holiness. St. Paul wrote, “[In Him]… you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:7) Paul wrote this to a community of people struggling with great sin. He would not have encouraged them in this way if holiness was not possible.
Throughout history the Church has continued to emphasize our call to holiness. The example of St. Joseph of Cupertino teaches that the expression of it will be different for each person. Therefore, it would be good to reflect upon whether we have a pre-conceived idea of what holiness ‘looks like' that could prevent us from considering certain people as the holy people they really are. Who inspires us, a canonized saint, a living person, or both? Do we approach God in gratitude for that person? Do we try to find inspiration to become holier ourselves through their example that we might inspire others in turn? Finally, our desire for holiness needs to be rooted in prayer, our relationship of love with the Lord. From this love our lives can become an offering of gratitude to God. If we can do this, then we, too, will take flight, not literally, but within our hearts, as we open our hearts to God’s love and respond in gratitude.
May we be inspired by St. Joseph of Cupertino to grow in holiness! May we cultivate a deeper relationship with God to better serve Him and therefore inspire others to grow in faith! And may we always turn to Jesus and His teaching for all that we need to grow in love and service! Let us meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*Spiritual phenomena are not necessarily signs of holiness, and putting ‘stock’ in them is not a requirement of the faith. No matter how we feel about spiritual phenomenon, however, there are many accounts of saints who exhibited these gifts and it is a mystery why God offers them. We should never aspire to have a particular gift, especially one of the more ‘unusual’ ones, because they are just that: gifts bestowed by God for reasons known to Him alone. Also, we should not let the gifts that we do not understand, but which are evident in others, put us off, and neither should we scoff at spiritual phenomena we do not understand; God can do anything, and so He can (and still does) work through signs and wonders. No matter what we might think about these things, if witnessing outward signs serves to bring someone closer to Christ, then in fact, it has its purpose.
St. Faustina wrote in her Dairy about how much she loved the yearly pairing with a patron saint practiced by her religious community at the beginning of a new year. In some sort of random choosing, they would be paired with a particular saint who would ‘accompany’ them as guide and intercessor throughout the year. Sounds like a great way to get to know unfamiliar saints, and to perhaps let one particular trait or virtue of that saint serve as inspiration.
1. My photo, Mt. Vesuvius taken in a vineyard outside of Naples, near Pompeii, Italy. St. Joseph of Cupertino was from the Naples area.
2. Painting, St. Joseph of Cupertino. It is difficult to find a painting of St. Joseph in which he is not flying. He is quite stuck in that stereotype; I hope I dispelled it somewhat.
3. Icon, Jesus Christ Extreme Humility, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. The saints were people who developed the virtue of humility and of course, Jesus exemplified humility greater than any other. Many of them suffered throughout their lifetime, suffering sometimes silently and sometimes quite visibly. You can find this icon at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/jesus-christ-extreme-humility-036-william-hart-mcnichols.html
4. Painting, Wheatfield Under a Stormy Sky, by Vincent van Gogh.
5. My photo of a pelican taken in Rockport, Texas. I chose the pelican since they appear to be ungainly and clumsy, but if you watch them fly, they are incredibly graceful.
6. Icon Cross, The Cross of Life - The Flowering Cross, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of this in one of a number of mediums in which it is available, you can find this at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-cross-of-life-the-flowering-cross-william-hart-mcnichols.html. (Remember, I get nothing from endorsing his work, except the joy of sharing it!)
Note: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
The late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said, “If we allow the love of Christ to change our heart, then we can change the world.” During the Advent and Christmas seasons we were invited as people of faith to do just that, to allow Christ to be welcomed anew into our hearts so that we could move outward, changed ourselves, to make a difference in the world. And if our hearts were changed in any way, deepened perhaps, we will remember that we are always called to be open to the angels who arrive with His message, to be pregnant and then give birth to Jesus in our relationships, to ponder the Scriptures, and most important, to continually say with Mary, “Let it be done according to your will.” These things are central to the gospel of Jesus and as such they bring peace no matter what our circumstances. This is the peace of which we heard, the peace that will dwell in our hearts, nourished through prayer. However, this peace is not about emotion; rather, it is a powerful force which is found in the person of the little child, Jesus: “He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord… And they shall remain …; He shall be peace.” (Micah 5:3-4) Who we received at Christmas is the Prince of Peace, and as His disciples we are called to bring His peace to those we evangelize by the way in which we live our lives. This peace is indeed powerful; as Pope Benedict pointed out, with it we can change the world.
As Christians, we are invited and empowered to become peace. What makes this so beautiful is that we are called to do it through a paradox or contradiction, the very contradiction spoken of by the prophet Simeon at the Presentation of the Lord. (Luke 2:34) The contradiction is that a little child, Jesus, came with the strength of peace, to change a world which offers a different message than then one He brought. It should not be lost on us that when that Child was an adult undertaking the mission for which He came, He said that we must become like little children, (Matthew 18:2-6) and that the Kingdom of God belongs to children, (Mark 10:13-16).* This is a clear indication that Jesus intended each of His disciples to be a contradiction: in our powerlessness, our littleness, and our weakness, He gives us the strength to change the world one word or action at a time.
