He couldn’t hide his holiness from the innocence of a child.
St. Joseph of Cupertino was a holy Franciscan saint who lived in the 17th century. He was so close to God that he often experienced extraordinary graces, such as levitation during Mass and heavenly aromas surrounding him wherever he went.
However, he tried to hide these spiritual gifts from his fellow Franciscan brothers and often referred to himself as “brother ass.” Even though people would flock from all over Italy to see him, St. Joseph never liked the attention. He loved and craved solitude and wanted to have the most mundane tasks in the monastery.
An episode from his life highlights this humility and how he feverishly tried to keep himself from being overly prideful.
One day he was instructed by his superior to visit the home of a woman who was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis (today known as the Secular Franciscans). A biography of St. Joseph of Cupertino written by Angelo Pastrovicchi details the humorous exchange that happened next.
While there, another Tertiary came on a visit with her child, about three years of age. Joseph caressed the child, placed it on a chair, and said, “Little one, repeat after me: ‘Brother Joseph is a great sinner and, when he dies, he will go to hell.’”
But the child, hardly able to speak distinctly and unable to understand the meaning of the words, replied clearly and distinctly, “Brother Joseph is a great saint and, when he dies, he will go to Paradise.”
The saint rejoined with seeming anger: “Will you not speak as I prompt you? Now, say as I do, ‘Brother Joseph is a great sinner.’”
But the child repeated his former words, “Brother Joseph is a great saint.”
Joseph [then] said, “Will you not say as I do?” and again prompted, “Brother Joseph is a great sinner and, when he dies, he will go to hell.” But the child repeated a third time, “Brother Joseph is a great saint, and, when he dies, he will go to Paradise.”
Those present were touched unto tears and convinced that God had wished, by the mouth of an innocent child, to reward and exalt Joseph because of his humility.
While St. Joseph didn’t think very highly of himself, others could see clearly through his attempts to avert people’s attention away from him. They knew that he was a saint and his sanctity could not be kept under a bushel basket. His holiness was an inspiration and even the littlest child could see it.
This exchange also reminds us to never think too highly of ourselves, lest we be puffed up with spiritual pride. While we don’t always have to go as far as St. Joseph of Cupertino and think we are going to Hell, we should acknowledge our own sinfulness and constantly strive to attain perfection.