St. Stanislaus Kostka, Confessor
St. Stanislaus Kostka, who, when still very young, was raised by the Almighty to great holiness, was a native of Poland, and the son of illustrious parents. Before he was born, his mother saw the holy name of Jesus upon her breast, which she regarded as a sign of the future sanctity of her unborn child. Stanislaus lived in the house of his parents until his fourteenth year, and was so innocent and pious, that all who knew him called him “Angel.” This name he deserved particularly on account of his angelic purity. All that was in the least against this virtue caused him such disgust and horror, that he sank fainting to the floor, if any one, at his father’s table, uttered an unchaste word. This happened not only once or twice, but so often, that his father would say, whenever any one made an offensive remark: “Let us change the conversation, or Stanislaus will presently kiss the floor.” He never manifested any pleasure in luxurious garments, in society, or in pastimes and amusements; his only enjoyment was prayer and study.
When 14 years of age, he was sent with his elder brother, Paul, and a tutor, to Vienna, to continue his studies in a seminary which was under the direction of the Fathers of the Society of Jesus. But after some time this house was taken away from the Fathers, and Stanislaus was forced to make his home in the house of a Lutheran. Here he continued to live as he had done in the house of his parents and in the Seminary. His occupations were prayer and study: he daily assisted at two or three Masses, and frequently received holy communion, for which he prepared himself most carefully by fasting and fervent devotions. He frequented no public assemblies or theatres, and cared nothing for any of those pleasures that were so eagerly sought by his equals. Paul, his brother, was entirely different from him; his conduct was that of most young men of the nobility, and he wished Stanislaus to follow his example. The innocent youth had much to suffer because he refused to comply. For nearly three long years, he was persecuted by his brother, and not only abused by word, but often cruelly beaten. All this, however, could not move Stanislaus to change his holy conduct. He bore his brother’s injustice with great resignation and endeavored to meet him with unaltered kindness. “I will live,” said he, “in such a manner as I know is pleasing to my God, whether it pleases my brother or not.” When urged to enjoy himself with others in the way usually adopted by the corrupt world, he would say: “I was born for a higher end.”
At night, when he supposed that his brother and his tutor slept, he rose from his bed, even in the midst of winter, and spent more than an hour in such fervent prayers, that he frequently fell into ecstacy. To the divine Mother, he bore from his earliest youth, a filial devotion, and daily recited the rosary in her honor. He chose the holy Virgin and Martyr, St. Barbara, as his especial patroness, because he had read that she obtained, for those who invoked her, the grace of receiving the holy Sacrament before they die. The efficacy of her intercession was experienced by himself. He became very ill, and though his most fervent desire was to receive the Blessed Eucharist, he could not hope that either his Lutheran landlord or his brother would grant his wishes. He, therefore, invoked his holy patroness, praying her not to let him die without having received the Viaticum. And behold! in the following night, St. Barbara appeared to him, accompanied by two angels, one of whom carried the sacred Host, and, approaching the youth, administered it to him. Soon after, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him with the divine Child, which she permitted him to embrace. She restored his health, and bade him join the Society of her beloved son, Jesus.
At the beginning of his sickness, an event took place that we must not omit to relate. The Evil One, wishing to fill the soul of the holy youth with fear and trembling, appeared to him in the form of a hideous dog, which ran toward him with open jaws, as if to devour him. Thrice he renewed the attack, but was as often repulsed by St. Stanislaus with the sign of the holy Cross. It was after this victory, that the visions just mentioned comforted and consoled him.
Stanislaus, filled with indescribable joy, arose from his bed in perfect health; and, after having given due thanks to God, to the Blessed Virgin and St. Barbara, he began to consider how he could obey the command of the divine Mother, and enter the Society of Jesus. He humbly requested at Vienna to be admitted into the Society; but the superior could not and would not receive him, without the consent of his parents, and of that there was no hope. Having consulted the Almighty and his confessor, the holy youth escaped during the night, and, in the guise of a pilgrim, went to Augsburg, and thence to Dillingen, where at that time Father Canisius was Provincial. As soon as the absence of Stanislaus was perceived at Vienna, Paul and his tutor pursued him, and, at one time, were on the point of overtaking him, when suddenly their horses stood still, and could not be induced to move. Paul, as well as the tutor, on perceiving this, acknowledged that the Almighty had taken the fugitive under His protection, and quietly returned home; while Stanislaus, guarded so miraculously by heaven, continued his journey.