It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are called to do the work of healing and love, ultimately bringing peace into our encounters. We do it without extravagant measures, but simply through our daily living, strenghtened by prayer. The very same Holy Spirit that impregnated Mary when she assented is the Spirit written about in the Old Testament. When God led Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt, He led them as a fiery cloud, the cloud which Moses ultimately entered when he went up the mountain to receive God’s words. What enveloped Moses was the heart of the Shekinah, the protective power and glory of God, the intensity of God’s love made manifest. It was so profound that when Moses emerged from the Shekinah, he had to cover his face because he reflected the glory of God and could not be looked upon easily.
Primarily, God’s glory made manifest was about leading them to freedom, but the reason He led them was love. That love is the same Love that came to birth in the person of Jesus, and it was extended to us after His death and resurrection. Through our Baptism, we also have that presence within; indeed, we are filled with the fire of love and the fire of peace.** This peace is strong when we are weak, a contradiction, and so it can burn away hatred and indifference, self-doubt and indecision, selfishness and all that which separates people; it burns away apathy and the thought that our ‘little’ actions cannot possibly make a difference, and it burns away our sins when we let that fire act upon our own heart through Reconciliation.
It would be good to reflect upon the Old Testament passages that describe the Shekinah presence of God so that we can come to a deeper recognition and understanding of the fire of His love and peace.*** Then we can appreciate, like the holy ones, how we have the Shekinah presence of God with us. This understanding can open our eyes to His presence when we go to worship and intentionally immerse ourselves into the fire of love and peace. Like Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Mary, St. Paul and countless disciples who struggled with the same things we do, if we allow our hearts to be changed, to expand and grow, then we will change the world just as they did. The good news is that we don’t have to accomplish this on our own: the power of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, does the work, but needs our cooperation to act through us. It is in immersing ourselves in Him that we will find our hearts expanding, so that our little acts can be as a contradiction to the world, bringing peace where there is discord and love where it is absent. To be a Christian means that we have accepted the ‘mission’ to be a contradiction, to change the world. So let’s trust in Jesus and share the fire of His love and the fire of His peace.
May we allow the love of Christ to change our hearts so that we can change the world! May we commit ourselves to reading Scripture and reflecting prayerfully upon it! And may we trust that the Prince of Peace will continue to speak to our hearts so that we have the courage to imitate Him always! Let us meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* There are numerous statements made by Jesus in the Gospels concerning children. Here are a few in no particular order:
Mark 9:36-37: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” (Also Luke 9:47-48)
Matthew 18:2-6: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven….”
Matthew 19:13-14: “….Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”(Also Luke 18:15-17)
** I am using the term 'fire of peace' as a symbolic reference to the Shekinah.
*** My suggestions are these: In Exodus read and pray with the saga of Moses from start to finish. In 1 Kings 19 read how Elijah went up the mountain: there, God’s Shekinah was a contradiction, gentle and loving rather than visibly bombastic and cataclysmic. I believe that the gentle presence of the Spirit of God that was not visible but was felt, was more ‘fiery’ and powerful than the thunder, lightning, trumpet blasts, and earthquakes in Exodus. Unlike Moses, this manifestation of the Shekinah was not something that became visible in Elijah’s face, but rather burned in his heart. It burned so much so, that he burst into flames, so to speak, when he was taken up into heaven by the fiery whirlwind not long thereafter. In 2 Kings 2:1-14 pray and reflect with Elisha: the Shekinah fire of love and peace was so powerful that it changed Elisha’s heart forever, enabling him to continue the work begun by Elijah. Then pray with the New Testament by returning to the Annunciation, Mary’s encounter with the Holy Spirit and her response to it. (Luke 1:26-56) The last suggestion is to prayerfully reflect upon the conversion of St. Paul in the Acts: the Holy Spirit literally burned the prideful attitude out of him and set his heart ablaze with the message of love and peace. (Acts 9:1-19)
1. My photo taken in a church in Vico Equense, Campania, Italy. I have never seen anything like this before, but it is a beautiful representation of the presence of Jesus.
2. Photo, children playing.
3. My photo, taken near Mt. Cook. The lenticular clouds reminded me of God's Shekinah. There is great beauty in the contrasts in this scene.
4. My photo, butterfly on a flower: so much strength in such a small creature.
5. Image, The Holy Spirit The Lord the Giver of Life The Paraclete Sender of Peace, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. You can find it at fineartamerica.com/featured/the-holy-spirit-the-lord-the-giver-of-life-the-paraclete-sender-of-peace-093-william-hart-mcnichols.html
6. Painting, Taking the Backroad, by Kim Casebeer.
Note: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart