Religious Freedom and St. Stanislaus

Today is the Stanislaus, Bishop and Martyr and Patron of Poland. He was born in 1030 and became the Bishop of Krakow in 1072.  The king at the time was Boleslaus who was morally corrupt, unjust, and cruel. St. Stanislaus confronted him and, when he would not listen, excommunicated him. King Boleslaus ordered his soldiers to kill the Bishop but they balked and finally the King killed Stanislaus himself on this day in 1079. Nine centuries later, Pope John Paul II returned to his homeland and Krakow where he had been the Archbishop at the time of his election to the papacy. Poland was still under Communist control and the Pope's visit there inspired the people to be courageous as they lived faithful to the Gospel and struggled for religious freedom.

It just so happens that the first reading at Mass today (Acts of the Apostles 5:27-33) includes this declaration of St. Peter and the other Apostles who were being persecuted: "We must obey God rather than men."  These are timely words on a timely feast as our own nation struggles with questions of religious liberty.

When he visited Poland in 1979, Blessed John Paul II said the following:

"History tells how the relationship between Bishop Stanislaus and King Boleslaus II, serene at first, later deteriorated because of the injustices and cruelty visited by the King upon his subjects. The Bishop of Krakow, an authentic "good shepherd" (cf. John 10:10-14), defended his flock. The King replied with violence. Bishop Stanislaus was killed while celebrating Mass. On the venerated skull of the Martyr, now preciously preserved in an artistic reliquary, one can still see the signs of the heavy mortal blows.

"From that time on, Saint Stanislaus became the Patron of Poland. He became especially the benefactor and protector of poor people; he became, above all, an example to Bishops as to how to communicate and defend the sacred deposit of faith with undaunted strength and unbending spirit. For centuries he has been considered an illustrious witness to genuine freedom and to the fruitful synthesis which is brought about in a believer between loyalty to an earthly fatherland and fidelity to the Church which lives in the expectation of a definitive and future city (cf. Heb 13:14).


"After nine centuries the personality and the message of Saint Stanislaus preserve an extraordinary relevance. This regards both his life as a pastor of a portion of God's People and the witness of blood given by his martyrdom.


"But Saint Stanislaus is certainly and especially "the man" of his times: his pastoral ministry is fulfilled under the pontificate of Saint Gregory VII, in a period, that is, in which the Church claims her own freedom and her own original spiritual mission in the face of the powerful men of the world."


He also said the following in a homily at a Mass in honor of St. Stanislaus:


"All of life ... assumes the aspect of a great and fundamental test: a test of faith and of character. Saint Stanislaus has become, in the spiritual history of the Polish people, the patron of this great and fundamental test of faith and of character. In this sense we honour him also as the patron of the Christian moral order. In the final analysis the moral order is built up by means of human beings. This order consists of a large number of tests, each one a test of faith and of character. From every victorious test the moral order is built up. From every failed test moral disorder grows.

"We know very well from our entire history that we must not permit, absolutely and at whatever cost, this disorder. For this we have already paid a bitter price many times.

"This is therefore our meditation on the seven years of St Stanislaus, on his pastoral ministry in the See of Krakow, on the new examination of his relics, that is to say his skull, which still shows the marks of his mortal wounds—all of this leads us today to a great and ardent prayer for the victory of the moral order in this difficult epoch of our history."

May each of us join our prayers to this prayer of Blessed John Paul II and the Polish people who struggled for religious liberty and won the victory over a government that sought to deny it.