Optional Memorial: Liturgical Color: White
Ever since the three kings came to leave their gifts at the altar of the crib in Bethlehem, the Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, has drawn generations of nobles, kings, and emperors to Himself. Today’s feast commemorates one of those kings, a young man named Casimir, King of Poland, who died at the age of 25 in 1484. St. Casimir had everything that life had to offer, and still it was not enough. And Casimir knew it. Unlike many wealthy, powerful, educated people, Casimir knew that life did not offer what the soul most deeply desired. He had his head screwed on straight and tight. He never lost sight of the higher things that truly mattered, even though his life was full of the intrigues and cares of war and state.
Any true search is open to finding. A search that begins with the premise that it will never find, or never end, is not really a search. It’s just wandering. A true searcher must be a finder. How many people claim to be searching for the truth, for God, for meaning! Yet when they unearth the elusive treasure, open it up, and see its contents, they are disappointed and move along to search for something else. Why? Because the treasure made moral demands on them, or required that prior life decisions be repudiated or modified. If a searcher sets personal conditions on what he will find, his search will never end. It will just be a reflection of the searcher’s own personality and desires.
St. Casimir searched for God as a child and youth, as all children do. But his search discovered its treasure very early. What Casimir sought, Poland provided. Casimir imbued so totally what his Catholic birthplace offered that he is considered an emblematic Polish king – faithful, pious, just, chaste, poor, and strong. A country, similar to a religion, is a carrier of meaning. It absorbs over time millions of private searches until it gives its people answers in the form of flags, national hymns, holidays, statues, and national heroes. A patriot doesn’t love patriotism. He loves a country. And a religious man doesn’t love religion. He loves a religion. He loves a God.
It is said that behind every great man is a great woman. St. Casimir never married and preserved his chastity until death. What was behind him was not a great woman but a great nation. Poland was his mistress. The faith and thick traditions of the Polish nation developed over many centuries in response to man’s search for meaning in that country. And those born into the Polish nation did not see the nation’s past as an anchor, an imposition, or a burden. They understood it as the common wisdom of their ancestors. And they were eager to honor their forefathers by faithfully receiving what they were imparting.
The fullness of these ancient traditions were imparted to today’s from a young age by his teachers, especially by holy and learned priests. Casimir learned to love the Lord’s passion, the Sacraments, the Virgin Mary, and the Church. These loves only deepened as he grew into an adult. He did not see the need to become a priest or a religious in order to live his faith. He remained a layman his entire brief life. In this he presaged the emphasis on lay vocations the Church would promote in the 20th century. He was a layman, a king, and a saint. Anything is possible in the Church.
St. Casimir, we ask your intercession to aid all leaders of governments, churches, and families to emulate your virtues; to be poor in spirit, just, pure, and faithful. With your aid, may leaders guide those under their authority to love and serve their country and their God with greater fervor.
More from Butler’s Lives of the Saints:
CASIMIR, the second son of Casimir III., King of Poland was born A. D. 1458. From the custody of a most virtuous mother, Elizabeth of Austria, he passed to the guardianship of a devoted master, the learned and pious John Dugloss. Thus animated from his earliest years by precept and example, his innocence and piety soon ripened into the practice of heroic virtue. At the age of twenty-five, sick of a lingering illness, he foretold the hour of his death, and chose to die a virgin rather than take the life and health which the doctors held out to him in the married state. In an atmosphere of luxury and magnificence the young prince had fasted, worn a hair-shirt, slept upon the bare earth, prayed by night, and watched for the opening of the church doors at dawn. He had become so tenderly devoted to the Passion of Our Lord that at Mass he seemed quite rapt out of himself, and his charity to the poor and afflicted knew no bounds. His love for our blessed Lady he expressed in a long and beautiful hymn, familiar to us in our own tongue. The miracles wrought by his body after death fill a volume. The blind saw, the lame walked, the sick were healed, a dead girl was raised to life. And once the Saint in glory led his countrymen to battle, and delivered them by a glorious victory from the schismatic Russian hosts.
One hundred and twenty-two years after his death the Saint’s tomb in the cathedral of Vienna was opened, that the holy body might be transferred to the rich marble chapel where it now lies. The place was damp, and the very vault crumbled away in the hands of the workmen; yet the Saint’s body, wrapped in robes of silk, was found whole and incorrupt, and emitted a sweet fragrance, which filled the church and refreshed all who were present. Under his head was found his hymn to Our Lady, which he had had buried with him. The following night three young men saw a brilliant light issuing from the open tomb and streaming through the windows of the chapel.
Reflection.—Let the study of St. Casimir’s life make us increase in devotion to the most pure Mother of God—a sure means of preserving holy purity.
Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed.