March 4, 2021: ST. CASIMIR, PRINCE OF POLAND
March 4, 2021: COMMEMORATION OF ST. CASIMIR, PRINCE OF POLAND, CONFESSOR
Enjoy thy well-earned rest in heaven, O Casimir! Neither the world with all its riches, nor the court with all its pleasures, could distract thy heart from the eternal joys it alone coveted and loved. Thy life was short, but full of merit. The remembrance of heaven made thee forget the earth. God yielded to the impatience of thy desire to be with him, and took thee speedily from among men. Thy life, though most innocent, was one of penance, for knowing the evil tendencies of corrupt nature, thou hadst a dread of a life of comfort.
O God, who amidst the delights of a court, and the attractive snares of the world, didst preserve holy Casimer constant and faithful in thy service; grant, we beseech thee, that by his intercession, thy people may despise the things of this world, and eagerly pursue those that are everlasting. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
It is from a Court that we are to be taught to-day the most heroic virtues. Casimir is a Prince; he is surrounded by all the allurements of youth and luxury; and yet he passes through the snares of the world with as much safety and prudence, as though he were an Angel in human form. His example shows us what we may do. The world has not smiled on us as it did on Casimir; but, how much we have loved it! If we have gone so far as to make it our idol, we must now break what we have adored, and give our service to the Sovereign Lord, who alone has a right to it. When we read the Lives of the Saints, and find that persons, who were in the ordinary walk of life, practised extraordinary virtues, we are inclined to think that they were not exposed to great temptations, or that the misfortunes they met in the world, made them give themselves up unreservedly to God's service. Such interpretations of the actions of the Saints are shallow and false, for they ignore this great fact,—that there is no condition or state, however humble, in which man has not to combat against the evil inclinations of his heart, and that corrupt nature alone is strong enough to lead him to sin. But in such a Saint as Casimir, we have no difficulty in recognising that all his Christian energy was from God, and not from any natural source; and we rightly conclude, that we, who have the same good God, may well hope that this Season of spiritual regeneration will change and better us. Casimir preferred death to sin. But is not every Christian bound to be thus minded every hour of the day? And yet, such is the infatuation produced by the pleasures or advantages of this present life, that we, every day, see men plunging themselves into sin, which is the death of the soul; and this, not for the sake of saving the life of the body, but for a vile and transient gratification, which is oftentimes contrary to their temporal interests. What stronger proof could there be than this, of the sad effects produced in us by Original Sin?—The examples of the Saints are given us as a light to lead us in the right path: let us follow it, and we shall be saved. Besides, we have a powerful aid in their merits and intercession: let us take courage at the thought, that these Friends of God have a most affectionate compassion for us their Brethren, who are surrounded by so many and great dangers.
The Church, in her Liturgy, thus describes to us the virtues of our young Prince.
Casimir was the son of Casimir, king of Poland, and of Elizabeth, of Austria. He was put, when quite a boy, under the care of the best masters, who trained him to piety and learning. He brought his body into subjection by wearing a hairshirt, and by frequent fasting. He could not endure the soft bed which is given to kings, but lay on the hard floor, and during the night, he used privately to steal from his room, and go to the Church, where, prostrate before the door, he besought God to have mercy on him. The Passion of Christ was his favourite subject of meditation; and when he assisted at Mass, his mind was so fixed on God, that he seemed to be in one long ecstacy.
Great was his zeal for the propagation of the Catholic faith, and the suppression of the Russian schism. He persuaded the king, his father, to pass a law, forbidding the schismatics to build new churches, or to repair those which had fallen to ruin. Such was his charity for the poor and all sufferers, that he went under the name of the Father and Defender of the Poor. During his last illness, he nobly evinced his love of purity, which virtue he had maintained unsullied during his whole life. He was suffering a cruel malady; but he courageously preferred to die, rather than suffer the loss, whereby his physicians advised him to purchase his cure,—the loss of his priceless treasure.
