This little plaque — actually, a retablo — caught my eye while having lunch in an Albuequerqe, NM, restaurant on a recent trip to the Center for Action and Contemplation. The image is of Joseph of Cupertino, a 17th century Franciscan saint who is the patron of air travel, soaring among hot air balloons.
Joseph was known for his ecstacies and for levitation; over 70 instances of this were recorded during his lifetime. It is said that he was so moved by any mention of God or the Blessed Mother, or by hearing church bells or hymns, or when encountering other profound religious symbols that he would lift off the ground and hover, sometimes sailing over the heads of people to get to a statue of the Immaculate Conception or to the altar. This was not always welcomed by the heirarchy; Joseph was questioned extensively by Inquisition officials and often confined to his friary cell.
I think it would be wonderful to levitate and fly for short distances. Sometimes in dreams I will soar above a crowd or cross a waterway. In one dream, I conveniently floated from one side of the street to the other while a parade marched down the center of the roadway. Dreams of flying are not uncommon; it seems to be something that appeals deeply to the human spirit (see Icarus).
Even more remarkable than levitation, perhaps, is bilocation. Padre Pio, whose feast day we celebrated on September 23, was known for this phenomenon in addition to having the stigmata. Other saints have been said to have bilocated, such as Anthony of Padua, Gerard Majella, and Martin de Porres. It’s not just Catholics who travel this way; it’s almost a stereotypical depiction to see Hindu holy people floating off the ground or to hear accounts of them being in two places at once.
Levitation, bilocation, the stigmata: these signs of holiness and otherworldliness are marks of exceptional people who are in the world but not of it. They, like Jesus, ”do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world” (John 17:16).
The icon of St. Joseph of Cupertino floating among the hot air balloons is a whimsical image that speaks of a greater reality. Our souls are not rooted in the ground but are meant to soar among higher things.
P.S. Albuquerque is known for being an ideal place for hot air balloons; its annual international balloon festival starts this Saturday, October 1.
Photos: Mary Carol Kendzia