Saint Joseph of Cupertino, Confessor

from the Liturgical Year, 1903

Feast Day: September 18th

While, in France, the rising spirit of Jansenism was driving God from the hearts of the people, a humble son of St. Francis, in Southern Italy, was showing how easily love may span the distance between earth and heaven. And I, if I be lifted tip from the earth, will draw all things to myself (St. John, xii. 32), said Our Lord; and time has proved it to be the most universal of his prophecies. On the feast of the holy Cross, we witnessed its truth, even in the domain of social and political claims. We shall experience it in our very bodies on the great day, when we shall be taken up in the clouds to meet Christ, into the air (1. Thess. iv. 16). But Joseph of Cupertino had experience of it without waiting for the resurrection: innumerable witnesses have borne testimony to his life of continual ecstasies, wherein he was frequently seen raised high in the air. And these facts took place in what men are pleased to call the noonday of history.

Let us read the account of him given by holy Church.

Joseph was born of pious parents at Cupertino, a town of Nardo, in the year of salvation one thousand six hundred and three. Prevented with the love of God, he spent his boyhood and youth in the greatest simplicity and innocence. The Virgin Mother of God delivered him from a long and painful malady, which he had borne with the greatest patience; whereupon he devoted himself entirely to works of piety and the practice of virtue. But God called him to something higher; and in order to attain to closer union with him, Joseph determined to enter the Seraphic Order. After several trials he obtained his desire, and was admitted among the Minor Conventuals in the convent called Grotella, first as a lay-brother, on account of his lack of learning; but afterwards, God so disposing, he was raised to the rank of a cleric. After making his solemn Vows he was ordained Priest, and began a new life of greater perfection. Utterly renouncing all earthly affections and everything of this world almost to the very necessaries of life, he afflicted his body with hairshirts, chains, disciplines, and every kind of austerity and penance; while he assiduously nourished his spirit with the sweetness of holy prayer, and the highest contemplation. By this means, the love of God, which had been poured out in his heart from his childhood, daily increased in a most wonderful manner.

His burning charity shone forth most remarkably in the sweet ecstasies which raised his soul to God, and the wonderful raptures he frequently experienced. Yet, marvellous to tell, however rapt he was in God, obedience would immediately recall him to the use of his senses. He was exceedingly zealous in the practice of obedience; and used to say that he was led by it like a blind man, and that he would rather die than disobey. He emulated the poverty of the seraphic patriarch to such a degree, that on his deathbed he could truthfully tell his superior he had nothing which, according to custom, he could relinquish. Thus dead to the world and to himself Joseph showed forth in his flesh the life of Jesus. While in others he perceived the vice of impurity by an evil odour, his own body exhaled a most sweet fragrance, a sign of the spotless purity which he preserved unsullied in spite of long and violent temptations from the devil. This victory he gained by strict custody of his senses, by continual mortification of the body, and especially by the protection of the most pure Virgin Mary, whom he called his Mother, and whom he venerated with tenderest affection as the sweetest of mothers, desiring to see her venerated by others, that they might, said he, together with her patronage gain all good things.

Blessed Joseph"s solicitude in this respect sprang from his love for his neighbour, for he was consumed with zeal for souls, urging him to seek the salvation of all. His love embraced the poor, the sick, and all in affliction, whom he comforted as far as lay in his power, not excluding those who pursued him with reproaches and insults, and every kind of injury. He bore all this with the same patience, sweetness, and cheerfulness of countenance as were remarked in him when he was obliged frequently to change his residence, by the command of the Superiors of his Order, or of the holy Inquisition. People and princes admired his wonderful holiness and heavenly gifts; yet, such was his humility, that, thinking himself a great sinner, he earnestly besought God to remove from him his admirable gifts; while he begged men to cast his body after death in a place where his memory might utterly perish. But God, who exalts the humble, and who had richly adorned his servant during life with heavenly wisdom, prophecy, the reading of hearts, the grace of healing, and other gifts, also rendered his death precious and his sepulchre glorious. Joseph died at the place and time he had foretold, namely, at Osimo in Picenum, in the sixty-first year of his age. He was famous for miracles after his death; and was enrolled amongthe Blessed by Benedict XIV. and among the Saints by Clement XIII. Clement XIV., who was of the same Order, extended his Office and Mass to the universal Church.


