That Our Hearts May Take Flight
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.
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Heart Speaks to Heart