Being made perfect in a short space of time, and rich in virtue and merit, after having foretold the day of his death, he breathed forth his soul into the hands of his God, in the twenty-fifth year of his age, surrounded by Priests and Religious. His body was taken to Vilna, and was honoured by many miracles. A young girl was raised to life at his shrine; the blind recovered their sight, the lame the use of their limbs, and the sick their health. He appeared to a small army of Lithuanians, who were unexpectedly attacked by a large force, and gave them the victory over the enemy. [Pope] Leo the Tenth was induced by all these miracles to insert his name among the Saints.
Another account of St. Casimir.
St. Casimir was the third among the thirteen children of Casimir III, king of Poland, and of Elizabeth of Austria, daughter to the emperor Albert II, a most virtuous woman, who died in 1505. He was born in 1458, on the 5th of October. From his childhood he was remarkably pious and devout. His preceptor was John Dugloss, called Longinus, canon of Cracow, a man of extraordinary learning and piety, who constantly refused all bishoprics, and other dignities of the church and state, which were pressed up on him. Uladislas, the eldest son, was elected king of Bohemia, in 1471, and became king of Hungary in 1490. Our saint was the second son: John Albert, the third son, succeeded the father in the kingdom of Poland in 1492; and Alexander, the fourth son, was called to the same in 1501. Casimir and the other princes were so affectionately attached to the holy man who was their preceptor, that they could not bear to be separated from him. But Casimir profited most by his pious maxims and example. He consecrated the flower of his age to the exercises of devotion and penance, and had a horror of that softness and magnificence which reign in courts. His clothes were very plain, and under them he wore a hair shirt. His bed was frequently the ground, and he spent a considerable part of the night in prayer and meditation, chiefly on the passion of our Saviour. He often went out in the night to pray before the church-doors; and in the morning waited before them till they were opened to assist at matins. By living always under a sense of the divine presence he remained perpetually united to, and absorbed in, his Creator, maintained an uninterrupted cheerfulness of temper, and was mild and affable to all. He respected the least ceremonies of the church: every thing that tended to promote piety was dear to him. He was particularly devout to the passion of our blessed Saviour, the very thought of which excited him to tears, and threw him into transports of love. He was no less piously affected towards the sacrifice of the altar, at which he always assisted with such reverence and attention that he seemed in raptures. And as a mark of his singular devotion to the Blessed Virgin, he composed, or at least frequently recited, the long hymn that bears his name, a copy of which was, by his desire, buried with him. His love for Jesus Christ showed itself in his regard for the poor, who are his members, to whose relief he applied whatever he had, and employed his credit with his father, and his brother Uladislas, king of Bohemia, to procure them succor. His compassion made him feel in himself the afflictions of every one.
The Palatines and other nobles of Hungary, dissatisfied with Matthias Corvin, their king, son of the great Huniades, begged the king of Poland to allow them to place his son Casimir on the throne. The saint, not then quite fifteen years of age, was very unwilling to consent; but in compliance with his father's will he went, at the head of an army of twenty thousand men, to the frontiers, in 1471. There, hearing that Matthias had formed an army of sixteen thousand men to defend him, and that all differences were accommodated between him and his people, and that pope Sixtus IV had sent an embassy to divert his father from that expedition, he joyfully returned, having with difficulty obtained his father's consent so to do. However, as his dropping this project was disagreeable to the king his father, not to increase his affliction by appearing before him, he did not go directly to Cracow, but retired to the castle of Dobzki, three miles from that city, where he continued three months in the practice of penance. Having learned the injustice of the attempt against the king of Hungary, in which obedience to his father's command prevailed upon him to embark when he was very young, he could never be engaged to resume it by a fresh pressing invitation of the Hungarians, or the iterated orders and entreaties of his father. The twelve years he lived after this, he spent in sanctifying himself in the same manner as he had done before. He observed to the last an untainted chastity, notwithstanding the advice of physicians who excited him to marry, imagining, upon some false principle, this to be a means necessary to preserve his life. Being wasted with a lingering consumption, he foretold his last hour, and having prepared himself for it by redoubling his exercises of piety, and receiving the sacraments of the church, he made a happy end at Vilna, the capital of Lithuania, on the 4th of March, 1482, being twenty-three years and five months old. He was buried in the church of St. Stanislas. So many were the miracles wrought by his intercession, that Swiecicki, a canon of Vilna, wrought a whole volume of them from good memoirs, in 1604. He was canonized by pope Leo X, whose legate in Poland, Zachary Ferrier, wrote the saint's life. His body and all the rich stuffs it was wrapped in, were found quite entire, and exhaling a sweet smell one hundred and twenty years after his death, notwithstanding the excessive moisture of the vault. It is honored in a large rich chapel of marble, built on purpose in that church. St. Casimir is the patron of Poland, and several other places, and is proposed to youth as a particular pattern of purity. His original picture is to be seen in his chapel in St. Germain des Prez in Paris, built by John Casimir, king of Poland, the last of the family of Waza, who, renouncing his crown, retired to Paris, and died abbot of St. Germain's, in 1668.
