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Thursday, second week of Lent

March 4, 2010

Blessed St. Casimir’s Day!

(look for his story at the end)

God of love, bring us back to You.
Send Your Spirit to make us strong in faith
and active in good works.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.
(Opening prayer of today’s Mass)

Jeremiah 17:5-10 (trust in man brings a curse; trust in God brings blessing)
Psalm 1:1-6 “Blessed are they who hope in the Lord”
+Luke 16:19-31 (the story of Lazarus & the rich man)

Trust in God bears fruit.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord…
He is like a tree planted beside the waters…
In the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7, 8)

This well-watered, fruit-bearing tree is a picture of generosity, of the overflow of goodness (symbolized by water) that comes from God to flow out through us (in the form of fruit) for the benefit of all.

This is precisely where the rich man in today’s Gospel went wrong. God’s goodness flowed to him in the form of material wealth–and got stuck there. He did not trust God. His delight was in worldly pleasures, not in the law of God which told him to mortify himself every year (see Leviticus 16:29), that he might feel the hunger of the poor as his own and thus be moved to compassion. He turned a deaf ear to God’s commandment love his neighbor as himself (see Leviticus 19:9, 18), to open his hand in generosity to Lazarus, the poor man, who lay at his gate (see Deuteronomy 15:4-11). He wouldn’t even share his garbage, never mind fruit! (“Lazarus longed to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table” -Luke 16:21).

And see what happened. The rich man, who had seemed so green and leafy during his lifetime, found all his outward show stripped away by death. He was revealed for what he was, a barren bush in the desert, standing in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth. He was revealed as one of the wicked, tortured in flames, as useless as chaff which the wind drives away.

And he had no one to blame but himself. As Abraham pointed out, he’d had Moses and the Prophets to warn him, to plead with him, to protect him from this fate, to teach him the way that leads to everlasting joy. Had he meditated on their words–God’s words–and put them into practise, he never would have persisted in his sin.

We have even less excuse than this rich man. Not only do we have Moses and the Prophets, we have God Himself, in the Person of Jesus, telling us how to fruitfully draw in the water of life. He gives us this Lenten period of prayer to delight in His Law, meditating on it day and night, that it might protect us from sin. He gives us this time of fasting to remind us of our dependence on Him, of the death that will one day overtake us, and of the suffering of the needy. He gives us these days of almsgiving that the blessings He pours into us may bear fruit in the lives of others.

“Nothing is more efficacious than the alms of a man,
whose hands have not been defiled by injustice.
It is a clear stream, refreshing in the heat of day,
and imparting verdure to every plant that is near it.
It is a fountain springing up to eternal life.
It is a tree, whose branches reach even to Heaven,
and which produces its eternal fruit in abundance,
when death has removed from you all that is temporal.
Waste not, then, your treasures in selfish gratifications,
the fruit of which is sorrow;
but feed the poor, and the hungry.
Plant and sow in their hands, and your produce will be great;
no soil is more fertile.”
-St. Chrysostom

Yours in giving alms,

St. Casimir

The setting is Crakow, Poland, in the year 1458. The Renaissance, which has been building in Italy for a few years now, has not yet reached the federal union of Poland and Lithuania, but privileges granted to the nobility are paving the way for the development of a parliamentary government. The king, Casimir IV, has been extending the realm, which by the end of his reign (in 1492) will be one of the largest in Europe, extending from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south. St. John Kanty, the professor of Crakow whom we honored in Advent, is in his late 60’s, well-known and honored among rich and poor alike for his holiness, generosity and simple lifestyle.

The event is the birth of the patron saint of Poland and Lithuania.

St. Casimir was the third of thirteen children born to King Casimir IV and his devout wife, Elizabeth of Austria. Devout from his early years, Casimir especially benefited from the holy example of his beloved tutor, Canon (priest) John Dugloss, an outstanding Polish scholar who was also well versed in matters of government and international politics.

In his personal life, Casimir strove for holiness and simplicity. He was always cheerful and approachable for all, the poor as well as the wealthy. He dressed simply, slept on the floor (when he slept at all), and generally abhorred the “softness” of a life of luxury. He gave his possessions and he gave himself to the poor, meeting their needs whenever he could and quietly bringing their concerns to his father’s attention. He often spent entire nights in prayer, especially in meditation on our Lord’s Passion. He was accustomed to visit shrines and churches in the quiet of the night, kneeling in front of the doors. He was often found there, lost in prayer and heedless of the weather, when those doors were opened in the morning for the recitation of the Divine Office. In addition, he dedicated himself to celibacy, steadfastly resisting pressure to marry and adhering to the principle “I prefer to die than to be defiled” (

Casimir also had a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin, which had been passed down to him through Polish culture. A century before, Casimir the Great had obliged his bride, Mary, to take a different name out of reverence for the Mother of God, and from that time on it became the custom that no Polish woman should bear the name of Mary (Butler’s Lives of the Saints_. The name was considered to be too holy for common use. Every day, Casimir honored Mary by singing the long medieval hymn, “Omni die dic Mariae”, part of which has been translated for us in the song “Daily, Daily Sing to Mary”. He loved this hymn so much that he asked to be buried with the copy that he had written out himself. It was associated so strongly with him that some came to think he’d written it.

When he was about thirteen, the nobles of Hungary, dissatisfied with their ruler, Matthias Corvinus, appealed to Casimir’s father for a replacement. Since Elizabeth, his mother, claimed the right of succession to the Hungarian throne, Casimir was (rather unwillingly) sent with a small army to take over. As he neared the Hungarian border, however, he discovered that Matthias was prepared to resist him with a comparable army. Furthermore, Casimir’s soldiers were deserting him because they couldn’t get their pay, and his own generals were advising retreat. In the meantime, Pope Sixtus IV had expressed his opposition to the takeover. Casimir turned back, despite his father’s displeasure, and could never be persuaded to take up arms again. He was especially disturbed by the fact that such internal conflicts weakened the country against the invasion of the Moslems, who were enough of a threat as it was.

A few years later he began traveling with his father to various meetings and diplomatic missions to gain experience in government, and was gradually given a more active role in administrative, judicial, military and financial affairs. From 1481-83 (when he was in his early twenties), he filled in as ruler of Poland while his father took care of business in Lithuania. During those years he paid off the mortgages on his father’s castles, replenished the treasury, stamped out open banditry in the provinces, improved the tone of the royal palace by removing unsuitable courtiers, and strengthened relations with the Holy See. His emphasis on justice won for him the nickname “defender of the poor”.

Soon after this, Casimir’s health failed, possibly because of his austerities and/or his work among the poor. He died of a lung disease, commonly thought to have been tuberculosis, on this date while on a visit to Lithuania. He was in his mid-twenties (sources vary on whether he was 23, 25 or 26). When his tomb was opened 120 years after his death, his body was found to be incorrupt and sweetly fragrant, the text of his favorite hymn, “Omni die dic Mariae”, near his head.

St. Casimir, lover of holiness, pray for us, that we might use our authority for the benefit of others as humbly and capably as you used yours.

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