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ST. JOSEPH OF CUPERTINO, C.
JOSEPH DESA was born the 17th of June, 1603, at Cupertino, a small village of the diocess of Nardo, between Brindisi and Otranto, six miles from the coast of the gulf of Tarento. His parents were poor, but virtuous. His mother brought him up in great sentiments of piety; but treated him with great severity, punishing him frequently for the least fault, to inure him to an austere and penitential life. From his infancy he gave signs of an extraordinary fervor, and everything in him seemed to announce that he already tasted the sweets of heavenly consolations. He was very attentive to the divine service, and in an age when the love of pleasure is generally predominant, he wore a hair shirt, and mortified his body by divers austerities. He was bound apprentice to a shoemaker, which trade he applied himself to for some time.
When he was seventeen years of age he presented himself to be received amongst the Conventual Franciscans, where he had two uncles of distinction in the Order. He was nevertheless refused because he had not made his studies. All he could obtain was to be received amongst the Capuchins in quality of lay-brother; but after eight months he was dismissed as unequal to the duties of the Order. Far from being discouraged he persisted in his resolution of embracing a religious state. At length the Franciscans, moved with compassion, received him into their convent of Grotella, thus called from a subterraneous chapel dedicated to God under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin. This convent was situated near Cupertino. The saint having finished his novitiate with great fervor, he made his vows, and was received as lay-brother amongst the Oblates of the Third Order. Though employed in the meanest offices of the house, he performed them with the most perfect fidelity. He redoubled his fasts and austerities; he prayed continually, and slept only three hours every night. His humility, his sweetness, his love of mortification and penance, gained him so much veneration, that in a provincial chapter held at Altamura in 1625, it was resolved he should be admitted amongst the Religious of the Choir, that he might thus qualify himself for holy orders.
Joseph begged to go through a second novitiate, after which he separated himself more than ever from the company of men, to unite himself more closely to God by prayer and contemplation. He looked upon himself as a great sinner, and imagined it was through mere charity that the religious habit was given him. His patience made him bear in silence and with joy the severest rebukes for faults which he had not committed: and his obedience was such that he executed without delay the most difficult duties enjoined him. So many virtues rendered him the object of universal admiration. Being ordained priest in 1628, he celebrated his first mass with inexpressible sentiments of faith, of love and respect. He chose a retired cell that was dark and incommodious. He would often go to pray to the most unfrequented oratories, that he might give himself up more freely to contemplation. He divested himself of everything that was allowed him by his rule, and when he saw himself thus naked, he cried out, prostrate before his crucifix: “Behold me, O Lord, bereft of all earthly things: be thou, I beseech thee, my only good: I look upon every other thing as a real danger and as a loss to my soul.”
After having received the priesthood he passed five years without tasting bread or wine; during which time he lived only on herbs and dry fruits; and even the herbs that he ate on Fridays were so distasteful that only himself could use them. His fast in Lent was so rigorous that for seven years he took no nourishment but on Thursdays and Sundays, except the holy eucharist which he received every day. His countenance in the morning was extremely pale, but after the communion it became florid and lively. He had contracted such a habit of fasting, that his stomach could no longer bear any food. His desire of mortification made him invent different instruments of penance. During two years he suffered many interior trials which tormented him exceedingly; but to this storm a profound calm succeeded.
