As we get into the amazing life story of Saint Joseph of Cupertino, we do well to remember that each canonized saint is held up by Holy Mother Church as a model for all Catholics to imitate for the heroic virtues that they practiced.
What virtues did Saint Joseph of Cupertino practice in a heroic degree?
At a first glance, it would seem that he was hardly the saint. He was clumsy and unintelligent. When serving the table he would drop the monastery’s plate and dishes. He broke so many dishes that his superior told him to glue the shattered remains onto his habit and to walk around the monastery in this state.
So, you may ask yourself, in what sense should Saint Joseph be emulated by all?
It is most beautiful to see how the Catholic Church, Master of all virtues, is also Master of wisdom and balance. In other words, She shows us how to reconcile elements that seem to be irreconcilable opposites, but that find their proper place when well understood.
Over the centuries, the Church has produced countless saints, among who are found Popes, emperors, kings, nobles of all categories, commoners, people of extraordinary intelligence, etc.
The question then arises, how does the Church place a man of such poor natural talents as St. Joseph Cupertino on the altar? How does the worthlessness of one fit with the grandeur of the others?
It is explained by the following principle: the Church wishes that men use earthly things with wisdom. Such things were created by God and given to men for his use.
But earthly things must be used with detachment. Which is to say: they must be used only for the glory of God. Not for any other end. And never use or want earthly things for mere personal advantage, putting aside the glory of God.
This is Catholic virtue: when each one lays out their earthly things and uses them according to God’s plan, even his own talents. The good Catholic only uses earthly things to further God’s plan.
There is another saint who is a marvelous example of this. His name is Saint Antonio Galvao and he was a Franciscan friar from Brazil.
On his epitaph, one reads these beautiful words:
"animate sweats in manibus suis always tenens, placide obdormivit decembris 23 die in Domino. Anno 1822 " (Having always held his soul in his hands, he surrendered it peacefully to the Lord).
This is a great example of what we are talking about.
Saint Galvao always held his soul in his hands, which means he always wanted what he should want and never wanted what he should not. He had complete control at all times over his holy soul. That is why he was such a great saint.
This type of man may be honored with all the glory, pomp and wealth of the world, but he "always holds his soul in his hands." To hold your soul in your hand means to act with moderation and wisdom, and not to be attached to earthly things. In other words, one should, if necessary, be able to abandon anything at any time, and even prefer to “not have” then to “have.”
So that men would be able to fulfill the duty to use earthly things in an orderly manner, the Church raises up saints who have renounced all earthly goods.
By their renunciation, the saints win graces from God, give good example to men and create an atmosphere in society whereby earthly things are seen in their proper light, as nothing, as God sees them.
Now imagine a modern city, where the tone is set by those whose restless money making sets them up as a model for all. Where people rack up huge debts because they do not want to live within their means. And where and some (too many) are willing to sell their soul to get the latest laptop or TV screen.
This restless drive to have material things needs a counter weight.
Those who give up everything act as a counter weight.
They help moderate the mind-set of those who are not called to renounce all earthly goods, but only to use them with interior detachment.
What effect do you think it would have on the rich and famous, as they traveled about from one city to another, to know that a poor saintly monk was being followed and honored by thousands as he went from place to place?
What a lesson it would be for those who hold themselves up to be so important to see a poor monk honored by such enthusiastic praise.
What a lesson it would be for those who think they are so smart to see an unintelligent man so honored, and to understand that all the glory of his own intelligence is nothing if it is not directed to God!
Ultimately, man, his intelligence and all his belongings are worthless if they are not used to serve God.
One could even imagine what might happen if St. Joseph of Cupertino, if he were alive today, would cross paths with a famous politician.
The famous politician rides by in a white stretch limousine with a huge and costly retinue and array of bodyguards. The people are indifferent to him.
Yet not too far away, thousands would be following our St. Joseph of Cupertino with devotion and great enthusiasm!
And then, probably, the rich and famous politician would become incensed and jealous at seeing such a simple monk honored by so many people.
And so here we would have our St. Joseph of Cupertino who is so ignorant, so clumsy, so ugly looking, so poor, so wrong, but he is holy. His holiness is worth more than all the fame, wealth and pleasure of the famous politician.
St. Joseph of Cupertino is holy. In comparison to holiness everything else is garbage and mud!
And his renunciation of all worldly things acted as a counter weight to help the great ones of the land to understand what true greatness is.
This helped to keep each person within his own limits! And it helped educate and form the great ones of this earth so that they lived their elevated station with grace, bounty and generosity, looking out for the common good rather than for personal benefit.
These things are brought about by the marvelous equilibrium of the Church.
There were other benefits to society from the great holiness of a man like St. Joseph of Cupertino.
It would be much harder for husbands and wives to keep the indissolubility of the marriage bond if there were not some men and women who practiced perfect chastity and did not marry.
Nor would people be able to make proper use of conversation if it were not for the monks and nuns who never speak, and who have a vow of perpetual silence.
If it were not for the religious orders that practice complete poverty, such as the Franciscans, the poor would have a much harder hard time accepting their poverty.
For when some people accept extreme poverty, it makes it possible for others to live in extreme wealth. As a consequence, the rich become more balanced in their wealth and are more inclined to use it to benefits others, all because there are those who have renounced all earthly things and who voluntarily live in total poverty.
The same goes for the brilliant socialite who has a large circle of friends, whose home is much visited, and whose wife is the heart of social life. He can use his gift of speech wisely because close by is a nunnery, where the good sisters almost never speak.
So here we see how the Church is a real Master at work out a wonderful balance between harmonic opposites. And this is how we should see St. Joseph of Cupertino.
He is an example of the harmonic and holy opposites are reconciled by the Catholic Church.
In Heaven, side by side, we can imagine seeing St. Joseph of Cupertino and St Thomas Aquinas both venerating Our Lady with the cult of hyperdulia and adoring Our Lord Jesus Christ. Both are together for eternity, where the highly intelligent and extremely unintelligent compose a perfect song of praise. The perfection of that praise is precisely in it’s harmonizing of all things; different but not contradictory.
Those who teach metaphysics say that perfect harmony is not when like meets like, but when a wide range of different things are gathered, and the ultimate points of analogy among them are discovered, as well as how this harmony takes place.
This is how we should consider the life of St. Joseph of Cupertino.
To read more on the life of Saint Joseph of Cupertino, please go here:
(This was adapted in several places, and was taken from a public lecture given by Prof. Plinio Correa de Oliveira in 1968. It has not been reviewed by the author before this publishing.)