While praising God for the marvelous gifts He bestowed on thee, we acknowledge that thy virtues were yet more wonderful. Otherwise thy ecstasies would be regarded with suspicion by the Church, who usually withholds her judgment until long after the world has begun to admire and applaud. Obedience, patience, and charity, increasing under trial, were incontestable guarantees for the divine authorship of these marvels, which the enemy is sometimes permitted to mimic to a certain extent. Satan may raise a Simon Magus into the air: he cannot make a humble man. O worthy son of the seraph of Assisi, may we, after thy example, be raised up, not into the air, but into those regions of true light, where far above the earth and its passions, our life, like thine, may be hidden with Christ in God!


The Angels Who Go and Come

St. Joseph of Cupertino was much loved by the angels, they honoured him by frequent apparitions, and he received many graces through their ministry. One holy soul saw him enter the town of Assisi between two of these glorious spirits, and it was proved in the process of his canonization that it often occurred to him to fly in the air. It was without doubt these blessed spirits who transported him thus, from one place to another, and I will only quote one instance. Going one day to Rome with another religious, and having arrived at the summit of a mountain, his companion said to him, "I see the Church of Loretto," and he pointed it out with his finger; and St. Joseph, after having looked at it, cried out joyfully, "Do you not see the angels who come and go from heaven to this church, and from the church to heaven?" and having said this, he raised himself eighteen feet in the air, and descended six perches further off. This favorite of the angels had for his own guardian so much veneration, that he never entered his cell without making him a profound salutation, and begging him to pass before him.


St. Joseph of Cupertino
from the Miniature Lives of the Saints, 1877

Like is father S. Francis, God made Joseph great in His kingdom by making him like a little child. When he tried to study he fell into ecstasy. He was turned out of the Capuchins as a useless subject; when they stript him of his habit, he said it was as if they tore off his skin. Received among the Minor Conventuals, he sought to become a priest. He could only learn one gospel--"Beatus venter." Trusting in our Lady, he presented himself for examination; the bishop gave him the gospel to interpret, and was satisfied. His life was a revelation of the gifts of the blessed in heaven. Fragrance sweeter than any earthly perfume exhaled from his flesh and filled the whole convent. It was calculated that he spent half his life lifted from the earth in prayer. Three times he bore men in his arms upward in his flight. The world was transformed in his sight; when he went out, if he met a woman he would say that he had met our Lady or some saint. He looked at a flower, and then bore it upward in the air, crying, "O God, so visible and yet forgotten." He called the troubles of life the war of children with popguns, and obedience the carriage which took men sweetly to paradise. He died, A.D. 1663, saying, "Cupio dissolvi;" then, "Victory, victory!"


God alone is simple by essence; those who become
as little children are most like to God.

"With two wings man ascends above earthly things,
to wit, by simplicity and purity."--Imitation.

Our Lady is the reward of those who humble themselves as little children in the kingdom of God. Once when asked what he cared for most in the world, S. Joseph answered: "I desire nothing but to reside at the Grotella near the image of the Blessed Virgin, whom I venerate and love." When he entered the church of Assisi for the first time, and saw in the roof a picture of the Mother of God, like that of the Grotella, with a loud cry exclaiming, "My Mother, thou hast followed me," he flew to a height of forty-four feet to meet our Lady in the air. He would accept no present but flowers, with which he adorned his picture of the Madonna. Then he said playfully: "My Mother is capricious: I bring her flowers, and she does not care for them; cherries, and she will not accept them. I ask her, then, what she desires, and she answers: "It is the heart which I care for; I feed upon the homage of the heart."

"Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little
child, he is greater in the kingdom of heaven."--Matt, xviii. 4.


Prayer to the Immaculate Queen

O Virgin most pure, wholly unspotted, O Mary, Mother of God, Queen of the universe, thou art above all the saints, the hope of the elect and the joy of all the blessed. It is thou who hast reconciled us with God; thou art the only refuge of sinners and the safe harbor of those who are shipwrecked; thou art the consolation of the world, the ransom of captives, the health of the weak, the joy of the afflicted, and the salvation of all. We have recourse to thee, and we beseech thee to have pity on us. Amen.

