May 7, 2021: ST. STANISLAUS
May 7, 2021: ST. STANISLAUS, BISHOP AND MARTYR
Thou wast powerful in word and work, O Stanislaus! and our Lord rewarded thee with a Martyr's crown. From thy throne of glory, cast a look of pity upon us; obtain for us from God that gift of fortitude, which was so prominent in thee, and which we so much need in order to surmount the obstacles which impede our progress.
O God, for whose honour, the glorious Bishop Stanislaus fell by the swords of wicked men: grant, we beseech thee, that all who implore his aid, may obtain the happy effect of their prayers. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.
The 11th Century,—the Century of contest between the Priests of the Church and Barbarism,—deputes to-day another Martyr to our Risen Jesus. It is Stanislaus, loved by noble Poland as one of her chief protectors. He was slain at the Altar, by a Christian Prince, whom he had reproved for his crimes. The blood of the courageous Pontiff was mingled, and in the same sacrifice, with that of our Redeemer. What an invincible energy there is in these Lambs whom Jesus has sent amidst the wolves! They seem to be changed, all at once, into Lions, like Jesus himself was, at his Resurrection. There is not a Century that has not had its Martyrs: some for the Faith, others for the unity of the Church, others for her Liberty, others for Justice, others for Charity, and others, like our great Saint of to-day, for the maintenance of Morals… Of one thing we are quite sure:—whatever persecutions may arise, the Spirit of Fortitude will not be wanting to the Champions of Truth. Martyrdom is one of the Church's characteristics, and it has never failed her. The Apostles who are clinging to Jesus during these days preceding his Ascension, drank the Chalice which he drank; and, only yesterday, we were honouring the favourite disciple's martyrdom,—yes, even he had to tread the path prepared for all.
Holy Church tells us, in the account we now subjoin, how the saintly Bishop of Cracow was offered the glorious Chalice, and how courageously he accepted it.
Stanislaus was born at Cracow in Poland. His parents, (who were of a noble family), after being thirty years without children, obtained him from God by prayer. He gave promise, even from his infancy, of future sanctity. Whilst young, he applied hard to study, and made great progress in Canon Law and Theology. After the death of his parents, he wished to embrace the monastic life, and therefore distributed his rich fortune among the poor. But divine Providence willing otherwise, he was made a Canon and Preacher of the Cathedral of Cracow, by Bishop Lampert, whose successor he afterwards became. In the duties thus imposed upon him, he shone in every pastoral virtue, especially in that of charity to the poor.
Boleslaus was the then King of Poland. The Saint incurred his grave displeasure for having publicly reprimanded his notorious immorality. Wherefore in a solemn meeting of the grandees of his kingdom, the King summoned him to appear in judgment, to answer the accusation of his having appropriated to himself some land purchased in the name of his Cathedral. The bishop not being able to produce the deeds of sale, and the witnesses being afraid to speak the truth, he promised to bring before the court within three days the seller of the land, by name Peter, who had died three years previously. His proposition excited laughter, but was accepted. For three days did the man of God apply himself to fasting and prayer; and, on the day appointed, after offering up the sacrifice of the Mass, he commanded Peter to rise from his grave, who, there and then, returned to life, and followed the Bishop to the King's tribunal. There, to the bewilderment of the King and the audience, he gave his testimony regarding the sale of the land, and the price duly paid him by the Bishop. This done, he again slept in the Lord.
After several times admonishing Boleslaus, but all to no purpose, Stanislaus separated him from communion with the Faithful. Maddened with anger, the King sent soldiers into the Church, that they might put the holy Bishop to death. They thrice endeavoured to do so, but were, each time, repelled by the hidden power of God. The impious King himself then went; and finding the Priest of God offering the unspotted victim at the Altar, he beheaded him with his own hand. The corpse was then cut in pieces and thrown into a field; but it was miraculously defended from wild beasts by eagles. During the night, the Canons of Cracow aided by a heavenly light, collected the scattered members, and having placed them in their natural position, they found that they were immediately joined to each other, so as that not a single mark of a wound was traceable. God manifested the sanctity of his servant by many other miracles, which occurred after his death, and which induced Pope Innocent the Fourth to proceed to his Canonization.
Another account of St. Stanislaus, Bishop of Cracow.