What is there on earth which can engage the affections of a Christian, or be the object of his ambition, in whose soul God desires to establish his kingdom? Whoever has conceived a just idea of this immense happiness and dignity, must look upon all the glittering bubbles of this world as empty and vain, and consider everything in this life barely as it can advance or hinder the great object of all his desires. Few arrive at this happy and glorious state, because scarce any one seeks it with his whole heart, and has the courage sincerely to renounce all things and die to himself: and this precious jewel cannot be purchased upon any other terms. The kingdom of God can only be planted in a soul upon the ruins of self-love: so long as this reigns, it raises insuperable obstacles to the perfect establishment of the empire of divine love. The amiable Jesus lives in all souls which he animates by his sanctifying grace, and the Holy Ghost dwells in all such. But in most of these how many worldly maxims and inclinations diametrically opposite to those of our most holy heavenly king, hold their full sway! how many secret disorders and irregular attachments are cherished! how much is found of self-love, with which sometimes their spiritual exercises themselves are infected! The sovereign king of men and their merciful Redeemer is properly said to reign only in those souls which study effectually, and without reserve, to destroy in their affections whatever is opposite to his divine will, to subdue all their passions, and to subject all their powers to his holy love. Such fall not into any venial sins with full deliberation, and wipe away those of frailty into which they are betrayed, by the compunction and penance in which they constantly live, and by the constant attention with which they watch daily over themselves. They pray with the utmost earnestness that God deliver them from all the power of the enemy, and establish in all their affections the perfect empire of his grace and love; and to fulfil his will in the most perfect manner in all their actions, is their most earnest desire and hearty endeavor. How bountifully does God reward, even in this life, those who are thus liberal towards him! St. Casimir, who had tasted of this happiness, and learned truly to value the heavenly grace, loathed all earthly pomp and delights. With what joy ought not all Christians, both rich and poor, to be filled when they hear: The kingdom of God is within you! With what ardor ought they not to devote themselves to make God reign perfectly in their hearts! How justly did St. Casimir prefer this pursuit to earthly kingdoms!
When, O Casimir, shall we be made to understand that penance is a debt we owe to God,—a debt of expiation for the sins we have committed against him? Thou didst prefer death to sin; get us a fear of sin, that greatest of all the evils that can befal us, because it is an evil which strikes at God himself. Pray for us during this holy Season, which is intended as a preparation for penance; impress our minds with the truths now put before us. The Christian world is honouring thee to-day; repay its homage by thy blessing.
Poland, thy fatherland, is in mourning; comfort her. She was once the bulwark of the Church, and kept back the invasion of schism, heresy, and infidelity; and now she is crushed by tyrants, who robbed her of her faith;—pray for her that she may be freed from her oppressors, and, by regaining her ancient zeal for the faith, be preserved from the apostacy into which her enemies are seeking to drive her.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Septuagesima, Edition 1870;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I, 1903; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
St. Casimir, pray for us.