I recently watched a movie about the life of St. Joseph of Cupertino, the Franciscan friar and mystic famed for levitating while praying or offering mass. This incredible saint could be a poster child for what sainthood truly means. Through the power and graces of the Holy Spirit, he transformed from a clumsy, inept simpleton into a profound and humble mystic.
As happens so often, we see how sanctity blooms from the dregs of this earth when fertilized by heaven’s divine purpose and plan. Joseph was awkward, bumbling, and incompetent in practically everything he tried as a youth. He combined the unhappy traits of being an absent-minded, slow learner with shortness of temper. He would wander aimlessly with his mouth gaping open, seemingly oblivious to any purpose of action.
Joseph failed as a shoemaker and only lasted a short while with the Capuchins because he could not seem to do anything right. Even his own mother did everything possible to avoid living with him, managing to send him off as a servant at the Franciscan monastery where he was given a friars habit and put to take care of the horses. In every sense of this world’s measure, Joseph was a failure and a reject heading toward no purpose or use to anyone.
It was as a servant to the Franciscans that Joseph grew in humility and gentleness. He became more careful and diligent in his work and was eventually accepted into the Franciscan order and eventually the priesthood. Although holy, he remained a poor student. Legend has it that the only reason he passed his seminary exam was that he happened to be asked the only thing he knew.
As his prayer and charitable life intensified, many miracles were attributed to Joseph. It is said that he would fall into ecstasy and have conversations with God. Most famous of all, of course, was his reported levitation while praying or offering the mass. In fact, he would float in the air in intense rapture. His prayer was ecstatic, often involving a blissful ascent. The faithful would seek him for advice, and he did help many grow in closeness to God. Despite his holiness, Joseph did suffer from many temptations and trials during his life.
We can learn many things from Joseph of Cupertino. We are reminded that what this world thinks of us means nothing in the face of what God wants of us. Also, our failures and difficulties in this world can only deepen our sanctity and growth toward God if we see them as purifying opportunities to unite ourselves with Christ. God has a purpose and plans for each of us which will be revealed in God’s time and place and not ours. Once again, loving and accepting humility and service are the seeds of sanctity that we all need. Likewise, the greater our falls the far greater our opportunities to rise to God’s plan for us. Ultimately, we all know that it should be all about serving and loving God and others and not about saving face in a world which knows little about salvation or the face of love.
The Core Lesson
The ultimate lesson of Joseph of Cupertino, however, is found in his most famous trait. That lesson reminds us that praying, worshiping, and serving The Almighty provides us with the greatest opportunity to rise from this world and fulfill our greatest potential and purpose. We may not physically levitate during prayer, but we may surely levitate in soul and spirit communicating with Our Lord.
We may not physically rise while attending mass, but mass provides us with the wonderful opportunity to ascent toward heaven in heart, mind, and soul and refresh our resolve and strength in dealing with this world.
So often we act as if God is supposed to come and serve our needs. Consciously or not, we measure the value of our prayers by whether or not they have been answered on our terms and wishes. We do not so much as pray as we file a claim we expect God to resolve according to our liking and wishes. Rather than see prayer and worship as a chance to bridge our lives and the lives of others to God, we more often than not see them as complaints demanding responses and chores demanding earthly compensation.
Slang dictionaries define the take-away as the main point from an information source. As an educator, I have been trained to target what I like to call mobile lessons from stationary ones. Teachers seek to provide students with juicy knowledge snacks that they can carry away from a lesson and apply in the real world. What good is a lesson on business ethics if the participants go out and embezzle? What is the point of a seminar on eating right if the audience continues to munch down on fast food? What, for that matter, is the value of mass if we leave the church continuing to tally and avenge our hurts? How can we truly follow Christ when we are too busy reading our own press clippings and relishing in our own popularity and fame?
The answer, of course, is that Joseph of Cupertino never rose so that others could see him better but, rather, so that he could be closer to the God that he loved so much. He did not elevate himself but, rather, let God elevate him to his great purpose in life. He did not rise so that God could hear his requests but rather so that he could hear God’s requests more clearly. Lastly, Joseph remembered that Our Lord was elevated hanging from a cross for love of us so that he could then rise from the dead to complete his act of redemption for us. If we are to truly love and serve God and others, we must rise to God wants of us. That is the ultimate takeaway from the life of Saint Joseph of Cupertino.