Between Augsburg and Dillingen, God bestowed another grace on him. On his way, he entered a church, as he desired to comfort and strengthen himself with the bread of Angels. He found, however, with deep grief, that the Lutherans worshipped there, and that he could not partake of the consolation he so ardently desired. But his sorrow was soon changed into inexpressible joy; for while he remained kneeling, in pious contemplation, he suddenly perceived a band of holy Angels, one of whom administered the Holy Eucharist to him. Thus strengthened, he proceeded to Dillingen. Father Canisius hesitated to receive him into the Order, but advised him to continue his journey to Rome. The holy youth, again taking his staff in hand, arrived at Rome after a long and tedious journey. He made the whole distance, from Vienna to Rome, on foot, battling with innumerable difficulties. He afterwards said that he would have gone on to India, if no other means had been left him to attain his wish. At Rome, he knelt at the feet of St. Francis Borgia, who was at that time General of the Society of Jesus, and begged to be admitted among the novices. St. Francis, raising him from the ground, embraced him most kindly and gladly received him into the Order. The consolation which the holy youth felt in his inmost heart can hardly be expressed, and he began and continued his novitiate with the greatest zeal; so that even during the first few months, the master of novices hesitated not to point him out to the others as a model of virtue.
Soon after his entrance, a violent letter arrived from his father, threatening him not only with his disfavor, but also with chains and a dungeon, if he did not immediately return to his home. But Stanislaus, weeping over the blindness of his father, became still more zealous in the exercise of virtues. He possessed very remarkable traits: whatever good he saw in others, he tried to imitate; his modesty was angelical, and his obedience, perfect. His love of mortification was almost exaggerated, and nothing but obedience could restrain him. He observed all the rules most carefully; gave due honor to his superiors, and treated his equals and inferiors with wonderful charity and humility. Among all his virtues the greatest was his love of God; hence proceeded his ecstasies, and the many tears in which he seemed to dissolve, when God was spoken of. His countenance glowed with love to the Almighty, and frequently beamed with divine radiance. The fervor of this divine love was so great, that, even in the depth of winter, he was forced to moderate it by pouring cold water on his breast. Nothing gave him greater delight than to hear God and the Blessed Virgin spoken of. All that he had read in praise of the Mother of our Lord, he gathered together, in order to be better able to extol and honor her. He never called her otherwise than his mother.
One day, a priest asked him whether he loved Mary. “How can you ask me such a question?” replied the Saint, “She is my Mother!” Morning and night, he begged, on bended knees, the blessing of this his beloved Mother and her divine Son. He gave to prayer as much time as obedience permitted, and always with such deep reverence, that those who saw him loved to look on him. His desire to be united with his Beloved caused him continually to sigh and long for death.
On the 1st August, St. Lawrence was given him as patron for the month, and he celebrated the festival of this Saint with especial devotion. His ardent desire to behold the blessed Virgin on the coming feast of her Assumption caused him to write a letter, begging her to obtain for him this favor, and he obtained it. He placed the letter near his heart, receiving holy Communion, and towards evening, on the feast of St. Lawrence a slight, fever seized him, which he regarded as a messenger of death, and was happy at the thought of soon seeing God. When obliged to lie down, he made the sign of the holy Cross on himself and his bed, saying: “If it pleases the Lord that I should not again rise from this bed, His holy will be done.” His sickness seemed not to be dangerous; but he said that he would die of it; and on the last day of his life, contrary to the opinion of his physicians, he said that he would not live to see the next morning. He received the holy Sacraments with such reverence and deep devotion, that all present were bathed in tears. The time that he still lived after this, he employed in pious exercises. He frequently kissed the crucifix with tender devotion, as also the picture of the Blessed Virgin, to whose protection he commended himself with filial confidence. He also invoked his holy patrons, whose names he desired to be read to him. On being asked whether he felt any anxiety of mind: “None at all,” replied he: “my heart is ready, O God! my heart is ready!”
