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St Joseph of Cupertino
(southeastern Italy) (entered heaven in 1663)
My dear nephew, not everyone is gifted in the same way, but everyone can (and should) learn to love God. You may not be stellar at academics (though, since you are currently a student, our Lord will still expect you to do your very best), but you are not to let that inhibit your becoming a saint. Good brains are not a requirement (and have often proved a hindrance!); a good heart is. So don’t fret your midterms. Just study with determination (offering up the sacrifice for a special intention – like getting your uncle rescued from this inhumanly blasé imprisonment), and commend them to the intercession of the patron saint of exams, which happens to be today’s saint.
You may wonder why he is the patron saint for students taking exams. It’s very simple. He was a miserable student. As a matter of fact, he was a miserable fellow altogether. Born in a shed because his parents’ house was being auctioned (they were poor, almost destitute), things only went downhill from there. His mother was widowed, and treated him with harsh impatience; she considered him a worthless burden. He seemed to have a knack for nothing. He was extremely absentminded (he regularly forgot to eat meals), extraordinarily clumsy, wandered around his hometown aimlessly, with his mouth hanging open as if he were in some kind of stupor. (They nicknamed him, “the gaper” [“Boccaperta” in Italian].) His mother apprenticed him to a shoemaker, but he was an utter failure. Then he tried to join two monasteries (he had always been noticeably devout), both of which sent him packing (he would leave a trail of clumsy disasters wherever he went – stacks of dishes crashing on the refectory floor, chores undone, etc.). He went begging employment from an uncle, who wouldn’t take him on either. Finally his mother made a deal with a relative, and he became a servant in a Franciscan convent, when he was about 20. For some reason things began to change at that point. He became tolerably successful at this duties (which were always the most menial), and he exhibited extraordinary virtue – humility, kindness, mortification. In a little while he was raised from servanthood and admitted to the religious state, then put on track for priestly ordination.
At that point, the only difficulties he had were his studies. He couldn’t learn anything. He could barely read, and he wrote even less. He had absolutely no rhetorical skills, with one exception: he could expound passably well on one phrase from Scripture: “Blessed is the womb that bore thee.” When it came time for his examination before being ordained a deacon, the Bishop opened the Bible at random and put his finger on a verse, then asked Joseph to explain it. The verse happened to be “Blessed is the womb that bore thee.” One exam down, one more to go. When it came time to be examined before his priestly ordination, his confreres who went before him did so well that the bishop excused the rest, Joseph included. So you can see why he is patron of students taking exams.
The rest of his life was “one long succession of ecstasies, miracles of healing, and supernatural happenings on a scale not paralleled in the reasonably authenticated life of any other saint” as one biographer has put it. Especially famous are his hundreds of levitations – upon entering a church and seeing a statue of the Blessed Virgin or of Jesus, he would rise from the ground and fly over to venerate it. This happened again and again (thus he is also patron of those traveling by plane – no joke). He levitated so frequently during his prayers that he was forbidden from publicly celebrating Mass or praying the Divine Office for 35 years. The last 20 years of his life were spent being shuffled from one community to another: they would confine him to secret seclusion until his whereabouts became known and throngs of pilgrims came to beg his intercession and witness his feats, then they would relocate him – again and again…
Well, I could go on for a long while. The point is, my young nephew, that no matter how much you would like to have a different set of talents, you need to trust that God has given you just the combination that he wants you to have. Now go and use them well. And count on my prayers.