February 25, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The wisdom of the saints: St. Casimir

John F. FinkSome of the saints died quite young. St. Aloysius Gonzaga, for example, was 23. St. John Berchmans was 23, and St. Stanislaus Kostka was only 18.

Our saint this week, St. Casimir, also died young—in his early 20s. The Breviary says he was born in 1458, but the Encyclopedia of Saints lists his birth as Oct. 3, 1460. He died of tuberculosis on March 4, 1483, and his feast is observed on March 4.

Casimir is the patron saint of Poland and Lithuania. He was born in the royal palace of Krakow, Poland, the third of 13 children of Casimir IV and Elizabeth of Austria. He served as regent of Poland while his father was away from Poland from 1479 to 1483.

Casimir didn’t leave any writings as the other saints in this series did, but his spiritual wisdom was evident in his daily life. The Liturgy of the Hours for his feast includes excerpts from a biography written by a contemporary.

He wrote that Casimir “burned with a sincere and unpretentious love for Almighty God that was almost unbelievable in its strength.” That love for God flowed out, and was evident in the way that he treated his subjects.

Nothing was more pleasant to him, his contemporary wrote, than to share his belongings with those in need. He dedicated himself totally to the poor, strangers, the sick, those in captivity and all who suffered. He acted as a father, son and brother to widows, orphans and the afflicted.

“Indeed,” the biographer wrote about Casimir, “it is difficult to imagine or to express his passion for justice, his exercise of moderation, his gift of prudence, his fundamental spiritual courage and stability, especially in a most permissive age, when men tended to be headstrong and by their very natures inclined to sin.”

The 15th century was not noted for exceptionally just kings, so Casimir was considered unusual in that, as his biographer noted, “daily he urged his father to practice justice throughout his kingdom and in the governance of his people; and whenever anything in the country had been overlooked, he never failed to point it out quietly to the king.”

Although he was a prince, it was said that Casimir was always approachable in his conversations or dealings with anyone, no matter how humble or obscure. Although he could have associated with the famous and powerful men of his day, he preferred to be among the meek and poor of spirit, who were promised the kingdom of heaven when Jesus taught the Beatitudes.

He had no ambition for power, and his biographer said that he “was afraid the barbs of wealth, which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke of as thorns, would wound his soul, or that he would be contaminated by contact with worldly goods.”

Casimir also made the decision to remain celibate even though his father exerted pressure on him to marry the emperor’s daughter. His biographer noted that many of his personal servants or secretaries with personal knowledge of Casimir’s private life testified that he preserved his chastity to the end of his life. †

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