Joseph of Cupertino

English: "S. Giuseppe da Copertino si ele...

Joseph of Cupertino was a Conventual Franciscan Friar (OFM Conv.) and is recognized and honored as a Christian mystic and saint. He is the patron saint of aviation, astronauts, mental handicaps, test taking, and students.

His Life. Joseph was born in the village of Cupertino in Italy in 1603 in a none-too-auspicious beginning. Ill fortune seemed to have set its seal on Joseph before he was born. His father, a carpenter by trade, was a good enough man in his way, but he was a poor hand at dealing with money; what little he earned seemed to slip at once through his fingers. At the very moment when his son came into the world his house was in the hands of bailiffs, and his effects were being sold up. Joseph was born in a shed at the back of the house, where his mother had hid herself out of shame. With such a beginning Joseph had very poor prospects.

By all descriptions Joseph was not a good student. He was described by his early teachers as easily being the dullest child in the village. He was absent-minded, awkward, and nervous; a sudden noise, such as the ringing of a church bell, would make him drop whatever he had in his hands. If ever a child began life with nothing in his favor it was Joseph; he had only one hopeful and saving quality—that he knew it.

The family, beset by its own problems, sought any means by which to give Joseph a trade. He was apprenticed to several tradesmen.  His year as a shoemaker’s apprentice ended and he had not learned to make even simple repairs. Each trade endeavor ended with Joseph being dismissed. He was easily distracted, not always of good disposition, and was given to wandering off.

First Meeting the Friars. When he was 17, a Franciscan friar came into the village begging. His parents thought that if Joseph could not be a student or learn a trade, at least he could be a friar. His parents approached family members who were already Franciscans, but their local houses were unwilling to entertain the idea of Joseph sharing their life.  After knocking on many friary doors, Joseph was accepted by the OFM Capuchins.

The brothers found that Joseph was a true test of their patience. Not only was he very dull and difficult to teach, but his fits of piety and abstraction were troublesome. He had a way of suddenly standing still in the midst of some task and forgetting everything. He would go down on his knees in the most unlikely places, utterly oblivious of everything around him. On one occasion, while carrying food into the dining hall, he suddenly dropped everything in a great crash. In the hope of curing him, bits of the broken plates were fastened to his habit, and he carried them about, as a penance, and as a reminder of his task of service. His stay with the Capuchins ended, as had all his apprenticeships.

Round Two with the Friars. His mother was not at all pleased to have the 18-yr. old Joseph back home again, so she finally got him accepted as a simple servant at the Franciscan monastery. His primary task was working in the stables and taking care of the horses. Slowly, Joseph began to change. He grew more humble and gentle, more careful and successful at his work. He also began to practice penance. After several years of work he had impressed the local friars with his simplicity, lightheartedness, and devotions, and was admitted to the Franciscan Order, eventually being ordained a priest.

Patron of test takers.  You may wonder how someone who was seemingly ungifted intellectually would be able to study and pass his tests in seminary, passing courses in philosophy, theology, liturgy, scripture, and more.  Perhaps there is a clue contained in the traditional prayer:

O Saint Joseph of Cupertino, who by your prayer, obtained from God the blessing to be asked at your examination only the questions you knew: Grant that we may, like you, succeed in the exams.

His Visions. Joseph had experienced ecstatic visions as a child. What later came to be understood as a wonderful gift of seeing God and the supernatural in all things was seen first as an oddity and burden. Now when he was a friar, and a priest besides, the visions grew stronger; it seemed easier for him to see God indwelling in His creation. Joseph could spend whole days lost in wonder and ecstatic prayer.

Patron of Aviators and Astronauts. One might also wonder how this 17th-century saint became the patron of aviation and astronauts. In the midst of some of his ecstatic moments, Joseph would rise from the ground, and move about in the air. Within a church or friary chapel he was seen to fly towards the altar or over it.  The moments were not limited to church, but occurred in the friary dining hall and even outside when suddenly he would fly into a tree. The patronage of flying things was perhaps a natural.

