St. Joseph of Cupertino: Holy, Flying Failure
Saint Joseph Cupertino is among the most unique saints in the history of the Catholic Church. Some may be familiar with Saint Joseph Cupertino from the portrayal of his life in the classic movie The Reluctant Saint. While the movie does not get all of the details of his life completely correct, it paints a quite an enthralling impression of the character of this great saint which seems to capture his real qualities. In this manner, the film serves as a type of portrait, one which seems to capture real qualities, albeit as seen as through the eyes of the artist who produced the work.
Saint Joseph Cupertino’s Life: A Happy Tragedy
Saint Joseph Cupertino is perhaps the least naturally talented saint in the history of the church. He was slow minded. So much so that it led to rejection after rejection. First, he was rejected by his family (who could not provide for him) because he was too dimwitted to hold the simplest of jobs or contribute to the household income. His love for God then led him to seek entrance into religious life. He was not intelligent enough to study for the priesthood, but one community finally accepted him on a trial basis as a lay-brother. However, his inability to perform even the simplest tasks (such as carrying dishes or serving in the kitchen) led to his dismissal - another brutal rejection. Returning home, his family refused to assist. He eventually was accepted as a stable boy by another religious community so that he might earn his daily bread.
The great source of his trials, however, was one of his greatest gifts. In addition to his lack of mental acumen, there was a second reason he could not carry out even the most menial of tasks. The reason is that he would spontaneously fall into fits of ecstasy. Ecstasy is a state of prayer in which the soul is drawn so deeply into God that the person becomes completely unaware of their surroundings and even becomes unresponsive to the world around them. You see, this was the cause of so many broken dishes and failed efforts. During these spells of ecstasy, Joseph was known to levitate and the other friars would have to poke him with needles or burn his hands to get him to snap out of his trance.
His role as a stable boy was the only role at which he ever truly succeeded. While serving in this role, he was recognized for his humility, care for the poor, and his unwavering joy. Here he also reflected deeply on Luke 11:27 and taught others with wisdom the meaning of this verse. For this reason, he was readmitted to study for the priesthood. Once again, he was an utter failure in his studies and did not expect to pass his exam. However, by the grace of God, his oral exam consisted of only one question: to please explain the meaning of Luke 11:27.
Joseph was ordained, but once again his life descended into much misery. His constant fits of ecstasy and levitation were taken as a great disruption and viewed as a source of confusion for the faithful. Unlike the portrayal in the movie, Joseph was never truly understood. Thus, he spent the last 10 years of his life being shuffled from monastery to monastery in order to be hidden from the crowds that were drawn to him. This caused him great suffering, but also did not alter his joyous demeanor.
Lessons from Saint Joseph Cupertino
Saint Joseph Cupertino’s life highlights three principles. First, it shows that God calls who He pleases. From a worldly perspective, Joseph was the least worthy and yet God bestowed the greatest of spiritual gifts upon him.
Secondly, while God’s gifts will bring the greatest of joys, those who pursue them whole heartedly will often be very misunderstood. Hence, Jesus said “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51) Hence, those who chose to follow God beyond all else can expect suffering. However, that suffering will be accompanied by a supernatural joy as long as we remain connected to the Lord.
Finally, Saint Joseph Cupertino’s life demonstrates that “… for God all things are possible.”” (Matthew 19:26). From levitation to providential exam questions, no obstacle is too large for God. He will work wonders for those with great faith.
Therefore, I encourage you dive deeper into the life of this great saint. You can find a fantastic short bio at https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/st-joseph-of-cupertino-the-dunce-5587. You can also watch the full movie The Reluctant Saint at with a subscription to the Catholic media site at www.formed.org.