Stanislas Sezepanowski was born on the 26th of July 1030, at Sezapanow, in the diocese of Cracow. His parents, both of the most illustrious families of Poland, had passed 30 years together without issue, when this son was given them by heaven, after they had lost all hopes of children. They received him with thanksgiving to God, and devoted him from his birth to the divine service. The example of their extraordinary piety, charity to the poor, and constant practice of mortification, insensibly made impressions upon the tender heart of their son, which were strengthened by their assiduous instructions. Young Stanislas from his very infancy shewed an unusual affection for prayer, seriousness, and mortification; being very temperate in his meals, often secretly lying on the ground, and inuring himself to suffer cold and other inconveniences; in which acts of self-denial he was privately encouraged by his parents; who were far from giving into the preposterous fondness of many, who by a false tenderness too often make themselves the spiritual, and sometimes also the corporal, murderers of their offspring. Stanislas being sent to school, by his progress in learning surpassed the expectation and even wishes of his friends: yet was always more careful to advance in piety. He had no relish for superfluous amusements; the time allowed for recreation he abridged as much as health would permit, and the money which was given him for his pocket was always secretly employed in relieving the poor. When grown up, he was sent to pursue his studies at Gnesna, the first university in the kingdom, and thence to Paris. His mildness, modesty, simplicity and candour, joined with his capacity for learning, gained him every where as many friends and admirers as he had masters and acquaintance. After seven years spent in the schools of canon-law and divinity at Paris, refusing out of humility the degree of doctor, which was offered him, he returned home; and, upon the demise of his parents, disposed of his plentiful fortune in favour of the poor. He received the holy order of priesthood from the hands of Lampert Zula, bishop of Cracow, and was by him made canon of his cathedral, and soon after his preacher and vicar-general. His assiduous sermons, animated by the spirit of God with which he was replenished, and supported by the example and sanctity of his life, produced a wonderful reformation of manners, and inspired many with a contempt of the world to follow Christ. Both clergy and laity had recourse to his advice in all spiritual concerns, from every part of the kingdom: and his diocesan, desirous of having him for his successor, made an offer to resign to him his bishopric; but the saint's opposition proved a bar not to be removed. However, upon the death of Lambert, he found himself unable to withstand the united votes of the king, clergy and people, seconded by an express order they had obtained from pope Alexander II. for complying with their choice. Wherefore, not to resist the voice and will of heaven, he obeyed, and was consecrated bishop in 1072. This see, which had been formerly metropolitical, had at that time lost its archiepiscopal prerogative.
Stanislas, seeing himself vested with the character of a successor of the apostles, studied to be such in his spirit and manners. His house was always crowded with poor, and he kept a list of all the widows and distressed persons. He was indefatigable in his functions, especially preaching, and scarce knew how to set bounds to his mortification and the exercises of prayer. He visited his whole diocese every year, and no irregularity, whether in clergy or laity, could pass unobserved by him: Bolelas II. was then king of Poland. This prince sullied the glory of his victories (having had great success against the Russians) by his unbridled lust and debaucheries, and by horrid acts of tyranny and injustice, which procured him the surname of the cruel. Though married, he was not ashamed to offer violence to several ladies of quality: and from private crimes broke at last into the most public and brutish extravagancies. Those who approached him durst not make him proper remonstrances: such was the dread of his fury. Stanislas, however, boldly laid before him in private the scandal and enormity of his conduct. The king endeavoured at first to extenuate his guilt, and when pressed closer by the saint, made some shew of repentance. But whatever impression his remonstrances might make upon his mind, it soon wore off, and the king fell into his usual disorders, and began to express his aversion against the good bishop, and to complain of his boldness; neither were flatterers wanting to infame his resentment. The prince carried off, and kept by violence, a very beautiful woman, wife of Miecislas, a gentleman in the palatinate of Sirad, and had by her several children. The archbishop of Gnesna, and others of the episcopal order that had free access to the king's person, were hereupon solicited by the nobility to carry their complaints to the king, and lay before him the enormity of his crime; but the fear of offending their sovereign stopped their mouths; and this their silence was construed by the people in no other light than that of a mercenary connivance. Stanislas was the only person that had the courage requisite to discharge this duty. Having accordingly recommended the success of the affair to God, he went to court at the head of several gentlemen and ecclesiastics, and once more conjured the king, upon the most pressing considerations, to put an end to his enormous and scandalous disorders. He concluded his remonstrance with telling him, that, if he persisted in his crimes, he ran the risk of being cut off from the communion of the faithful by the sentence of excommunication. This threw the king into a violent rage, who regarding the saint's charitable expostulation as an insult not to be borne, gave a free loose to his passion and vowed revenge. He had first recourse to calumnies. The saint having purchased, some years before, an estate of one Peter, a gentleman of Piotrawin, who was since dead, and settled it upon his church, the nephews of the deceased were inveigled to accuse the bishop, contrary to truth, that he had never paid for the premises. The cause was pleaded before the king, and the witnesses of the payment durst not appear, having been privately intimidated by the king's agents. The Polish historians of later ages relate, that the saint, after three days spent in fasting and prayer, went accompanied with his clergy to the church of Piotrawin, which is in the palatinate of Lublin, and causing the grave to be opened, raised Peter to life, and brought him into open court, where he declared before the king and the assembly that the land was bought and paid for by Stanislas; after which, being led back to his grave, he again returned to his former state.