The Trials. But his levitation had a downside. In the 17th century, this special gift of God was also seen as being connected to witchcraft. This led some friars to denounce him. His Franciscan superiors transferred Joseph to another friary for close observation and scrutiny. As one might expect some brothers believed, some did not. The opinions were that he was a saint or a fraudulent troublemaker – there was no in between. He eventually was called to appear before the Inquisition in Naples.

The inquisitors examined him; after close testing they were unable to convict him of anything. Still they would not dismiss him; his case was at least doubtful, and they sent him for further examination to the Minister General of the Franciscan Conv. Order in Rome. Father General saw his humility; he began to doubt whether all was true that was said against him. In the end the lack of any clear consensus about Joseph lead to an agreement between the Inquisition and the Franciscans that Joseph was to be confined and kept in seclusion. And so he remained for 25 years. He died on September 18, 1663. He was just sixty years of age.

Franciscans in China

Ideograms for Rabban Bar Sauma

Servant of God – John of Montecorvino
Franciscan and first Bishop of Beijing

In today’s Twitter feed came the tweet that today is a day in which we Franciscans remember John of Montecorvino. To which most people – even most Franciscans – will say “who?” Brother John was the first Catholic missionary to China, centuries before the efforts of other Catholic religious orders. It is a compelling story.  If you would like to read an interesting and accessible account of the travel within the context of an art historian comparing 13th century Italian and Chinese art, read Lauren Arnold’s: Princely Gifts & Papal Treasures: The Franciscan Mission to China & Its Influence on the Art of the West, 1250-1350 – fascinating book.

Beginning with the pontificate of Innocent IV (1243–1254), the popes and Mongol khans began to communicate and exchange gifts in a diplomatic effort to see if there was a basis upon which to effectively bind and subdue their common enemy, the Muslim Empire.  The two most famous envoys were the Franciscans John of Plano Carpini and William of Rubruck. Their journeys, remarkable and daring, were not specifically missionary but were more as political emissaries. Carpini traveled in the years 1245–1247 while Rubruck’s mission was 1253–1255. Although Rubruck was sent by Louis XI of France to enlist the aid of the khan against Islam, Rubruck also attempted to convert the Mongols (also known as Tartars) by converting the Great Khan.  William’s Itinera is a masterful travel account  that also includes observations about the Saracens and Nestorian Christians found in the Mongol territories. On Pentecost 1255 William met with the Great Khan who received William but nothing more came of the meeting. Continue reading

Admonition Eighteen

Who among us wants to be considered condescending? Merriam-Webster defines “condescending” as showing or characterized by a patronizing or superior attitude toward others. I suspect no one is soon volunteering.  In the Franciscan tradition it is a good thing to be condescending or at least condescendere.  St. Bonaventure wrote about the condescendere of God in the Incarnation of Jesus who “stepped down” from his divinity, took on our humanity, took off his cloak and put on a servant’s apron and washed our feet.  It is from that “condescending” position we are called to reach up to our neighbors and serve them.  Such is the posture of compassion.

Admonition Eighteen: Compassion for a Neighbor

1 Blessed in the person who supports his neighbor in his weakness as he would want to be supported were he in a similar situation.

2 Blessed is the servant who returns every good to the Lord God because whoever holds onto something for himself hides the money of his Lord God within himself, and what things he has will be taken away from him.

Why the Incarnation?

Duns Scotus1On November 8th the Church and the Franciscan world celebrates the feast of Blessed John Duns Scotus, a friar and medieval theologian/philosopher.  Not a household name, Scotus is best known for his philosophical writings, but it is his theological perspective that has left the most impact.  His theological writings on Mary form the basis for how we understand the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and his writings on the preeminence of Christ are the basis for the celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King.

But it is also his reflection on the primacy of Christ that led to his asking about the Incarnation, or more specifically, why did the Word of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, become flesh.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory.”  (John 1:1,14)  Certainly those verses and others, e.g. Phil 2:5-7, clearly speak to Jesus taking on our humanity, becoming one with us.  But it doesn’t necessarily answer why. Continue reading

An Approved Rule of Franciscan Life

Pope Innocent III Accords Recognition to the F...

