March 3, 2017

Saint Casimir of Poland, "The Peace-maker"

St. Casimir
March 4th, is the optional memorial of Saint Casimir (1458 – 1484). This patron saint of Poland, Lithuania, and Russia made his mark on the hearts of his people even during his teenage years. Though born into high nobility in 1458, Saint Casimir, third child and second son of the King of Poland, never sought worldly honors or wealth.  In fact, he is often depicted in iconography as having three hands, which is meant to emphasize his exceptional generosity toward the destitute and politically oppressed.

While Casimir was known to be particularly pious and disciplined even as a youth, there is no doubt that his education at the hands of a Polish priest named Jan Dlugosz helped develop these traits even further. Dlugosz was strict and conservative in his teaching, and emphasized ethics, morality, and religious devotion in his young pupils (both Casimir and his brother Vladislaus II were entrusted to his care). As a result, Casimir was known to spend long nights in prayer and often slept on the ground as a form of mortification; he also had a great devotion to Mary and dedicated himself early on to a life of celibacy. He maintained that resolve even when his father later arranged a marriage for him to the daughter of the emperor of Germany.

At the age of thirteen, Casimir’s father, King Casimir IV, sent his young son to neighboring Hungary to take over the throne there from King Mahias Corvinus. This was done at the request of some Hungarian noblemen who were dissatisfied with Corvinus’ rule, but the result was not what either they or his father intended. Casimir’s army fell victim to food shortages and disease, and many deserted as winter approached. Thus finding himself greatly outnumbered by Corvinus’ army, Casimir returned to Poland without having carried out his father’s mission. The elder Casimir was so annoyed at his son’s failure that he confined the boy for three months at the castle of Dzoki as a means of punishment. From that point on the young Casimir decided that he had had enough of war. Despite the times in which he lived, he could never be persuaded to become involved in another, but rather devoted himself even more to a life of piety and study. It was not the end of his political involvement, however.

In 1479, when the elder Casimir was called away from Poland to settle affairs in Lithuania, he left young Casimir in charge of the government. According to his contemporaries, the prince executed his office with both prudence and justice, while remaining all the while exceptionally aware of the needs of poor and unfortunate. In 1484, Casimir’s fasting and self-denial finally took its toll. He contracted a severe lung disease that was probably tuberculosis; in his weakened state, Casimir was unable to withstand his illness and subsequently died on his way to Lithuania on March 4, 1484. He was only 23 years old.

Ironically, for the young man who renounced war, one of the miracles attributed to him involved the Lithuanian army. According to the story, in 1518, soldiers were on their way to the city of Polotsk to believe the siege imposed there by the Grand Duchy of Moscow. Casimir miraculously appeared before the Lithuanian troops to show them where they could safely cross the Danube River and thus accomplish their mission. Upon hearing of this miracle, Casimir’s own brother, Sigismund I the Old, then King of Poland, petitioned the pope for Casimir’s canonization. He was declared a saint by Pope Adrian VI (1521), and his feast day is still celebrated in the city of Vilna, where he is buried at the church of Saint Stanislaus. Various miracles have been said to transpire at his tomb.

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