The Catholic Defender: Saint John Joseph of the Cross
At the age of 16yrs, St John-Joseph joined the Franciscans wishing to live a life of poverty, austerity and prayer. At 20yrs and at his Superior’s request, he founded a friary in Piedmont and was later ordained a Priest. He also set up a convent community and became Master of Novices.
“Where there is no love put love … and you will find love”.
Self-denial is never an end in itself but is only a help toward greater charity—as the life of Saint John Joseph shows.
In his novitiate Saint John Joseph of the Cross exercised himself in humility and poverty according to the example of their holy Father St Francis, and strove to nourish the spirit of mortification and prayer in imitation of St Peter of Alcantara.
John Joseph was very ascetic even as a young man. At 16, he joined the Franciscans in Naples; he was the first Italian to follow the reform movement of Saint Peter Alcantara. John Joseph’s reputation for holiness prompted his superiors to put him in charge of establishing a new friary even before he was ordained.
Saint John Joseph of the Cross attained to so high a degree of perfection that, even before he was ordained a preist, he was commissioned with the building of a new convent. Wherever there was hard work to perform during the construction, he was the first at hand to do it
When his term of office expired, Saint John Joseph of the Cross lived as a simple subject in the convent at Naples, where he devoted all his time to the care of souls and the practices of piety. Among them was Saint Mary Frances of the Five Wounds. His mortifications were exceptionally rigorous, so that no one may venture to imitate him without a special grace from God.
He wore several iron crosses, studded with sharp points, on his shoulders, his back, and on his chest. Daily he scourged himself to the blood. He went either entirely barefoot or wore sandals in which small nails stood out.
Obedience moved John Joseph to accept appointments as novice master, guardian and, finally, provincial. His years of mortification enabled him to offer these services to the friars with great charity. As guardian he was not above working in the kitchen or carrying the wood and water needed by the friars.
During the last thirty years of his life he abstained from drink of every sort in honor of the thirst of our Lord. But he was still more intent on interior mortification. In order to keep his soul recollected, he kept a strict guard over all his senses; he strove constantly to deny his own will in order to do only the will of his superiors and thus fulfill the will of God. He emphasized this point also when giving advice to those who came to him for guidance.
As an old man, Saint John Joseph of the Cross was severely troubled with ulcers on his legs, so that he could hardly make a step without the use of a cane.
One day when he was in the cathedral, to venerate the blood of the holy martyr Januarius (which is miraculously liquefied each year when the vial containing the blood is placed near the head of the saint), Father Joseph’s cane was lost in the crowd that pressed about him. He was obliged to support himself at the walls until he arrived at the church door. There he paused while he asked the saint to return his cane to him.
A distinguished gentleman, who had come to the church in his carriage, asked Father Joseph what had happened. Raising his hand, Saint John Joseph of the Cross said:
“My hobby-horse has run away, but St Januarius will bring him back.”
At that moment the people in church began to cry aloud:
“A miracle! A miracle!” The cane was seen passing through the air until it reached his hand. Later on, a cardinal asked the favor of possessing the object of so charming a miracle; he had it encased in a precious shrine.
When his term as provincial expired, John Joseph dedicated himself to hearing confessions and practicing mortification, two concerns contrary to the spirit of the dawning Age of Enlightenment. John Joseph of the Cross was canonized in 1839.
Pope Pius VI beatified him, and Gregory XVI solemnly canonized Saint John Joseph of the Cross on Trinity Sunday in the year 1839.