The year is 1221 and at the request of the “cardinal protector” of the friars, Cardinal Hugolino, Francis and several of his brothers have taken up the task of writing a formal rule of life.  It was not clear that the Franciscans were actually a “religious order.”  When Francis visited Pope Innocent III in 1209, the pope verbally approved (or did he?) a Rule of Life that was written down in few words.  In 1216, the 4th Lateran Council ruled that no new religious orders could be formed:  all new groups would be absorbed into existing religious orders.  Hugolino recognized the uniqueness of the charism of St. Francis and his brothers and was determined that it not be lost to the church.

Francis and some companions undertook the writing of the “early rule” also known as the Rule of 1221.  It is a potpourri of spiritual reflections, exhortations, and communal and individual norms of behavior – all animated by extensive citations from Scripture.  Even though Francis was attempting to write a juridical rule of life that would “pass muster” from the canon lawyers in the Roman Curia, at the same time he was trying to write a rule borne out of his lived experience of following Christ and the pathway that was revealed to him:  “God has called me to walk in the way of humility and showed me the way of simplicity.  I do not want to hear any talk of the rule of Saint Augustine, of Saint Bernard, or of Saint Benedict.  The Lord has told me that he wanted to make of me a new fool in the world, and God does not want to lead us by any other knowledge than that.” (Assisi Compilation, 18)

The rule was finished, shown to Hugolino (we do not know of his reaction), and submitted to the Roman Curia.  We know the end result.  There is a reason why the “early rule” or “Rule of 1221” is more formally known as the regula non bullata – it was rejected.  But undaunted, Francis and his brothers rolled up their sleeves and went to work on a more streamlined rule, one more suited to the tastes of the canon lawyers.  This “later rule” or “Rule of 1223” is known as the regula bullata because it was formally issued under the Papal Bull (seal) Solet annuere.   It conferred on the Franciscans the official status of “Order” as a juridical foundation.

The document was the most the Curia would accept and was far less than Francis wanted, even if it remained faithful to his fundamental intuitions of the way of life God had showed to him.  For the next three years of his life, Francis worked to continue to give example, a living testimony, of the manner and meaning of the approved rule – and at the end of his life Francis wrote his Testament, a clear indication of what Francis wanted for the order:  live under the Rule of 1223 – but hold the Rule of 1221 close to your heart.  Here is one example of the differences between the two rules:

Regula non bullata (1221)

Chapter 16:  Those who are going among Saracens and other non-believers

Regula bullata (1223)

Chapter 3:  Of the Divine Office and fasting, and how the friars are to travel about the world

The Lord says:  Behold, I am sending you as lambs in the midst of wolves.  Therefore, be prudent as serpents and simple as doves (Mt 10:16).  Therefore, any brother who, by divine inspiration, desires to go among the Saracens and other nonbelievers should go with the permission of his minister and servant.  And the minister should give [these brothers] permission and not oppose them, if he shall see that they are fit to be sent; for he shall be bound to give an account to the Lord (cf. Lk 16:2) if he has proceeded without discretion in this or in other matters.  As for the brothers who go, they can live spiritually among [the Saracens and nonbelievers] in two ways.  One way is not to engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake (1 Pet 2:13) and to acknowledge that they are Christians.  Another way is to proclaim the word of God when they see that it pleases the Lord, so that they believe in the all-powerful God—Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit—the Creator of all, in the Son Who is the Redeemer and Savior, and that they be baptized and become Christians; because whoever has not been born again of water and the Holy Spirit cannot enter into the kingdom of God (cf. Jn 3:5) There are 14 more lines- all scripture about mission. And this is my advice, my counsel, and my earnest plea to my friars in our Lord Jesus Christ that, when they travel about the world, the should not be quarrelsome or take part in disputes with words (cf. 2 Tim. 2:14) or criticize others; but they should be gentle, peaceful, and unassuming, courteous and humble, speaking respectfully to everyone, as is expected of them.  … Whatever house they enter, they should first say, “Peace to this house” (Lk. 10:5), and in the words of the Gospel they may eat what is set before them (Lk. 10:8).