St. Joseph of Curpentino
by Emily Mary Shapcote, 1877

In the year 1600 there dwelt in the kingdom of Naples two poor but pious gentlefolk, by name Felix Desa, a carpenter, and his wife Francesca. At his death he was found to have left certain debts, and upon the entrance of the servants of the law into her poor dwelling, in order to seize her goods in payment, Francesca, in terror, fled into the stable, where she gave birth to a son, who in baptism received the name of Joseph. Under the eye of his pious mother the child grew up to be a holy boy, who at the early age of eight years gave signs of future sanctity. Although he was most industrious at his work he would show an extraordinary love of recollection, and it often happened that at prayer he would lose himself in contemplation. He would be seen kneeling motionless, with fixed eyes and half-open mouth, so that other children were wont to give him the title of "Bocca aperta" (open-mouthed). He was known to wear a rough hair shirt and to chastise his body in various ways.

Until his seventeenth year he learned and practised the trade of shoe-making, when the desire to enter into the Order of St. Francis grew upon him too strongly to be neglected. He tried his vocation as lay brother amongst the Capuchins, but was rejected, as they supposed him to be wanting in a true vocation. At last, however, the Franciscans of the Monastery della Grotella took pity on him. In their subterranean chapel (hence the above name) a miraculous image of our Lady was venerated. These good friars admitted him, and after trial he was permitted to take his vows as a lay brother amongst them.

He was set to do the lowest work, which he joyfully undertook, and performed with punctilious obedience; at the same time he redoubled his penance and his prayers. His sanctity became so well known that, when he collected alms, he won more souls for God by his pious behaviour than he gained bread for the cloister.

At length the grace was given him to receive ordination as a priest. Full of gratitude for this great gift, and consumed with the fire of the love of God, he thought no more but how he should consecrate most perfectly his life to God. He practised the extremest poverty, so that he only wore one poor garment. For five years he ate no bread, but lived upon dried fruits and vegetables. During the fasts he only ate a little on Thursdays and Sundays, but meat never passed his lips. These severe fasts emaciated him, and his complexion grew pallid; but after receiving Holy Communion his appearance was fresh and blooming. He chose a retired cell that was dark and incommodious. He would prefer to pray in unfrequented places, that he might more freely give himself to contemplation. His love of poverty was such that he divested himself of everything that was allowed him by rule; then, prostrate before his crucifix, he would cry out, "Behold me, O Lord, bereft of all earthly things. Be Thou my only Good! All else but Thee I look upon as a danger and as a loss to my soul."

If one asked him what he desired most in the world, he would reply, "That God may occupy my whole heart." Often he would turn to the image of the Crucified and say, "Jesus, Jesus, draw me up! Here below I cannot stay. Draw me where Thou art to Thyself." This excessive desire to be ravished from earth, in order to be united to Jesus, was doubtless the reason that he was frequently and irresistibly drawn to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Once, in the chapel of St. Ursula, in the presence of many others, he was suddenly raised above the somewhat elevated choir towards the tabernacle, where he adored the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, kneeling before it in mid air, whilst a light shone forth from his face. In this situation he remained until his Superiors called him back. Love worked in him such close union with God that truly it might be said that his life was hidden in God. Of him it could be said he prayed always and without ceasing; he was dead to the world and the world to him; and his spirit so lived in heaven and upon heavenly things that it would appear he saw divine mysteries as it were in a mirror, and all the beauty of heaven would seem to lie open before him. He had a wonderful knowledge of souls, and was remarkable for the gift of prudence in his conduct of them. In the faces of men whose hearts were tainted with sin he could see spots of dirt, and would say to such a one, "Go wash thy face, which thou hast besprinkled with ink." One evening the Saint was engaged at Grotella in conference with his Superior, when suddenly he cried out, "O, what a horrible stench! That is the stink of hell!" The Superior smelt nothing; but Joseph, being unable to bear it, begged permission to go to Cupertino. Having arrived, he went straight to a house, hurned up the stairs, and there he found a number of men occupied in concocting salves for purposes of enchantment. Seized with holy zeal, with his staff he broke the pots and other vessels, and regarded the evil-doers with such looks of holy fury that they all fled in haste.

