by Clyde Ericson Nolasco
St. Joseph of Cupertino has always been my refuge whenever I need to take a major exam along with Mary and other saint intercessors. Hence, I am writing this as a promise to fulfill the words, “In return I promise to make you known and cause you to be invoked.”
Today, we remember the holiness of Joseph of Cupertino, a Conventual Franciscan Friar (OFM Conv.) and a mystic. He is the patron saint of air travelers, pilots, astronauts, the intellectually disabled, weak students and test takers.
Many accounts would call today’s saint as “brother ass,” a title that seems unbefitting for a holy man. However, such a title can perfectly give us a glimpse of Joseph’s life.
To start with, his father died even before he was born, leaving them in deep debt. And so to hide from his father’s creditors, Joseph’s mother gave birth to him in a stable on June 17, 1603 in Cupertino, Apulia, Italy. Eventually, he grew up the dullest among his peers. He was absent-minded, awkward and naive. Records also described him as “not even being capable of touching a dish without breaking it.”
He tried to join the OFM Capuchins when he was 17, encouraged by his family, thinking he could become one, at least considering that he is not a good student nor could even be a tradesman. He was a true test of patience for the Capuchin friars. There were times when he would suddenly space out or kneel down in the middle of anything as if in trance. He was sent away after some months.
His mother was not happy welcoming back his son. She sent him away again, but now as a servant in a Franciscan monastery. Though he was given the habit of the Third Order, his “calling” was to take care of the horses at the stable. As the one in charge of the monastery mule, he was called “brother ass.”
The Flying Friar, a Witch
The young Joseph slowly began to change. He became more humble and gentle. He became more successful and careful with his tasks. More so, he voluntarily performed acts of penance.
The friars took notice of Joseph's efforts and devotions, and were impressed, thus allowing him to be ordained a priest. But how did he pass philosophy, theology, scripture and all the other academic requirements when studying was such a trouble for Joseph? No matter how much he tried to study, he could not remember anything he was taught except for a verse he knew by heart. When it was time for the exam for diaconal ordination, he was asked about the only thing he knew – the Bible verse. He passed the exam. He was ordained a deacon and then a priest.
His visions grew stronger; his visions that were initially seen as an oddity and burden were then explained as supernatural encounters with God. The Holy Spirit would allow amazing things to happen to him that included rising from the ground and flying in the air while in ecstatic prayer. This was not limited inside the friary or the chapel towards the altar as he was also seen levitating in the dining hall or near a tree. Even just hearing the names of Jesus or Mary or listening to hymns to St. Francis would cause him an overwhelming feeling of awe and send him into holy oblivion. His love and relationship with God grew deeper and deeper over time.
Joseph the “flying friar” became popular. People would flock to see him. On the downside, in the 17th century, his ectacises and levitations were misunderstood and interpreted as connection to witchcraft. He was investigated and after some time was exiled. He was transferred from one place of seclusion to another to avoid the attention of the people. He died at the age of 60 on September 18, 1663 alone. Yet he was also remembered as saying with confidence, “Praised be God! Blessed be God! May the holy will of God be done!”
There’s so much to learn from Joseph’s life as he went through a lot consolations and desolations but let’s focus on these two:
“God writes straight with crooked lines” - Joseph’s story started on a bad note and we cannot deny that it continued and ended the same way at some point. But looking through the eyes of faith, like the Old Testament Joseph, God undoubtedly was with him all throughout. God was Joseph’s strength, friend and comfort. God used Joseph’s life to tell us that our God is a God of possibilities.
“God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called” - Moses was an unconfident speaker; Jacob tricked his father; and the Cure of Ars was poor in Latin. Looking at these holy people and at Joseph’s share of intellectual inability, indeed God’s calling is not just for those who seem perfect and capable. On the other hand, he enables and empowers them to fulfill their mission in the Church.
May St. Joseph of Cupertino inspire us to continue amidst the overcritical eyes of the world.
Let us pray!
O Great St. Joseph of Cupertino who while on earth did obtain from God the grace to be asked at your examination only the questions you knew, obtain for me a like favor in the examinations for which I am now preparing. In return I promise to make you known and cause you to be invoked. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
St. Joseph of Cupertino, pray for us!