Feast Day: March 4th
Just about exactly 6 years ago, in March of 2016, I was on a short trip to Lithuania with some fellow seminarians and one beautiful day we met up with a seminarian I knew there from the diocese of Vilnius, who began to show us around the city. Linas, said young man who is still in seminary, showed us around to the various churches and shrines of the city – including the original painting of Divine Mercy! – and happily passed onto us an invitation from the bishop to join him for dinner.
Among many memories, one that comes back to me now is our visit to the Cathedral in the center of the main square of Vilnius. Inside the massive white church, off to the right-hand side of the nave is a large chapel where statues of kings from Lithuanian history surround an altar. Red and black marble hangs from the walls, glorious white arches hold the roof high above your head, and above the altar and tabernacle is a fascinating painting of St. Casimir, depicting the young prince with three arms. Above said depiction, a relief carving of Our Lady holding the infant Jesus, looks down upon the scene. St. Casimir is buried beneath the altar, having been reinterred there in 1634, 150 years after his death.
I certainly want to make mention that his three-handedness was not a physical attribute of the young, pious, prince of Lithuania, but a depiction of his generosity – “when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3) – and purity – for he holds a lily in both right hands. Certainly his life matches both virtues: he was generous with the poor, electing to wear simple and humble apparel against the wishes of his father, King (of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania) Casimir IV. Similarly, the younger Casimir also held off the designs that would have placed him in an arranged marriage with Kunigunde of Austria (daughter of Emperor Frederick III, the last Holy Roman Emperor to be crowned by the Pope in Rome). He was the grandson of Wladislaus II Jagiello, the King of Poland who introduced Christianity to Lithuania, and his uncle was Wladislaus III, the King of Poland and Hungary who died at the battle of Varna in 1444 defending Christendom against the Turks. Of course, these and other royal ancestors indicated that Casimir was destined for the throne, and glory. Yet he dodged the arranged marriage, evaded various military takeovers that would have expanded his kingdom, and seemed to have a general disposition against such political maneuvering.
Some say this was from a premonition of his approaching death at only 25, but many others propose another possibility. We see in him a final stand-out virtue: devotion to God, and it is from this, and all the above indicators, that some think Casimir was considering religious life. He never did join an order, and his being the heir apparent to the throne of both Poland and Lithuania certainly put pressure against such a vocation, yet his simplicity, humility, evident prayerfulness, and avoidance of marriage, all point to the stirrings or at least contemplation of a celibate life devoted to God. Years after his death, in his coffin was discovered a hymn to Our Lady, Omni die dic Mariae. Some say it was sung at his funeral; some say he was its author, though a more likely candidate was St. Bernard of Cluny a few hundred years before. In any case, it was a hymn that resounded, and I suppose still does, through the heart of the youthful leader.
– Fr. Dominic Rankin only got a few minutes to visit the tomb of this tremendous, saintly, young man, but has the happy occasion to re-encounter him this week, and to be reminded of the intensity with which the Lord asks us to follow Him. All our lives cover different ground, but the destination is the same: union with God. If I’m not taking that seriously in all my choices now, will I when eternity approaches?
Omni die dic Mariae
Mea laudes anima:
Ejus festa, ejus gesta
Contemplare et mirare
Dic felicem genitricem,
Dic beatam Virginem.
Ipsam cole, ut de mole
Criminum te liberet,
Hanc appella, ne procella
Haec persona nobis dona
Haec regina nos divina
Daily, daily sing to Mary,
Sing, my soul, her praises due:
All her feasts, her actions honor
With the heart’s devotion true.
Lost in wond’ring contemplation,
Be her majesty confessed:
Call her Mother, call her Virgin,
Happy Mother, Virgin blest.
She is mighty in her pleading,
Tender in her loving care;
Ever watchful, understanding,
All our sorrows she will share.
Advocate and loving mother,
Mediatrix of all grace:
Heaven’s blessings she dispenses
On our sinful human race.