Today’s reading, in Saint Paul’s letter to the young bishop Timothy, the Apostle requests all Catholics to ‘pray for those in high places’, for all those carrying that oft-misunderstood quality we call ‘authority’. Whether they are aware of such or not, everyone carrying that burden, however it was laid upon them, by birth, by vote, by usurpation, will be asked for a strict account by God when they shuffle off this mortal coil. We pray that our leaders may instill enough order that we may lead peaceable and godly lives, carrying out those duties laid upon us in our own, often far smaller (thankfully), spheres of authority.
We should not in general seek to lord it over others, unless there is a clear and distinct obligation to do so. Rather, we should develop what Saint Philip Neri termed the capacity amare nesciri, ‘to love to be unknown’. This is a difficult thing, for we all love to be lauded, and the more known the better, which is why rich benefactors plaster their names over the buildings they endow.
But to be hidden in God, known only by Him, is a great treasure, which today’s saint, the Franciscan Joseph of Cupertino, lived to the full. He was so rapt in the love of God that he would fall into ecstasy, standing still while drying a dish, a beatific smile on his face, imperturbable, always joyful, obeying his superiors without a moment’s hesitation, practising a rather severe asceticism which flowed from the deep well of his charity. There are numerous eyewitness accounts of him levitating (as was recorded of other saints, such as Thomas Aquinas, a man whose build would defy easy hovering). The friar of Cupertino would quite literally fly around (he is the patron saint of aviators), so much so that the Franciscans had to hide him away, away from any public events or community prayer, a ‘being alone with God’ which Friar Joseph did not mind all that much, so long as he could say Mass.
The ‘great’ ones of the world may never have heard of Saint Joseph of Cupertino, and that is too bad. Presidents, Prime Ministers and other potentates are meeting today at the United Nations in New York city, surrounded by numerous layers of armored security, to discuss everything from North Korea to climate change (of course). They might see things more clearly if they could see themselves and all else, like the saint of Cupertino, sub specie aternitatis, under the aspect of eternity, and our final end with God. Only then do things make sense; and only then will everything that transpires in this passing world, at some deep and abiding level, make us joyful.
As Chesterton once quipped that the angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly. Would we could too, with that happy Friar.
Saint Joseph of Cupertino, ora pro nobis!