St. Joseph of Leonissa

Feast Day : 2nd February 

In the year 1556, at Leonissa in the Abruzzi in the kingdom of Naples, the devout couple John Desiderius and Frances Paulina were blessed with a son, to whom they gave the name Euphranius at baptism. Under their faithful guidance the little boy made such progress in piety that at a very tender age he resolved upon certain feast days, and took the greatest pleasure in practices of piety.

Later on, pursuing his studies at Viterbo, he attracted the attention and admiration of everyone by his industry and virtuous life to such a degree that a nobleman in that city offered him his daughter in marriage together with a large dowry. But the Euphranius has already made a nobler choice. He left school and entered the Franciscan order among the Capuchins at Leonissa, in the year 1573, under the name of Joseph. Here he found happiness and peace in things which an effeminate age abhors most: mortification and penance.

His dwelling was a poor cell, so small and narrow that he could hardly stand, sit, or lie down in it. His bed was the bare earth, a block of wood was his pillow. He ate by preference food which the others could not or would not eat, such as stale beans and mouldy bread. In spite of the great strain associated with a life of preaching, he persevered in doing such penance even after he had been entrusted with the task. With works of penance he strove to win over those souls to God that he could not move with words.

In the year 1587, his zeal for souls urged him to go to Constantinople. He could not long conceal from the fanatical Turks the good that he was doing, especially among the Christian captives on the galleys. They seized him, pierced his right hand and right foot with sharp hooks, and hung him up on a high gibbet, then kindled a weak fire under him in order to roast him alive slowly. and gradually to suffocate him. He suffered untold tortures for three days. On the fourth day he was miraculously freed by an angel and received the command to return to Italy to preach the Gospel to the poor. From now on he traveled untiringly through all the villages and country towns of Umbria. He strongly denounced evils of that day, such as frivolous dances and plays. In his associations with the people, however, he resembled a lamb in his meekness and charity. His very bearing won for him the affection of the people, and effected the most remarkable reconciliations between persons who had been living in enmity for years, and between families and communities that had been at variance with each other.

Often while at work or at prayer he would be rapt in ecstasy. He wrought many miracles, and was vouchsafed the gift of prophesy and of reading human hearts. He also foretold the day of his death. It was February 4, 1612, when he entered into the joy of his Lord in the convent at Amatrice. His body was taken to his native town of Leonissa, and reposes there, glorified by many miracles.

Pope Clement XII beatified Joseph, and Pope Benedict XIV canonized him in the year 1745.


ON MORTIFYING THE APPETITE

1. Consider how at a very tender age St, Joseph of Leonissa mortified his appetite by voluntary fasting, and later went so far as to seek his necessary nourishment by preference only in food that was repugnant to the natural taste and might even have injured his health, if the Divine Spirit who urged him to do it had not protected him. Thus he proved himself a true son of St. Francis, of whom St. Bonaventure writes: "When he was well, he seldom ate cooked foods and when he was obliged to eat them, he would mix ashes and water with the food. He did not only abstain from wine, but never even desired to drink water." Our Seraphic Father did this because he had considered the words of the Apostle: "They that are Christ's have crucified their flesh" (Gal 5:24). -- According to their rule, Tertiaries are also required to be temperate in eating and drinking. In this matter, have you proved yourself a true child of St. Francis?

2. Consider how easily and in how many ways we can indulge the appetite: by eating too much, by eating too often, by eating too greedily, by eating too daintily. Many who guard against the first three instances, are caught in the meshes of the last. God has ordained that our food should naturally have a pleasing taste in order that it may be conducive to good health, and it is no fault if we relish our food. But fondness for delicacies serves merely to satisfy an inordinate desire for food and drink; as St. Chrysostom says, some people seem to live in order to eat instead of eating in order to live. -- Do you belong to this class?

3. Consider the means to overcome the inordinate desire for eating and drinking. It is related of St. Adelgundis that upon reflecting how difficult it is to satisfy the needs of the body without yielding to sensual pleasure, she asked God to deprive her of all pleasure in eating and drinking. Then St. Peter appeared to her and gave her a piece of bread from heaven. Thereafter no earthly food could again rouse her appetite. If we, too, partake of heavenly food, that is, if in the frequent contemplation of the joys of heaven we gain a foretaste of their sweetness, and if we recall that it was through eating of forbidden fruit that heaven was closed to be reopened only when Christ drank the bitter chalice of His Passion and the nauseous gall, then perhaps earthly food will tempt us less than before. We will be glad daily to offer a sacrifice to God by mortifying our appetite as did St. Joseph of Leonissa, so that we may grow in the relish of pious practices and hereafter be made partakers of heavenly sweetness.

PRAYER OF THE CHURCH

O God, Thou rewarder of faithful servants, who didst make of blessed Joseph an extraordinary laborer in preaching the Gospel, mercifully grant us through his intercession that we may never cease to serve Thee in a pleasing manner here on earth, and may finally receive from Thee the full reward in heaven. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

from: The Franciscan Book Of Saints, ed. by Marion Habig, ofm., © 1959 Franciscan Herald Press

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