By Fr Anthony Nzubechukwu Ibegbunam Joseph

Johnof the Cross, was born to the wealthy and exemplary family of Joseph
and Laura Calosirto on August 15, feast of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady in
1654, on the Island of Ischia in Southern Italy, (off the coast of Naples). The new
child was baptized the same day and given the name Charles Cajetan.
Early in his life, the young Charles Cajetan “discovered the seeds of those
virtues that in a special manner enriched his soul, and sanctified his life in the
religious state: humility, sweetness, obedience, and an incomparable modesty; and
at the same time manifested a marvelous inclination to silence, retirement, and
prayer” (Alban Butler, The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints,
Vol. I, D. & J. Sadlier, & Company, 1864). Even in childhood, he chose a room in
the most secluded quarter of the house, and constructed a little altar to Our blessed
Lady, on whose great feast he was born, and towards whom, he cherished a tender
and filial devotion throughout his life. Here he spent his whole time in study,
mortification and pious exercises.

“His horror of sin was equal to his love of virtue, so that his mind, from the
first dawn of reason, shrunk like a delicate plant from the very shadow of guilt, and
was all-imbued with zeal for God’s glory. Idleness, levity, vanity, and falsehood,
even in trivial matters, were censured by him as faults severely reprehensible. And
when his efforts to avoid sin drew upon him the hostility of others, he did not lose
his patience, but saw it as a fresh opportunity of practicing virtue. Towards the poor
he overflowed with tenderness, reserving for them the choicest portion of his meals,
and devoting to their use the pocket-money he received” (ibid).
At sixteen, Charles spoke with the superior of the Franciscan Monastery of
Santa Lucia del Monte in Naples, Italy of his desire to be a Franciscan; discerning a
great vocation, the superior received him despite his youth, thus he entered the
Franciscan Order of the Strictest Observance (the Reform of St Peter of Alcantara
(1499-1562). He was the first Italian to follow the reform movement of St Peter of
Charles Cajetan manifested so much ardour, that the superiors deemed it fit to
clothe him with the habit before the usual time had expired. This took place when
he was 17 years old in 1671 on the feast of St John the Baptist, and he took the name
of John Joseph of the Cross. John Joseph’s reputation for holiness prompted his
superiors to put him in charge of establishing a new friary (monastery) at Afila, in
Piedmont, at the age of 21, even before he was ordained a priest. Though he wished
to remain a deacon like his founder, St Francis of Assisi, his superiors insisted that
he be ordained a priest; therefore, in obedience to their wish, he was ordained a priest
in 1677 at the age of 23. Despite his youth and innocence he proved to be an
exceptional, insightful confessor. Following his ordination, he was appointed to hear
confessions; “in which task he displayed a profound theological learning, which he
had acquired solely at the foot of the cross” (ibid). But, carried onward by an ardent
love of the cross, whose treasures he more and more discovered as he advanced in
his priestly ministry, he established in the wood adjoining his convent a kind of
solitude, where, after the manner of the ancient Fathers of the Desert, he devoted
himself entirely to prayer and penitential austerities, and gave to the Church an
illustrious and profitable example of the sacerdotal spirit exercised in a perfect
degree (ibid).
“Because he gave evidence of great theological knowledge and experience in
the ways of spiritual life, he was entrusted with the direction of the novices, into
whose youthful hearts he was able to inculcate so admirable a religious spirit that
several of his novices became distinguished for their sanctity” (Marion Habig, OFM
(ed), The Franciscan Book of Saints, John Joseph of the Cross, “In 1702, when the convents in Italy were no longer dependent
on the Spanish houses, but were formed into a separate province, he was appointed
Vicar Provincial of the Alcantarine Reform in Italy. He laboured hard to establish
in Italy that branch of his Order which the Pope had separated from the one in Spain.
In his work he suffered much, and became the victim of numerous calumnies.
However, he succeeded in his labours, endeavouring to instill in the hearts of his
subjects, the double spirit of contemplation and penance bequeathed to his Reform
by St Peter of Alcantara. When he was superior, he ordered that no beggar should
be dismissed from the convent gate without relief: in time of scarcity he devoted to
their necessities his own portion, and even that of the community.”
“Hope in God sustained him in the midst of the various contradictions he
experienced in establishing his Order (Alacantrine reform) in Italy. He used to say
to his companions, when they were dismayed by the persecutions they suffered, “Let
us hope in God, and doubtless we shall be comforted: “and to the distressed who
flocked to him, “God is a tender father, who loves and succors all;” or, “Doubt not;
trust in God, He will provide” (Butler). He remained silent on the miracles God
performed through him and his gift of prophecy.
“An optician named Vincent Lainez was a penitent and a great admirer of our
saint. He had a little son, five months old, who was very sick and near death. Full of
grief Lainez came to Father Joseph and begged him to obtain the recovery of his
child by his prayers. “But Vincent,” said Father John Joseph, “God calls him to
Himself.” “No, no!” said the distressed father, “He must leave this child to me. Last
year He took my daughter, that is enough; one for Him and the other for me.”
Reluctantly Father Joseph answered: “You should submit to the will of God; but
since you will not, very well! You will suffer the consequences.”
The child recovered, but it ceased growing; it attained its third year, but gave
no signs of intelligence. The unhappy father, whom Father Joseph evaded during
this time, could stand it no longer; he went to the cell of the Father, cast himself
contritely at his feet and acknowledged his sin. After praying a while, the saint turned
to him with sincere compassion and said: “You deprived God of the honor, and the
child of the happiness which it should have enjoyed in heaven during all this time in
praising God. So God punished you, but now He sees your sorrow, and the
punishment is at an end. Return to your home.” Arriving there, the father beheld his
child in the throes of death. The boy turned his little face toward his father with a
sweet smile, the first ever to be seen, and then a moment later his innocent soul took
its flight to heaven” [Marion Habig, OFM (ed), The Franciscan Book of Saints].