The differences are sometimes quite clear.   In the 1223 Rule, one travels about the world while making sure that the Divine Office is prayed and proscribed fasts are observed – both worthy things.  Only then is one to evangelize and be about mission – which has a certain logic and order to it all.In the 1221, the rules on prayer and fasting have their own section as foundational to being a friar, but the Rule holds up a model of minoritas and mission as intrinsic to the friar way of life.  It is in this Rule that one sees the passion and soul of St. Francis and his attempt to describe the vision God has shown him.  Especially prominent is mutual discernment between one brother and his community about God’s call.

The Rule of 1221 and the Testament, even though not juridically approved, reveal the soul and passion of St. Francis, and as such are the “go to” texts when Franciscans study what it means to be “friar minor.”

St. Bonaventure

Saint Bonaventure

Saint Bonaventure (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This Monday marks the Feast Day of one of the great figures in Franciscan history – St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio – as well as the eighth anniversary of our Franciscan presence in this historic downtown parish.  St. Bonaventure is a good model of what it means to be a Franciscan, while at the same time being a priest in leadership positions in a parish.  Bonaventure reminded the friars of his day that our first vocation is as “brother.”  At the core of our charism, we are a fraternity in mission to the People of God striving to continue our Order’s 800-year-old mission:  bringing the Gospel into the everyday experience of men and women through our life in fraternity and compassionate service to all. Continue reading

Hierarchy of Authority – Hierarchy of Example

saint-francis-of-assisi-cimabueAfter his 1220 return from his mission/travels to Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor, Francis of Assisi resigned as “minister” of the Franciscan movement. As with most changes in the life of St. Francis, there are a host of modern commentaries that offer reasons why. Some conjecture Francis was upset that clerics, ordained priests, were starting to inject their priestly charism upon the fraternity; hence he resigned in protest. Others offer that he was protesting the increased oversight and intrusion of the Pope into the affairs of the friars and their life. Some have insisted that Francis recognized that this religious movement was becoming a religious order – something he did not intend nor desire. Continue reading

St. Anthony of Padua – part 2

tn_anthony-padua1Before He Was Anthony of Padua.  Anthony of Padua was born Fernando Martins de Bulhões on August 15, 1195 in Lisbon, Portugal. His was in a very rich family of the nobility who wanted him to become educated, and they arranged for him to be instructed at the local cathedral school. Against the wishes of his family, however, at the age of 15 he entered the community of Canons Regular at the Abbey of St. Vincent on the outskirts of Lisbon. Monastery life was hardly peaceful for young Fernando, nor conducive to prayer and study, as his old friends came to visit frequently and engaged in vehement political discussions. Continue reading

Francis of Assisi – Integrating into the Church

Francis finished his military adventures and time as a prisoner of war in early 1205. It was during the latter part of 1205 into 1206 that Francis chose to “leave the world.”  In subsequent years , Francis’ model of following Christ began to attract other men to join him in the emerging way of life – even as the “way of life” was being discovered by Francis himself. Francis modeled the life, prayed with the brothers, exhorted them from time to time, and slowly the life began to take shape.

francis-innocentThe basic shape of the movement was not all that unique in Francis’ day. There were many other penitential and mendicant movements in the beginning of the 13th century in western Europe. – some scholars tallying 130 others. Interestingly, only one of them exists today: the Franciscan.  Why? Most scholars hold that it was because of Francis’ insistence on being “Catholic” and formally part of the Catholic Church.  There are several theories as to the reason for that insistence.  Like most things it is a complex reason, but likely primary among the reasons is Francis’ love of the Eucharist. But whatever the reasons, it is no surprise that in 1209 Francis and some of his brothers journeyed to Rome to seek an audience in a consistory with Pope Innocent III in order to receive formal recognition of his proposed way of life. Continue reading

The cords that bind and lead us…

francisbrnI am still waiting for the call from Rome telling me that I have been appointed Papal Household Swim Coach.  It has been a running joke in the office since the papal elections. So, it was somewhat humorous several weeks ago when the parish telephone rang – and on the other end was a call from Rome.  Wasn’t the swim coach call, but rather it was the Vicar General of the Franciscan OFM Order worldwide asking me to consider a new job.  It was not a pastoral job, but a full time job more akin to running a business – and in a place where people wear sweaters even in summer – as opposed to Tampa where sweaters are optional most of the year. I promised to pray about it Continue reading