Before his end, the Blessed Virgin, with a company of holy virgins and angels, appeared to invite him into heaven. Following this invitation, he expired, on the 15th day of August, more in consequence of his great love and desire to be with the Almighty, than from the violence of the fever. When he died, he held in one hand, a picture of the Blessed Virgin, and in the other, a burning taper; and his last words were the holy names of Jesus and Mary. The crucifix he had laid upon his breast, and had bound the rosary around his arm, to show that he desired to die in the love of the crucified Lord, and under the protection of the divine Mother. He had not yet reached his 18th year, and was in the tenth month of his novitiate. The innocence which he had received in baptism he carried unspotted to the grave. God made His servant glorious by many miracles, especially in Poland, where he is honored as patron Saint of the country. He appeared visibly to the troops, at the time of the war with the Turks, and obtained of the Almighty a glorious victory for them. By his intercession, many cities have escaped pestilence and conflagrations.
Although the life of St. Stanislaus was short in years, it contains many wholesome instructions, and I will point out several of them to you.
The holy youth had such intense horror of all impure discourses, that he fainted on hearing them. What do you do when you hear such conversation? Are you disgusted with them, and do you show that you are so; or do you perhaps only laugh at them? Ah! if you could only comprehend the horror such words are to the Almighty, it would be impossible for you to laugh. Pray that God would make you sensible of this.
Stanislaus imitated not the example of the youths of his own rank and age, who lived too freely, although on account of it, he was laughed at, and even persecuted by his own brother. “I will live,” said he, “in such a manner as I know to be agreeable to God; whether it is pleasing or not to my brother.” It is nothing new that those who give themselves to the vanity of this world, should desire to draw others after them, and deride and persecute those on whom they cannot prevail to follow their example. A true Christian ought to imitate St. Stanislaus, and not allow himself to be deterred from walking in the path of right. He must live as he knows is pleasing in the sight of the Most High, whether it please men or not! If to please men, we neglect the service of God, and follow the example of frivolous worldlings; or if, not to displease men, we omit what is necessary for our salvation, we prove that we fear and love the Almighty less than men, which is not only great folly, but abominable wickedness. From whom can we expect more good and fear more evil, from God, or from men ? See that you belong not to this class of people; but determine, like St. Stanislaus, to live so as to be agreeable to God. Be not disturbed by the derision and persecution of the wicked.
St. Stanislaus bore an especial devotion to our Lord in the most Holy Eucharist, and also toward the Blessed Virgin, whom he called his Mother. In recompense for this, he was twice miraculously fed by an Angel, and was visited by the divine Mother. Follow him in both points. Assist daily at Holy Mass, and always prepare yourself carefully for holy Communion; honor the divine Mother, and invoke her with filial trust. To ask her blessing, morning and night, after the example of St. Stanislaus, is easily done, and is, moreover, a sign of love and confidence.
At the very beginning of his sickness, St. Stanislaus showed himself ready to die, if it was the will of God. When he was asked during his sickness, whether he was anxious or troubled in mind, he replied: “Not at all; my heart is ready, O God! my heart is ready.” Should God visit you with sickness, bow to the divine will, and show yourself ready to live or die according to God’s pleasure; thus, you will not only be more quiet in mind, but you will also bear your sickness more patiently and with greater merit. In health, be careful that you suffer nothing to lie on your conscience, which, at the time of your death, may occasion you fear and anxiety; for, there is nothing more miserable than a man who on his death-bed has a troubled conscience. St. Stanislaus had neither fear nor anxiety, because he had never offended God by a mortal sin, but had always served Him faithfully. It is sin alone which frightens and troubles the dying. If on your sickbed you would be free from all fear, do not commit sin, or if you have been guilty of it, repent. Delay not your penance until you are lying on your sick-bed: “For it is difficult, it is very difficult,” says Hugo of St. Victor, “to do true penance at that time, and to awaken, in a troubled conscience, earnest repentance.” Perhaps, at that moment, one does not even think of it, or knows, not what to do in the anxiety of his mind. “At the time of sickness, you can hardly think of anything but what you feel,” says St Jerome ; and St. Augustine writes: “It is in accordance with Divine Justice that he who forgets God during his life, forgets himself in the hour of death.” Hence, he cannot earnestly endeavor to do what would ease his conscience, and prepare him for a happy death. “Therefore, whoever wishes to die quietly and peacefully, let him do penance while he enjoys health,” says St. Bernard. It is my advice, that, while you are in the possession of health, you would sometimes employ a few minutes to examine your conscience, in order to ascertain if there is nothing which might trouble you on your death-bed. Should you find anything, remove it without delay.
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.