Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Saints for Today: John of the Cross, Priest (1654-1734)

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Dr. Jean Lee
Jean M. Lee, M.A., D.Min., is a licensed behavioral health and substance abuse counselor, founding a nonprofit, state-licensed behavior health counseling agency and Christian gift/book store. Volunteer work includes: Jail ministry, Legion of Mary membership, door-to-door evangelization, and writing a weekly newspaper column titled “Faith and Inspiration: Encyclopedia of Saints for Today.” A Catholic revert after 32 years away from the Church, she is devout in the Catholic faith, loves the saints, and lives a deeper spiritual/religious and more joyful life since returning to the Church.

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Born Carlo Gaetano into a large and devout Catholic family in Ischia (near Naples), he wished to become a Franciscan. At the age of sixteen he received the Franciscan habit taking the name of John Joseph. At the age of only twenty-one, he was placed in charge of a foundation at Piedimonte di Alife.

John Joseph was ordained a priest in 1677 and soon became known as an exceptional confessor and director and highly revered as a mystic and prophet. He is known as one of the ‘flying saints’; some of the many miracles ascribed to him include levitation and levitation of his walking stick, apparently witnessed by a church full of people.

He built hermitages for his community for periods of prayer and penance. Recalled to Naples as novice-master for two years, he returned to Piedimonte as superior. Here he took on the most menial tasks and asked to be released from authority as he preferred more the contemplative life. His release was granted, but he was soon re-elected guardian.

In 1702 friction between Spaniards and Italians arose, made worse by a papal decision that all important offices should be held by Spaniards. The Spanish retained the two largest houses in Naples before withdrawing to Spain and John Joseph successfully appealed to the Holy See to set up an Italian province. This was achieved with John Joseph as minister-provincial. He acted calmly but strongly, strengthening discipline, reorganizing studies, and making new foundations.

In 1722 the two houses in Naples were fully restored to Italian rule. John Joseph thus returned to the house he had entered. When all was settled, he obtained exemption from future office. He devoted his final years to spiritual direction – forty of his letters survive. He was followed in the streets by crowds who even wished to cut off pieces of his tattered habit. He died soon after a heart stroke at the age of 80.

Bunson, Matthew, Margaret Bunson, and Stephen Bunson. “Encyclopedia of Saints-Revised.” Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003.
Farmer, David. “Oxford Dictionary of Saints.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Heritage, Andrew, ed. “The Book of Saints: A Day-By-Day Illustrated Encyclopedia.” San Francisco: Weldonowen, 2012.

Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons


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