Holiness is the defining characteristic of a saint. Sometimes, though, God deigns to give a saint a special supernatural ability. Some saints are able, by God’s grace, to heal the sick, supernaturally survive persecution, or even predict the future, among other things.
St. Joseph of Cupertino was graced with a particularly unique gift, even among the saints: he could fly. And he flew so much it actually became a problem!
Joseph was born in Italy at the beginning of the 17th century. His father died before he was born, ruining his family financially. As a result, like Christ, his mother gave birth to him in a stable.
As a child, it became clear something was different about him. He would often fall into a religious ecstasy and have visions. It also became obvious that he had some sort of learning or mental disability.
As a young man, he felt drawn to religious life and tried to join a group of Conventual Franciscan friars in his hometown, but he was rejected. He then asked to join a group of Capuchin friars near his town and was accepted as a lay brother, but that arrangement soon ended, as his frequent religious ecstasies made it hard for him to do his work.
Back at home, he pleaded with the Conventual Franciscan friars again to let him join them. After several years, impressed with his religious devotion and simple living, they finally let him join. His learning disability made it difficult for him to study to become a priest, but God would supernaturally give him the answers to test questions, and he eventually was ordained a priest.
And that’s when the flying started.
While celebrating Mass, he would fall into a religious ecstasy and start levitating. He would also levitate during Liturgy of the Hours and while praying in his room. But the levitating really got out of hand when he did it during public processions! There’s even a story of him levitating during an audience with the pope. Word of his miraculous flying quickly spread and people start flocking to his monastery from all over to see it.
All of this was problematic to his superiors for two reasons. First, the flying and the crowds were both simply disruptive to their way of life. Second, levitation was associated with witchcraft, and so it put him under suspicion.
In response, they tried sending Joseph away to other monasteries. But the levitating continued and the crowds kept on discovering where he was.
Nonetheless, through all the hardship, persecution, and suspicion, Joseph maintained his faith and devotion to Christ. He lived to the age of 60 and was canonized just about a hundred years after his death. His life was dramatized in the 1962 film The Reluctant Saint.
Joseph is the patron saint of air travelers, aviators, astronauts, people with a mental handicap, test takers and poor students.
St. Joseph of Cupertino, please pray for us!
[See also: The Astonishing Fact of the Incorruptible Saints]