When a man trains himself to acts of virtue, it is with the help of grace from God from whom all good things come that he does this.”St. Joseph of Cupertino
When I submitted my idea for our podcast, I presumed we were choosing saints who were considered “Slackers.” I remembered a sharing given by a woman in our church many years ago, who found Joseph of Cupertino relatable as her daughter was challenged by several behavioral health issues. Having read more about him, I can see how he is relevant to this season and all of us slackers.
Joseph is the patron of test-takers, students, mental handicaps, air travelers, astronauts, pilots, and is invoked by many.
Joseph was born in a stable in Italy, as his family home had been seized due to debt, and had a simple upbringing. He began to experience ecstatic visions in his early childhood, had a bad temper, and was scorned by his acquaintances. He wandered around aimlessly with his mouth gaping open and was not someone that many wanted to befriend. His mother treated him harshly, and said he “couldn’t seem to do anything right.”
His first attempt to join the Franciscan order was rejected due to his lack of education. The second attempt lasted all of eight months before he was again sent home, as his visions enveloped him and he forgot his assigned duties, leaving piles of undone work and dishes broken. His mother did not want him home, so she enlisted him as a servant at the monastery where he was assigned to the stables.
Then, Joseph began to change. He deliberately placed prayer at the center of his life and committed to acts of penance. He was finally successful at entering the Franciscan order and prepared for the priesthood. However, he struggled with studying and was finally ordained after the bishop instructed him to “just tell me what you know” since he could not pass his written exams.
The Holy Spirit began to present powerfully through Joseph, and he was known to levitate while celebrating Mass or praying. He entered a state of ecstasy and would spend hours in conversation with God. The mere mention of God sent him into flight, high above the altar and he would kneel in prayer in the air, ecstatic. He was a hugely popular confessor to whom the people flocked for counsel. He was deeply devoted to God and to Mary and encouraged devotion to her as a way to meet Jesus more intimately. He was hidden away and confined to a cell by the authorities, who related his levitation to witchcraft, and he was subjected to inquisitions to examine his behaviors.
Joseph spent his adult life in a lifestyle of asceticism, or rejection and abstinence from any earthly pleasures. He was said to eat solid food only twice a week, adding bitter powders to his meals to make them less enjoyable. The final years of his life were spent under observation at a number of different monasteries, due to their suspicion of his activities and the levitation he regularly experienced.
As I read through and meditated on his life, I had great compassion for Joseph. Yet, the scorn he experienced as a result of his not yet understood mental challenges and/or learning disabilities, the lack of understanding of his deeper life by those around him, the shortness of his temper, and his struggle to find his place in the convent did not keep him from a life of closeness to God. Perhaps the simplicity of his mind allowed for such direct and poignant grasp of the Holy Spirit and allowed for God’s work to be manifested more purely through him. We often refer to children as innocent and brutally honest, with a refreshing take on life. I wonder if this is how Joseph experienced God, so easily and matter-of-factly that it consumed him.
I am also sure that you can relate to being trapped or confined by the pain and wounding inflicted by others, or perhaps by ourselves, as we do not understand our calling or full vocation. I have struggled greatly these past several months with how to pray and even what to pray. I know I get in my own way and trap myself with my limited capacity to envision God, His ever-reaching mercy, and the countless ways He is working in me and through me without my knowledge.