A report being spread that he had frequent raptures, and that many miracles were wrought by him, the people followed him in crowds as he was travelling through the province of Bari. A certain vicar-general was offended at it, and carried his complaints to the inquisitors of Naples. Joseph was ordered to appear; but the heads of his accusation being examined, he was declared innocent, and dismissed. He said mass at Naples in the church of St. Gregory the Armenian, which belonged to a monastery of Religious. The holy sacrifice being finished, he fell into an ecstasy, as many eye-witnesses attested in the process of his canonization.1 The inquisitors sent him to Rome to his general, who received him with harshness, and ordered him to retire to the convent of Assisium. Joseph was filled with joy at this news, on account of the great devotion he had to the holy founder of his Order. The guardian of Assisium treated him also with roughness. But his sanctity shone forth more and more: and persons of the highest distinction expressed an ardent desire to see him. He arrived at Assisium in 1639, and remained there thirteen years. At first he suffered many trials, both interior and exterior. His superior often called him hypocrite, and treated him with great rigor. On the other hand, God seemed to have abandoned him; his religious exercises were accompanied with a spiritual dryness that afflicted him exceedingly; the impure phantoms which his imagination represented to him, joined to the most terrible temptations, cast him into so deep a melancholy, that he scarce dare lift up his eyes. His general being informed of his situation, called him to Rome, and having kept him there three weeks, he sent him back to his convent of Assisium.
The saint, on his way to Rome, experienced a return of those heavenly consolations which had been withdrawn from him. At the name of God, of Jesus, or of Mary, he was, as it were, out of himself. He would often cry out: “Vouchsafe, O my God, to fill and possess all my heart. O that my soul was freed from the chains of the body, and united to Jesus Christ! Jesus, Jesus, draw me to yourself; I am not able to live any longer on the earth.” He was often heard to excite others to the love of God, and to say to them: “Love God; he in whom this love reigns, is rich, although he does not perceive it.” His raptures were as frequent as extraordinary. He had many, even in public, to which a great number of persons of the first quality were eye-witnesses, and the truth of which they afterward declared upon oath. Amongst those, John Frederick, duke of Brunswick and Hanover, was one. This prince, who was a Lutheran, was so struck with what he had seen, that he abjured his former tenets, and embraced the Catholic faith. Joseph had also a singular talent for converting the most obdurate sinners, and quieting the minds of such as labored under any trouble. He used to say to some scrupulous persons who came to consult him: “I neither like scruples nor melancholy; let your intention be right, and fear not.” He explained the most profound mysteries of our faith with the greatest clearness; and this sublime knowledge he owed to the intimate communication he had with God in prayer.
His prudence, which was remarkable in the conduct of souls, drew to him a great concourse of people, and even of cardinals and princes. He foretold to John Casimir, son of Sigismund III. king of Poland, that he would one day reign for the good of the people, and the sanctification of souls, and advised him not to engage in any religious Order. But this prince having afterward entered among the Jesuits, took the vows of the scholars of the society, and was made cardinal by pope Innocent X. in 1646. Joseph dissuaded him from the resolution he had taken of receiving holy orders. What the saint foretold came to pass; for, Uladislas, eldest son of Sigismund, dying in 1648, John Casimir was elected king of Poland; but after some time resigned his crown and retired into France, where he died in 1672. It was this prince who himself afterward disclosed all the circumstances of the fact which we have here related.
His miracles were not less remarkable than the other extraordinary favors he received from God. Many sick owed their recovery to his prayers. The saint falling sick of a fever at Osimo, the 10th of August, 1663, foretold that his last hour was near at hand. The day before his death he received the holy viaticum, and after it the extreme unction. He was heard often to repeat those aspirations of a heart inflamed with the love of God: “Oh! that my soul was freed from the shackles of my body, to be reunited to Jesus Christ! Praise and thanksgiving be to God! The will of God be done. Jesus crucified, receive my heart, and kindle in it the fire of your holy love.” He died the 18th of September, 1663, at the age of sixty years and three months. His body was exposed in the church, and the whole town came to visit it with respect; he was afterward buried in the chapel of the Conception. The heroism of his virtues being proved, and the truth of his miracles attested, he was beatified by Benedict XIV. in 1753, and canonized by Clement XIII. in 1767. Clement XIV. inserted his office in the Roman Breviary. See the Life of St. Joseph of Cupertino, written in Italian, by count Dominic Bernini in 1722, and dedicated to Innocent XIII. Agelli has given an abridgment of it in 1753, with an account of twenty-two new miracles. We have another abridgment of the life of this saint by Pastrovicchi, also in 1753. See also F. Suysken, Comment. et Not. p. 992.