“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 in Naples, to venerate the blood of the holy martyr
Januarius, Fr 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 (ibid).”
In the practice of every virtue, and in the enjoyment of sublime graces, Fr John
Joseph passed his life on earth, glorifying God and giving alms and doing good, until
it pleased the Lord to call him for his reward in heaven, but God revealed to him
when he would die. In 1734, his nephew wrote to him from Vienna, Austria, that he
would return home in May, he sent back answer that he would not then find him
living. And only a week before his death, discussing with his brother Francis, he
said, “I have never asked a benefit of you till now; do me the charity to pray to
Almighty God for me, next Friday, do you hear? mind, do not forget.” It was the
very day he died. Two days before he died, he said to Vincent of Laines, “We shall
never meet on earth again” (Butler).
At the age of 79, Fr John Joseph of the Cross died in his convent at Naples,
Italy, like an innocent and beautiful child, his final glance resting on a picture of the
Blessed Virgin Mary. It was on 5 March, 1734. His grave at Naples is a constant
object of great veneration.
He was beatified by Pope Pius VI on 24 May, 1789 and canonized on Holy
Trinity Sunday, 26 May, 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI. His feast day is March 5.
St John Joseph sacrificed himself to God in a life of rigorous penance and contempt
of all earthly comforts. Even as a boy he practiced extraordinary virtue and self￾denial. Self-denial is never an end in itself but is only a means toward greater charity,
as the life of St John Joseph shows.
“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” (Marion Habig, (ed), The Franciscan Book
of Saints).
St John Joseph practiced the presence of God constantly and always said to
the people: “whoever walks always in God’s presence, will never commit sin, but
will preserve his innocence and become a great saint [Butler].”
“Father, You raised Your servant St John Joseph of the Cross through the rugged
way of poverty, humility and patience to heavenly glory. Grant us the grace to follow
his example so as to share in eternal joy.” St John Joseph of the Cross, pray for us.

Fr Anthony Ibegbunam is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Nnewi


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