The Flying Friar
Jun 14, 2018 / Written by: Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Feast September 18
Saint Joseph of Cupertino
St. Joseph of Cupertino (1603-1668) was an Italian mystic whose life is a wonderful combination of a complete lack of natural capacity and an extraordinary supernatural efficiency. He lacked every natural gift. He was incapable of passing a test, maintaining a conversation, taking care of a house, or even touching a dish without breaking it. He was called Brother Ass by his companions in the monastery.
He was born on June 17, 1603 into a family of poor artisans. Because of his father's debts, he was born in a shed behind the house, which was in the hands of bailiffs. He was sickly and often at death's door during his childhood, and at age seven he developed a gangrenous ulcer which was later cured by a religious man. He was always despised by his companions who called him a fool. Even his mother wearied of him and repudiated him for his lack of any human value.
Later, when he entered the religious life, he faced worse difficulties. The Capuchins received him as a lay brother but his ineptitude and abstraction made him unbearable for the other religious. Often he was taken in ecstasy and, oblivious of what he was doing, he would drop the food or break the dishes and trays. As a penance, bits of broken plates were fastened to his habit as a humiliation and reminder not to do the same again. But he could not change. He could not even be trusted with serving the bread because he would forget the difference between the white and brown breads.
Considering that he was good for nothing, the religious took his habit and expelled him from the monastery. Later, he declared that having the habit taken from him was the greatest suffering of his life and that it was as if his skin had been torn from his body.
When he left the monastery he had lost part of his lay clothes. He was without a hat, boots, or stockings, and his coat was moth-eaten and worn. He presented such a sorry sight that when he passed a stable down the lane, dogs rushed out on him and tore his apparel to worse tatters. He escaped and continued along the road, but soon came upon some shepherds, who thought he was a miscreant and were about to give him a beating, when one of their number had pity on him and persuaded them to let him go free.
He went to the house of his uncle, who, ashamed of him, scolded him and sent him back into the streets with nothing. Reaching his native town, he came to the house of his parents, where his own mother berated him.
Finally, the superior of the Monastery of Grottela discerned his sanctity and decided to take him in as a servant. He was appointed to the stable, and made the keeper of the monastery's donkey.
It was there that the sanctity of St. Joseph of Cupertino began to be recognized. He was always humble, willing to serve, and of good cheer. The Superior decided to admit him to the monastery with hopes that he might learn enough to be ordained, but the effort seemed hopeless. Joseph could not comment on any passage of Scriptures except one: "Beatus venter qui Te portavit" [Blessed be the womb that bore Thee].
When the time came for his examination for the diaconate, the Bishop opened the Gospels at random and his eyes fell on that one text Joseph knew well. Joseph was able to expound on it with success. A year later came the tests for the priesthood. All the postulants except Joseph were very well prepared. The Bishop called on a number of the candidates, who responded superbly. Supposing that all were at the same intellectual level, the Bishop approved all of them without questioning the rest. Joseph was among the candidates who were asked nothing. Therefore, on March 4, 1628, Joseph became a priest at 25 years of age despite his limitations and the opinion of men.
During this period of his life, the spiritual consolations he had enjoyed since his childhood abandoned him. Later he wrote to a friend about that difficult time: "I complained a lot to God about God. I had left everything for Him, and He, instead of consoling me, delivered me to mortal anguish."
He continued: "One day, when I was weeping and wailing in my cell, a religious knocked on my door. I did not answer, but he entered my room and said: 'Friar Joseph, how are you?'
"'I am here to serve you,' I answered.
"'I thought you did not have a habit,' he continued.
"'Yes, I have one, but it is falling apart,' I responded.
"Then, the unknown religious gave me a habit, and when I put it on, all my despair disappeared immediately. No one ever knew who that religious was."
From this time on, the life of St. Joseph of Cupertino changed. He became famous for his ecstasies, miracles, and for the gift of levitation, reported by numerous eye-witnesses. He experienced this so often he became known as "the flying Friar." He began to attract so many pilgrims to the monastery that his superiors had to transfer him from one monastery to another to avoid the commotion. Finally, he arrived in Osimo in 1657, where he continued to experience supernatural manifestations of God’s favors daily until he died on September 18, 1663 at age 60.
Comments of Prof. Plinio Correa de Oliveira:
It is difficult to comment on the extraordinary life of St. Joseph of Cupertino. I will try to do so by dividing the topic into parts.
You see that Our Lady put everything negative in this man. But, since "for love nothing is impossible," according to the maxim of St. Therese of Lisieux, he accomplished everything that his vocation called him to do.
