Last week I had one of those days where 24 hours just did not seem like enough.
Between work obligations, phone calls, meetings, dinner plans, and my sons’ varsity soccer game, I felt pulled in multiple directions. I made a quick stop at the post office in the midst of it all, and when I hopped back in the car to drive home, I turned the key in the ignition and … nothing. Not a beep. Not a click. I would have settled for a hum. But no, the car was completely dead.
When you’re running around like a crazy person, nothing brings you back to your senses quite like being forced to stop abruptly in the middle of it all and just sit, alone in a lifeless vehicle, waiting for a tow truck.
I took a breath. Before my car broke down, I hadn’t paused to realize just how packed my schedule was. The back-to-school season can be like that for families. Everything seems to start up at once and making the adjustment to new routines can be a real challenge.
One saint that I pray to during the back-to-school season each year is St. Joseph of Cupertino, patron saint of students and of studying, whose feast day we celebrate on September 18.
I used to pray to St. Joseph of Cupertino when I was studying for exams in college, and I assumed he got the “job” as patron saint of students because he was a star student himself. When we read his life’s story, however, we find out that just the opposite was true.
St. Joseph of Cupertino was born in 1603 in Cupertino, which is now the Italian province of Lecce. As a child, he was a poor student, slow to learn and easily distracted. Modern educators might diagnose him with a learning disability, but during his lifetime, he was simply dismissed as slow and lazy. His mother especially grew frustrated with him and treated him harshly. Perhaps out of unhappiness with himself or as a response to his mother’s harshness, Joseph developed a bad temper. In his early years he certainly didn’t show the makings of a saint.
Joseph’s parents grew tired of having him at home, and so when he was about 18, they arranged for him to leave home and become a servant in a Franciscan monastery. It was there that his life began to change.
Joseph’s work consisted of menial tasks such as caring for the horses, and he adopted a life of simplicity, humility, and sacrifice. Eventually, he was able to enter the Franciscan order and become a priest. After ordination, he continued to grow in holiness and he experienced miraculous visions and was even reported to levitate and “fly” sometimes when in prayer or while offering Mass.
As fascinating—or incredible—as levitation might be, I find it most helpful to reflect on the ways that St. Joseph of Cupertino struggled as a student, and his tendency toward angry outbursts. Yet he overcame these flaws in the end. That’s where most of us find ourselves, after all, in the struggles of everyday life.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is another saint who understood the limitations and challenges of life here on earth. In her lifetime, she experienced not only physical limitations as she, her husband, and their children suffered serious illness and even early death, but also financial setbacks and emotional trials as she navigated life as a widow, and as a newly converted Catholic with few social options outside of the circles of her Protestant upbringing.
As an innovator in Catholic education in the United States, St. Elizabeth Ann would have understood the pressures and challenges of modern families who struggle with back-to-school adjustments. She faced many obstacles in building the St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School, which served poor, young girls who needed education and practical skills in order to grow in their faith and find employment in the world.
Wherever this back-to-school season finds us this year—running carpool or adjusting to new daily routines—we can look to the examples of St. Joseph Cupertino and St. Elizabeth Seton. Even in the midst of earthly limitations, in these two great saints we find inspiration in holiness and encouragement toward the challenge every one of us faces—overcoming obstacles and weaknesses in this world as we make our way toward the next.
DANIELLE BEAN is a writer and popular speaker on Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood, and the former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest. Danielle is author of several books for women including Momnipotent, You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.
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