In the year 1649 John Frederick, Duke of Brunswick, undertook a journey through Europe, in order to visit the various courts, and amongst others he visited Rome. He was about twenty-five years old. During his stay he was anxious to go to Assisi, in order himself to see a Saint whose sanctity was spoken of even in his own country. Pope Innocent therefore gave him letters of introduction to the convent, desiring the fathers that he should be permitted free converse with Joseph, in hopes of his conversion.

The Superior hastened to comply with these commands, receiving the Prince and his friends with honour. At once the Duke requested to see Father Joseph. The following morning being Sunday, the Prince and the two Counts, one of whom was a Protestant and the other a Catholic, were taken secretly into the chapel where the Saint usually said Mass. No one was aware of this, and Joseph himself did not know of the arrival of the strangers. He was standing at the altar, and in the act of breaking the Host, as the Duke and the two Counts entered the chapel, when lo, a loud sigh escaped the lips of the Saint, and laying the Host down upon the paten he fell into an ecstasy, raising himself with bended knees high in the air, and descending after a while with a cry towards the altar, where with great difficulty he broke the holy Host.

The Duke being much moved with what he had seen requested the Superior, after Mass, to inquire of Joseph what that strange cry and sigh might signify. The Superior replied that the Saint was not willing always to give such explanations, but at the request of the Duke he would require it of him as an obedience. Now the Saint, under obedience, replied, "Ah, the strangers whom thou didst send to hear my Mass are of a hard heart, and do not believe all that the Catholic Church believes. On this account the Lamb became hard in my hands this morning, and I could not break it."

The young Prince, struck by this reply, desired after dinner to have speech of the Saint. The conversation lasted until evening. What passed between them no one knows; but afterwards the Prince retired into the chapel, and, lost in thought, remained kneeling before the altar of St. Francis. A great strife was going on within his soul between truth and error, and although apparently ashamed of his weakness he put off his journey, in order once more to attend the Saint's Mass.

But a new miracle awaited his eyes. At the moment of Elevation there appeared upon the Host the form of a black cross, and at the same time the Saint uttered a similar cry, and was raised high in the air, in which position he remained for at least a quarter of an hour. Then he who was a Protestant cried out, "Accursed be the day that I came into this country; in my own land I was at peace, but here I have found anguish and distress of conscience." But the Prince, at sight of the miracle, began to weep. A ray of truth had touched him, his heart was softened, although he still withstood the call of God. Now Joseph, enlightened by the Holy Ghost, perceived the strife which was going on in his soul, and smiling at his irresolution, said after Mass to a friend, "Let us rejoice, the deer is wounded."

After Holy Mass the Prince, now deeply affected, conversed again with Joseph until midday, when after dinner he desired to return to the cell of the Saint, Joseph came out, and meeting him threw his girdle round the Prince's neck, saying, "I bind thee for heaven!" At these words the Saint fell into ecstasy, and being come to himself he said softly to the Prince, "Go pray at the altar of St. Francis, attend Compline and the procession, and do all as thou seest the brethren do."

The Duke, entirely humbled, obeyed the Saint, performing all as he was bidden. Accompanied by the Cardinals Fachinetti and Reppacioli he threw himself before the Blessed Sacrament, and said with a loud voice, "The King of the whole world is adored in this church. In this church I believe and acknowledge all that the Catholic Church acknowledges and believes."

Once more a wandering child was won to the arms of Mother Church. It was till a late hour in the night that the Prince continued conversing with the Saint and learning the mysteries of his wisdom. The next day he resumed his journey to his own country, promising, however, to return the following year and make a public renunciation of his errors. And the Prince kept his word.

St. Joseph of Cupertino died on the 18th September 1663, at the age of sixty-three years and three months. His body was exposed for veneration, and he was buried in the chapel of the Conception, and canonized by Clement XIII. in 1767.