We had our 8th Grade Graduation the other day at our Catholic School, Our Lady of Grace in Castro Valley, where we Conventual Franciscans have been newly ministering for one year now. How proud we were of our graduates, as they got up and spoke of the value of their Catholic Education! They have been not only formed in academics, but in values, and have had the blessing of being a class that has been together, many since kindergarten! At this graduation I was also proud to hear the Pastor, Fr. Thomas Czeck OFM Conv., get up and address the students; that “With God, All things are possible”! He handed out a “Prayer for Students”, written on the back of a holy card, with a picture of St. Joseph of Cupertino OFM Conv. He explained a little bit about the life of this relatively unknown Saint.
St. Joseph was a simple man whom due to lack of intelligence, many made fun of. They called him ‘Bocca Aperta’, because from his youth, he was often seen with an open mouth gazing upwards. Most thought it was due to his being unaware, little did they realize it was in awe of God. Joseph did not do well in his priesthood studies, due to his lack of intelligence. In fact, of all the many things he was to learn and know, the only part of his studies he seemed to be able to do is expound upon the Gospel passage from Luke 11:27 “Blessed is the womb that bore you”. Turns out, that on the day of the exam, the bishop who was examining the students decided not to give them the complete exam, instead he would just ask each student one question he chose at “random”. When he came to St. Joseph of Cupertino, you guessed it, the one question he chose, at “random” (actually by the Holy Spirit), was the one question St. Joseph knew. He was ordained a deacon, and a year later at his priesthood exam, the bishop was so impressed by the quality of the answers by the first students, he passed the whole class without examining them all. Joseph was among those not examined that day, and was ordained to the priesthood, despite his lack of intellectual “worthiness”. Although St. Joseph of Cupertino lacked in intelligence, he excelled in Love and devotion to God. When St. Joseph celebrated the Mass, heard the name Jesus and Mary, words of praise, when moved by the beauty of creation, or sometimes for no reason at all, he would go into a state of awe and often levitate. This became such an attraction for the local people, that many would come to the friary to watch him celebrate Mass, or see him. These “distractions” eventually became too difficult for the friars to integrate into their lives, so he was confined to his cell, where he prayed, and celebrated Mass.
Fr. Tom the Pastor explained to the 8th grade class, that he believed the message God was giving the world through St. Joseph of Cupertino, especially at that time in history, is basically (Fr. Tom’s tone became very informal here) ‘You think the human mind can explain everything? Well explain this!’ (Referring to St. Joseph levitating.) St. Joseph live in the years 1603 – 1663, the beginning of the Enlightenment Period, where humanity especially began to exult the powers of the human mind, and assert that reason was the highest source of authority, especially over Church and state. Today we still hear that same message over and over; that modern man has no more need for God. We hear a form of this message especially at this time of graduation when we hear it proclaimed to our students; “You can do anything you put your mind to!” Although I believe the mind has the power to do many things far beyond what we realize, ultimately this teaching is another form of the oldest lie originally given to us by the deceiver in the book of Genesis; that with knowledge, of good and evil, “You will be like gods” (Gn 3:5). The modern doctrine of “You can do anything you put your mind to” is just another form of the lie given by the serpent in Genesis. It is an attempt to eliminate our need for God. Yes, the mind is indeed powerful, but it does not know all things, and ultimately the greatest things, the most important things, are beyond our human understanding. This is God’s message to us through the book Job;
“Then Yahweh gave Job his answer. Who is this obscuring my intentions with his ignorant words? Brace yourself like a fighter; I am going to ask the questions, and you are to inform me! Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Tell me, since you are so well-informed!… Do you really want to reverse my judgement, put me in the wrong and yourself in the right? Has your arm the strength of God’s, can your voice thunder as loud?” (Job chapters 38-42).
I believe the human mind is powerful, and we can do many of the things we put our mind to. But as powerful as the mind is, one day we may wake up and it may not work. Each moment, each breath we have, is a gift from God. We ultimately own nothing, and all our power and abilities are given and sustained by God! Yes, we can often do the many things we put our mind too, and God in his love allows us free will to choose what we put our mind to. We may put our minds to being a great scientist, athlete, student, business person, to being rich and successful, even to being the president, but are not many of these in the end, a distraction from what we really should be putting our minds to? God, who gave us our minds, wants us to put our minds to the really important things; spreading the Kingdom of God, loving others, working for world peace, justice, care of creation and respect for all life from conception to natural death, to end poverty, and provide refuge for those displaced by war and famine, and curing diseases. These things take more than just ME putting MY mind to it. These things take all of us, putting all our minds (AND HEARTS) to it! Additionally, to accomplish these things will ultimately require us to call on the Power of God to change human hearts, and teach us to trust one another and sacrifice for one another!!!! Rather than repeat the original lie, ‘We can be like gods’ by teaching our children we can ‘Do anything we put our mind to’, let us proclaim the words of the Angel Gabriel to Mary; “Nothing is Impossible for God”! Let us join in her response to the angel; “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Let us say with her;
“My soul proclaims the Greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For He has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness… The Mighty One has done great things for me, and Holy is His Name! His mercy is from age to age to those who fear Him. He has shown might with His arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty….” (Lk 1:46-55).
I would like to conclude with the Prayer for Students, on the back of the Holy Card given to us by Fr. Tom:
O humble St. Joseph of Cupertino, the Holy Spirit guided you in your studies and helped you through your examinations. Studies were not easy for you, so I am sure that you understand my difficulties.
Help me to remember the importance of my studies so that I may use all the talents that God has given me.
Calm me when I become nervous and confused, especially when I am taking my exams.
Give me the humility to accept my limitations. Let me never measure my self-worth according to the mark I receive but rather according to the effort I give.
And most of all, remind me to use what I learn in the service of God and my brother and sisters, for that is the true wisdom that never fades. Amen.
Consider coming on our Next Event; First profession of Vows, and our Summer Come and See Road Trip! Go here for more info…
Read more about st. joseph of Cupertino at: http://www.ofmconv.org/English/documents/joscup/joscenter_en.htm
Watch a fabulous (and funny) movie about his life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kHKJMLZRhM
I’d be happy to send you a Holy Card of St. Joseph of Cupertino, with the Prayer for Students on it. Just email me your address! Peace, Fr. Paul Gawlowski OFM Conv., Vocation Director, St. Joseph of Cupertino Province, Conventual Franciscans. Email the Vocation Director…