It is from a court that we are taught today the most heroic virtues. St. 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 St. 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 walks of life practiced extraordinary virtues, we are inclined to think that they were not exposed to great temptations, or that the misfortunes they met with 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 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 recognizing 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.
St. 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 so great dangers.
The Church, in Her Liturgy, thus describes to us the virtues of our young prince:
St. Casimir was the son of Casimir, King of Poland, and of Elizabeth of Austria. He was put, when quite young, under the care of the best masters, who trained him to piety and learning. He brought his body into subjection by wearing a hair-shirt, 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 to privately leave 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 favorite subject of meditation; and when he assisted at Mass, his mind was so fixed on God, that he seemed to be in one long ecstasy.
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 permit the loss of his chastity, when his physicians advised him that he could if he would only marry.
Being made perfect in a short 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 honored 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 victory over the enemy. Pope Leo X was induced by all these miracles to enroll him among the Saints.
In honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Casimir frequently recited the long Latin hymn Omni die dic Mariae (Every day say to Mary), a copy of which was by his desire buried with him. This hymn, part of which is familiar to us through the English version, "Daily, daily sing to Mary," is not uncommonly called the Hymn of St. Casimir, but it was most likely composed by St. Bernard.
The nobles of Hungary, dissatisfied with their king, Matthias Corvinus, in 1471 begged the King of Poland to allow them to place his son Casimir on the throne. The Saint, at that time not fifteen years old, was very unwilling to consent, but in obedience to his father he went to the frontier at the head of an army. There, hearing that Matthias had himself assembled a large body of troops, and finding that his own soldiers were deserting in large numbers because they could not get their pay, he decided upon the advice of his officers to return home. The knowledge that Pope Sixtus IV had sent an embassy to his father to deter him from the expedition made the young prince carry out his resolution with the firmer conviction that he was acting rightly. King Casimir, however, was greatly incensed at the failure of his ambitious projects and would not permit his son to return to Cracow, but relegated him to the castle of Dobzki. The young man obeyed and remained in confinement there for three months. Convinced of the injustice of the war upon which he had so nearly embarked, and determined to have no further part in these internecine conflicts which only facilitated the further progress into Europe of the Turks, St. Casimir could never again be persuaded to take up arms though urged to do so by his father and invited once more by the disaffected Hungarian magnates. He returned to his studies and his prayers, though for a time he was viceroy in Poland during an absence of his father. An attempt was made to induce him to marry a daughter of the Emperor Frederick III, but he refused to relax the celibacy he had imposed on himself.
Enjoy thy well-earned rest in Heaven, O St. 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 thee 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 didst have a dread of a life of comfort. When 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; obtain for us a fear of sin, that greatest of all the evils that can befall 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 during this Liturgical Season. The Christian world is honoring thee today; repay its homage by thy blessing. Poland, thy fatherland, once the bulwark of the Church, which kept back the invasion of schism, heresy and infidelity, is now in great need of thy prayers.
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