After this trial, the king seemed reconciled with the saint: but the succeeding acts of cruelty which he exercised upon his subjects, to whom he became a more inhuman tyrant than he had been even to his conquered enemies at Kijow in Russia, stirred up again the zeal of the holy pastor; and when he could not be admitted into the king’s presence, he zealously applied himself to fastings, tears, and prayers for his conversion. Seeing no remedy applied to the evils he deplored, he made the king a third visit, and endeavoured to open his eyes. But the prince, like a mad and desperate patient, who looks upon the physician that comes to cure him as his greatest enemy, threatened the saint with certain death if he continued to disturb him. Stanislas still thought it his duty not to abandon his trust, and left nothing untried to compass his charitable ends; but finding all measures ineffectual, he, after a fourth visit, excommunicated him. And having left orders with the canons of the cathedral to break off the church office in case the king, in defiance of the censure, should attempt to enter the church while the service was performing, he left the city and retired to St. Michael's, a small chapel at a little distance from Cracow. Thither the king followed him with his guards, whom he ordered to massacre him on the spot: but going into the chapel with this intent, they were struck with such a respect and dread at the presence of the venerable bishop, that they durst not attempt it, telling the king that a great light from heaven had affrighted them, and prevented their executing his orders. The like happened to a second and a third troop: upon which the king went in himself to animate them to perpetrate the murder. Yet no one durst strike the man of God, till the king himself, calling them base cowards, rushed forward and dispatched him with his own hand. Then his lifeguards fell on, and cut the martyr's body into pieces, which they scattered about the fields to be devoured by beasts and birds of prey. But eagles are said to have defended them, till the canons of his cathedral, three days after, gathered them together, and privately buried them before the door of the chapel, in which he was martyred. Ten years after the body was translated into the cathedral in Cracow, in 1088, and honoured with innumerable miracles. The barbarous king forbade all marks of sorrow or mourning for his death. Pope Gregory VII. excommunicated the tyrant and all his accomplices in this sacrilegious act, and the unhappy prince, tormented with the rack of his own conscience, and seeing himself detested by all his subjects, fled out of Poland into Hungary, and there perished miserably, some say by becoming his own executioner. Stanislas was crowned on the eighth of May, 1079. He was solemnly canonized by Innocent IV. In 1253.
Many, like this unhappy prince, employ the first part of their lives to render the other miserable. Those who in their youth imbibe the maxims of the world, and regulate their minds and conduct by them, plunge themselves into an abyss of the most fatal errors and dreadful miseries. By indulging pride, self-love, and spiritual sloth, they suffer their passions soon to grow rebellious, and when they become enslaved to them, fall into so strange a spiritual blindness as to be no longer governed by the light of reason or faith. How carefully are we bound to guard our heart even in our tender youth, that it may be a constant source of innocence and happiness? Who will discover to us all the illusions of our passions? all the snares they lay for us? We must watch these domestic enemies, and observe all their motions. In all our undertakings we must narrowly examine our own hearts, and ask them if some passion does not secretly steal into our souls, and seek some by-interest in what we do. We must particularly suspect whatever seems to lean toward our darling or ruling passions. These especially deceive us under a thousand disguises. Those which we mistrust most, put on the appearance of those against which we are less upon our guard. It is by this watchfulness to discover and curb their first irregular motions, by habitual self-denial and assiduous prayer, that we shall purify and cultivate our hearts, and keep our enemies under due restraint, which is the victory of virtue.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – The Paschal Time, Vol. II, Dublin, Edition 1871;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. V, 1821; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Stanislaus, pray for us.