St. Casimir, Prince of Poland
Patron of Poland and Lithuania
NB: This year, March 4th is the Second Sunday of Lent, so we don’t actually celebrate good ol’ Cas today. Still, it’s never a bad idea to spend some time contemplating the friends of God, is it? Right. Now, read.
I can just imagine St. Casimir, as a petulant boy of barely 13 yelling that at his father, the king of Poland, after returning, defeated, from a bogus attempt to take the crown of Hungary. Of course, knowing that he went on to become Saint Casimir, I’m guessing the petulance of his teen years was probably less than that of most kids his age, so maybe scratch that. But, from what we know about him, we do know that he didn’t front when it came to obeying his true Father in Heaven, above all else, even his father here on earth.
Born in 1461, the third of 13 children born to King Casimir IV and Elizabeth of Austria, Casimir was destined for greatness of the secular variety. His father had his whole life mapped out for him, or so he thought. He didn’t count on a son who understood what it meant to be in the world but not of it. Although he was born into the lap of 15th century luxury, he never took advantage of all that it afforded. Rather than sleep on a luxurious bed worthy of MTVs “Cribs”, he opted to catch his Zzzz on the floor. For reals. That’s when he bothered sleeping at all. He spent most of his time in prayer and study, with his tutor, Canon John Dlugosz. (Of course, if my only option was sleeping on a cold stone floor and praying, I’m not sure…no, I’d still sleep.) The Canon had a huge impact on Casimir’s habits and lifestyle, encouraging his own example of holiness. Basically: he lived what he taught and Casimir bought what he was selling.) He didn’t wear any fancy clothes and was most likely hard to distinguish from the poor schleps who worked in his father’s kitchen. And even though you or I would have been cranky as the day is long after all this, he was always friendly, with a quick smile and a happy word to any who asked. While many around him may not have understood his conscious choice to live a life of poverty surrounded by luxury, they can’t have denied the strength of character it took to do so.
Apparently, his father even noticed it. He saw Casimir’s ability to deny the trappings of wealth as a sign of independence and daring, just what was needed to snatch the crown of the Hungarian king right off his head. Around 1474, he chose Casimir to head an army that was to march out to the frontier of Hungary and demand the abdication of the king. Casimir agreed to this plan for two reasons: 1) he wanted to obey his father on earth, even though he wasn’t quite sure if it was a good idea; and 2) he had been told that the people were in dispute with the king. So, upon arriving at the border, when his men began to desert him because the didn’t see the point in fighting for a crown that wasn’t theirs, and he learned that the dispute between the crown and the people had been resolved, he decided to follow his men home. Good thing too. Turns out Pope Sixtus IV hadn’t liked the idea anymore than he had. This proved to be the real turning point in Casimir’s life.
After Casimir’s return home, his father had him banished. Why the old man thought this would work, when he had always been able to deny himself, even while surrounded by the finery of the court, is not quite clear. But, banish him he did. He put pressure on his son to toe the royal line and to obey him first and foremost. Having gone down that road to the denial of his own conscience with bad results once, Casimir resolved never to do so again. He made it a rule of his life to always listen to his true Father, his Father in Heaven, before all else. And so, trusting to his life to his Father’s care, he joyfully went to live in the castle in Dobzki, and resumed his studies with Canon Dlugosz.
That is, until he died, at the ripe old age of 23. Yeah. Of tuberculosis. Yeah. Which sucks. Yeah. His lifestyle of little sleep, less food, and constant prayer and study probably didn’t help his health. I’m fairly certain that Casimir didn’t care. He spent his time in exile praying, fasting, sacrificing, and helping the poor, trying his best to play his part, not in the plan of the King of Poland, but in that of the King of Kings. Knowing that God is God really puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?
Casimir knew where his loyalties needed to lie when it counted, and, as it turns out, it counts all the time. Every day we are given the same choice as Casimir: to follow the path set out by the world and those around us, or to follow the path set out for us by God in all His wisdom, mercy, and love. Casimir’s life from the 15th century is a challenge to all of us to follow our Father in Heaven, even if if means not following our family on earth. And if he did, then so can we.
On an interesting side note, St. Casimir had a huge, and I mean huge devotion to the Blessed Mother. So much so that he often sang or hummed what, in some circles, is known as the “Hymn of St. Casimir”. Some even think he wrote it. He didn’t. It’s actually a Latin hymn, “Omni Die Dic Mariae”, or “Daily, Daily, Sing to Mary”. If I manage to become a saint (fingers crossed), I want people to rename “Tantum Ergo” the “Hymn of St. Bridget”. Too much? What? If you’re going to dream, you might as well dream big.