There is a misconception about efficiency that defines it purely in terms of production. This is wrong because to do something is not an end in itself. What explains the action is the end one has in mind.
The right notion of efficiency is to do what one is supposed to do according to his vocation. Therefore, in order to be efficient, each one should ask if he is accomplishing the plans of God for him. If he works in collaboration with the plans of God, the grace will multiply his efforts and he will do much more than he is capable of otherwise. This rule, which applies to St. Joseph of Cupertino, also applies to St. Thomas Aquinas, who is situated at the other pole of human capacity.
Even though he was poorly gifted humanly speaking, St. Joseph of Cupertino did the will of God, sanctified his soul, and allowed God to shine through his incapacity in a way that attracted the admiration of multitudes. Even today, when one of us hears about his extreme incapacity and the marvelous things God did through him, we do not forget his name. It is the application of that passage of the Magnificat: "For He has found humility in His handmaid, and all generations shall call me blessed." Once we hear about the incapacity of St. Joseph of Cupertino and his humility in accepting the will of God, his name remains in our memories forever.
The depth of spirit of St. Joseph of Cupertino is expressed in his comment about when his habit was taken from him and he was expelled from the monastery. He affirmed that this caused him huge suffering, as if they were tearing off the very skin from his body.
In this episode, you can see the wisdom of the man. There is a great difference between his attitude and that of many of today's theologians, who, even though they may know Aramaic and Sanskrit and make extensive comments on Holy Scriptures, have no love for their habits and readily abandon them. I leave aside the fact that many of these theologians reach conclusions that either God does not exist or that all religions worship the one true God. How greatly superior St. Joseph of Cupertino was to these men!
His comments regarding the loss of the spiritual consolations he had enjoyed since childhood also reflect his superiority. He had a profound detachment from material goods, and valued the spiritual gifts he had above all else. This is positively a manifestation of superiority. Then, even those consolations were taken from him.
What did he do? Did he revolt? No. He "complained to God about God," according to his own extraordinary words. He turned to God to respectfully ask Him why He was treating him that way. Our Lady did something analogous when she asked the Divine Child why He had gone to the Temple to discuss with the doctors without warning her and St. Joseph. It was a lovely complaint. So also was the attitude of St. Joseph of Cupertino. It expresses well the superiority of his soul.
For a person accustomed to "happy endings," the life of St. Joseph comes as a shock. In it, this person finds a complete inversion of patterns. Take, for example, the episode where he was expelled from the monastery and lacked decent lay clothing to wear. He set out on the road and was attacked by dogs. Not well mannered, clean dogs but bad-natured, dirty stable dogs. Those dogs bit him and tore his clothes to tatters. He looked so bad that some shepherds of the area took him for a thief.
He went to ask help from his uncle and was rejected. Afterward, his own mother turned him away from her house. His misfortunes multiplied, and everyone persecuted the poor, ugly, dirty and tattered man.
You can imagine the great confidence in Our Lady St. Joseph of Cupertino had to have in order to avoid falling into despair. He was perfectly capable of feeling the scorn that people had for him, and he also probably considered that such a reaction had a basis in reality, that is, that he was unintelligent, ugly, dirty, etc.
So what did he do? He continued on without concern about himself, without discouragement, but thinking only of the glory of God and Our Lady. Isn't this a beautiful thing? I think that it is incomparably more beautiful than being very intelligent. Doing this, he was imitating Our Lord in His Passion, being despised by the populace and receiving all kinds of outrages for the glory of God.
St. Joseph of Cupertino represents in the Catholic Church a way to be detached from the gifts that many receive. A man gifted with great intelligence should meditate on how well St. Joseph of Cupertino accepted his lack of intelligence so that he might better use the gifts God gave him.
Another who is noble by birth should admire the way St. Joseph accepted his humble social condition in order to keep from being proud and remain accessible to simple people. Yet another who is rich should ponder the ready acceptance St. Joseph of Cupertino had of his extreme poverty so that he might use it to glorify God and Our Lady.
That is, St. Joseph of Cupertino represents one side of the scale that gives a perfect equilibrium to the Catholic Church. Both he and St. Thomas Aquinas are necessary for that perfect balance. I think that in Heaven the two could be closely joined glorifying Our Lady and Our Lord.
What is the application for us?
If we received gifts from nature or from God, let us admire St. Joseph of Cupertino in order to be detached from them and use them well. If we lack qualities or have to endure sufferings, let us admire him and follow his example of confidence in order to accomplish what God has planned for us.