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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Casimir Of Poland

March 1, 2016 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Our Lord told His disciples quite clearly that it is difficult for the rich to enter into Heaven. “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God” (Matt. 19:24 and Luke 18:25).
Nonetheless, there are many saints who came from wealthy and noble parents. They lived simple lives, often in seclusion, forgoing the trappings of their station and seeking only to know and do the will of God. St. Francis of Assisi, King Louis IX and his sister St. Isabel of France, and St. Casimir of Poland are just a few of them.
St. Casimir of Poland was born of royal parents on October 3, 1458 in the royal palace of Krakow, Poland. His father was King Casimir IV Jagiellon and his mother was Elizabeth, an Austrian princess. His grandfather was Vladislaus II Jagiellon, the king of Poland who brought Christianity to Lithuania. His uncle died defending Christianity in Varna in 1444, fighting against the Turks.
Casimir was the third of 13 children and the second son of King Casimir IV and Elizabeth. His brother Vladislaus became king of Bohemia in 1471 and king of Hungary in 1490. Another brother, John, the third son of the royal couple, became king of Poland in 1492, followed by his next brother Alexander in 1501. Yet another brother, Frederick, became bishop of Krakow, archbishop of Gnesen, and then cardinal.
A well-known historian, Fr. John Dlugosz, who was both deeply spiritual and politically astute, had the responsibility of educating the king’s children. As canon of Krakow, Fr. Dlugosz refused all bishoprics and offers of higher offices within the Church and the state while educating the princes.
Filippo Buonaccorsi also assisted in training the boys both academically and socially preparing them to assume their position in the elevated state of life.
From the beginning of his education, Casimir felt a strong repugnance for life at his parents’ court. He much preferred living a life of solitary devotion and unworldly asceticism.
Casimir traded his royal garments for more simple attire which covered the penitential hair shirt he wore. Through the night, if he wasn’t keeping watch in prayer and meditating on the Passion and death of Jesus Christ, he would sleep on the ground, offering up the comforts of his princely bed. As if these sacrificial gifts weren’t enough, the prince gave generously to the poor and cared for those who were sick and suffering.
Around 1471, a faction of Hungarians became dissatisfied with King Matthias Corvinus. They petitioned King Casimir IV to appoint the 13-year-old Casimir to come and depose the Hungarian king and his 16,000-man army.
Unwillingly, the young Casimir with 20,000 men left Krakow in obedience to his father’s wishes. While on his way, he learned that Pope Sixtus IV sent a delegation to King Casimir IV to forestall any attack on the Hungarians. Thus, Casimir joyfully returned to Poland.
However, knowing that his father reluctantly submitted to the Pope’s request and knowing how disappointed he was with his return, Casimir stopped at the Castle of Dobzji, three miles from Krakow. Here he practiced penance for three months before returning home.
As soon as Casimir got home, he resumed his lessons with Fr. Dlugosz. Father’s young protégé quickly absorbed the intricacies of the lessons on politics, especially when they were reinforced by the actions of his father, King Casimir IV.
Thus, from 1475 onward, Casimir learned statesmanship from his father. When Casimir’s older brother, Vladislaus, was installed as king of Bohemia, the king went to Lithuania on matters of state. From 1481 until 1483 Prince Casimir was left in charge of his father’s kingdom, ruling with great wisdom, prudence, and justice.
During this time, King Casimir tried unsuccessfully to pressure his namesake into marriage with Kunigunde, the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III. When the king left for Lithuania, those advisers that were left behind also tried to persuade the prince to marry the woman. They also failed in their goal.
Like St. Isabel of France, Casimir persevered in his decision to remain single in order to serve God and the Polish people wholeheartedly.
Late in 1483, Prince Casimir showed the early signs of that dreaded disease tuberculosis. He foresaw his death and joyfully prepared for it by deepening his spiritual life even more. He prayed more frequently and longer by spending additional hours in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, seeking to increase his love of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He also prayed for the grace to recognize and do God’s will more perfectly and more promptly.
The end to his life came soon, too soon for the young man marked to rule Eastern Europe with his brothers. In 1483 Casimir left Poland to visit his father in Lithuania. His condition had deteriorated such that the party was forced to stop at Grodno in Belarus. Immediately, his father left Parliament and rushed to be by the side of his dying son.
Holding the hymnbook containing his favorite hymn, young Casimir died on March 4, 1484. Some had attributed the hymn to Casimir, but it was later determined that it was written by St. Bernard of Clairvaux. When the prince was buried, he was laid to rest with a copy of the book in his hands.
His body is interred in the Vilnius Cathedral in Lithuania where a chapel dedicated to him was built in 1636.
One of the first miracles attributed to the intercession of St. Casimir came in 1518 when the Grand Duchy of Moscow had Polotsk under siege. Casimir appeared at the head of the Lithuanian army to a place on the Daugava River where they could cross and relieve the city.
Pope Adrian VI beatified Casimir in 1522 and Pope Clement VII canonized him in 1602, naming Casimir the patron saint of both Poland and Lithuania. In 1948, Pope Pius XII named Casimir the patron saint of all youth.
Five hundred years after the death of Casimir, Pope St. John Paul II celebrated Mass in his honor in Poland, recalling that Casimir was a shining example of poverty and of sacrificial love for the poor and needy.
Dear St. Casimir, how faithfully you clung to your chastity, even refusing when your doctor suggested surrendering it to cure your terminal disease. Intercede for us that we may be shining examples of chastity and obedience according to our state in life. Help us to regain that deep commitment to safeguard the dignity of each human person. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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