Today is the feast day of Saint Casimir. Ora pro nobis.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
The Church presents for our imitation an illustrious example of virtue and sanctity in St. Casimir. He was of royal blood, born in the year 1458 at Cracow, the capital of Poland. His father was Casimir III., King of Poland, and his mother Elizabeth, daughter of Albert II., Roman Emperor. His parents omitted nothing to educate their child most carefully, and the remarkable inclination to virtue in the young prince led him to correspond faithfully to the efforts of his parents, and lay the foundation in childhood of his future holiness. He was very successful in his studies, which he made under the direction of John Herbuttus, a priest noted for his piety. His greatest pleasure was to pray, visit churches, and study. Whenever his preceptor desired to give Casimir a recreation, and asked what he preferred, his answer always was: “To go to a church and pray. To spend my time there, is more pleasing than to take part in hunts, games, dancing, or any other amusement.”
Early in the morning he was the first to hasten to the church, where he often spent whole hours, more like an angel than a man. His fervor during the Holy Sacrifice was so great that he often appeared as if in ecstasy. It was frequently necessary to call him away from the temple of God, lest his health should suffer from his protracted devotions. As he advanced in years, he rose at night and secretly repaired to the church; if the doors were locked, he contented himself with kneeling outside. His posture during this holy exercise was kneeling or prostrate on the ground. His devotion to the sacred Passion of our Redeemer was so tender that he always was moved to tears at the mere mention of it, or by casting his eyes on the crucifix. He called the Blessed Virgin his dear mother, and he loved her as a child. In her honor he composed a touching hymn, which is in use even at the present day; it begins thus: “Daily, daily sing to Mary,” etc. He repeated this every day, and asked to have it placed in the grave with him. To this veneration of our Lord and our Immaculate Lady he joined a most tender pity for the poor. He considered them as his children, and his kindness towards them merited for him the title of Father of the Poor. He recommended their affairs and troubles to his father, and begged that they would be speedily disposed of. Whatever he possessed he gave them. Some courtiers looked upon his conduct as unbecoming a prince. But Casimir said: “A true nobleman cannot respect his nobility more than when he serves Christ in the person of the poor. As far as I am concerned, my greatest satisfaction is to wait upon the most abject.”
He valued worldly honors very little, as is evident from the following fact, amongst others. Uladislaus, his elder brother, was chosen King of Bohemia; and, shortly after this, messengers came from Hungary to demand Casimir for their king, in place of Mathias Hunniades, their lawful sovereign, who had been dethroned. Neither the father nor the son was willing to yield to their petition, but, the messengers threatening to call on the Turks for assistance, the father consented, and dispatched Casimir with a large army into Hungary to take possession of the throne. Mathias, who in the meanwhile had regained the affections of his subjects, was advancing with a numerous force against St. Casimir. The latter, who cared very little for an earthly crown, and who was still less inclined to purchase it at the cost of bloodshed, was overjoyed at this turn of affairs. He led his troops back to Poland, thanking God for having delivered him from so heavy a burden. Moreover, he learned the unsteadiness of earthly glory and distinction, and was more zealous in seeking the honors and possessions which the Lord has promised to His faithful servants.
To aid him in following out this object, he made use of a severity towards himself quite foreign to the general softness and ease of a royal prince. Under the royal robe, which he was obliged to wear according to his rank, he wore a rough hair shirt. He fasted several times a week, and was most exact in the observance of the days of fast and abstinence ordered by the Church, and this even when confined to his bed by sickness. He used to say that his disease had never been aggravated by abstinence, and if the other remedies were insufficient to restore his health, certainly dispensation from the precepts of the Church could not cure him. He gave only a short time to sleep, and, though he had a royal couch, he always preferred to take his rest on the hard floor. These and other virtues caused Casimir to be venerated as a Saint by the whole court. His angelic purity and his most anxious solicitude to preserve it untarnished has won for him a great name in the annals of the Church. As soon as he understood the greatness of virginal purity, he bound himself by vow to perpetual virginity. To enable himself to keep this promise, he employed constant prayer, the reception of the Sacraments, devotion to the Immaculate Virgin, and continual mortification of his senses; he likewise shunned every dangerous occasion and all suspicious company. Never would he utter any improper words, or allow them to be spoken in his presence. Thus, even amidst the easy life of the court and the many occasions of sin, he preserved his virginal purity unsullied to the very end of his life.
When he had reached the age of twenty-six, God visited him with a serious illness. After all medicines had proved ineffectual, the physician declared that there was only one remedy left to save the life of the prince. This was no other than that the prince should alter his determination about the preservation of his virginity. The physician and his friends advised him to marry. The prince, without the least hesitation, replied: ” I would rather die than not live a virgin. If I had a thousand lives, I would sacrifice them all to remain a virgin.” All efforts to alter his resolutions were in vain. The pious prince preferred to die, as he had lived, an angel in the flesh., He knew by revelation the day of his death. He carefully prepared for it. In his last moments he took the crucifix into his hands, saying: “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit,” and expired. After a lapse of one hundred and twenty years, his body was taken up, and found without the slightest sign of corruption. The above-mentioned hymn to the Virgin Mary was likewise perfectly preserved. Poland and Lithuania, in their wars against the Turks, experienced the effects of the powerful intercession of St. Casimir. We pass over the various miracles wrought in favor of individuals, who were delivered from many evils by calling on the Saint for assistance. (3)
After his death he was venerated as a saint, because of the miracles wrought by him. Sigismund I, King of Poland, petitioned the pope for Casimir’s canonization, and Pope Leo X appointed the papal legate Zaccaria Ferreri, Bishop of Guardalfiera, the Archbishop of Gnesen, and the Bishop of Przemysl to investigate the life and miracles of Casimir. This inquiry was completed at Turn in 1520, and in 1522 Casimir was canonized by Adrian VI. Pope Clement VIII named 4 March as his feast. He is honoured as far as Belgium and Naples.
He is the patron saint of Poland and Lithuania in 1602. (6,9) In Poland and Lithuania churches and chapels are dedicated to him, as at Rozana and on the River Dzwina near Potocka, where he is said to have contributed miraculously to a victory of the Polish army over the Russians. In the beginning of the seventeenth century King Sigismund III began at Vilna the erection of a chapel in honour of St. Casimir, which was finished under King Wladislaus IV. The building was designed by Peter Danckerts, of the Netherlands, who also adorned the walls with paintings illustrating the life of the saint. In this chapel is found an old painting renovated in 1594, representing the saint with a lily in his hand. Two other pictures of the saint are preserved, one in his life by Ferreri, and the other in the church at Krosno in Galicia. (5)
In 1948 Pope Pius XII named him as patron saint of all youth. (6)
Image: Saint Casimir, artist: Jerzy (Georg) Daniel Schultz circa 1670 (11)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff