Ember days

One of my most beloved saints is on the calendar for today: Saint Joseph of Cupertino, humble Franciscan friar (17th century). My affection was first excited by a comment in an old missal, that he “needed divine help to qualify for the priesthood.” He was remembered by his contemporaries as “remarkably unclever,” but also for ecstatic visions, which began in his childhood. God plucked him out from an unpromising trade as a shoemaker’s assistant.

He had rhythm if not brains. According to post-moderns he had gymnastic abilities that made him appear to levitate. According to witnesses, he actually levitated. Sometimes he suffered from fits of wrath, that got him moved from one community to another, the way our modernists move along the more difficult priests. He did not often eat, but had the memorable habit of sprinkling extremely bitter herbs over the food when he did. There was nothing cissy about any of his penances. He spent much of his life in rapt contemplation.

Saints come in all kinds; there is much more variety among them than among the demonically-inhabited. This is why saints are sometimes mistaken for demons — their greater chromatic range. This Saint Joseph was charged with witchcraft at least once. (Nobody expects the Italian Inquisition!) But in his worst moments of adversity, his rather slow-witted holiness shone through.

I think one of the reasons to aim for Heaven, instead of Hell, would be the company there. In Heaven it will be more various and uplifting. In Hell, a certain miserable homogeneity, worse even than we find in modern factory life. It is true that the damned can provide moments of excitement (9/11 and so forth), even here on Earth, but when they do there is a foreseeable viciousness about it. One gets bored with being beaten up and terrorized all the time.

For Saint Joseph, unpredictable ecstasies, and a mysterious wrath, aimed apparently at himself. The sight of beautiful things seemed to trigger the ecstasies, who knows what provoked the angers? The Kingdom is not entirely obvious to us, especially to those among my gentle readers who are not, as I am not, steeped in sanctity.

Saint Joseph Cupertino pray for us, that we may see some of what you have seen. And inspire us as we pass through the glowing Ember Days of September, this week: tame our passions and levitate our thoughts.