Saint of the Day – 4 May – Blessed Ladislas of Gielniów OFM Cap (c 1440-1505) “The Apostle of Lithuania,” Priest of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, zealous and tireless Evangelist, renowned Preacher, Poet and Hymnist, disciple of St Bernardine of Siena and his Apostolate of the Most Holy Name of Jesus and a devotee of the Passio of Christ. Ladislas served his Order in various capacities which included both a Doorkeeper and as its Provincial. He travelled across Poland to evangelise and was a noted preacher. Born in c 1440 in Gniezno, Poland and died on 4 May 1505 of natural causes. Patronages – Lithuania (chosen in August 1753), Poland (chosen in August 1753)m Galicia (eastern Europe), Warsaw, Poland (chosen in August 1753). He is also known as – “The Apostle of Lithuania,” Lithuanian Apostle,” Wladyslaw of Gielniów.
The Roman Martyrology states of him: “In Warsaw in Poland, Blessed Ladislaus of Gielniów, Priest of the Order of Minors, who preached the Passion of the Lord with extraordinary zeal and celebrated it with pious hymns.”
He worked to build up the fledgling Order in Poland and Lithuania, often in the face of resistance from the larger and more established Conventual Franciscans, with their considerably more relaxed way of religious life. The Observants’ very rigorous asceticism and strict interpretation of Franciscan poverty, constantly threatened to open old wounds among the followers of St. Francis and public controversies, between the two groups, often broke out in the fifteenth century.
Blessed Ladislas was born in the Polish City of Gielniow. He attended the University of Warsaw and then entered the City Convent of the Franciscan Friars Minor reformed by St John of Capestrano.
Within a few years ,he was elected Provincial Superior of the Order, a position he held for a long time, promoting the revision of the constitutions, which were then approved by the General Chapter of the Order, which was held in Urbino in 1498.
He carefully selected the most suitable Friars to send to Lithuania for the evangelisation of that Country. However, he reminded them of the greater importance to be attributed to personal holiness, which must always be placed before the proclamation of the Gospel to others. This initiative succeeded in reconciling several schismatics with the Church and also obtained the conversion of numerous pagans,
Ladislas was an ardent and eloquent preacher, He was much sought after and appreciated by the people. His homilies, as the Martyrologium Romanum also recalls, used to emphasise, in a particular way, the salvific value intrinsic to the Passion of Christ. Below is one of his devotional Hymns on the Passion:
Jesus, Judas sold away, for just wretched money
God the Father gave His Son, for our souls’ salvation
Jesus at the paschal feast, gave out His own body,
soothed His sad Apostles’ grief, with His very life blood.
To the garden Jesus went, with His friends, His loved ones
Thrice His Father he implored, on behalf of sinners
Bloody sweat out from Him poured, in His heavy struggle
O my soul, so very loved, look on Him, who loves you so.
He was the author of various hymns on this theme, intended for singing in Vespers. It was precisely religious song and poetry, in fact, that would become Ladislas’s most lasting legacy to Polish religious culture. He is the first major Polish Poet known by name, to write sometimes in the vernacular, rather than exclusively in the learned language of Latin.
His songs and verse represent well, his own piety, as well as those of his Order. Frequently, they illustrate the popular orientation of both. For instance, the simple poverty of Christ and Mary ,is sometimes stressed, in a gentle and colourful way, which, nonetheless, puts across the Gospel story’s emotional weight. Consider these verses from his vernacular song on the Nativity:
A town not large called Bethlehem
Around that time had many guests,
There Joseph with his new-found bride
Arrived, his Mary great with child.
Because these two possessed no wealth
No welcome could they find in town,
So to a stable off they went,
And there they dwelt in poverty.
The purest Virgin Mary thus
To Jesus Christ the Lord gave birth.
At midnight, God Himself was born,
And all the universe rejoiced.
And when the Babe began to cry,
Upon bare earth itself He lay
Before Him there, His Mother knelt
And so to her small Child gave praise.
‘Wa, wa, wa, wa,’ the baby cried,
Lamenting all our human sins,
His mom then took Him up from earth,
And wrapped Him up in swaddling bands.
Because the stable was too tight,
A manger into crib she made.
No nursemaid there was found with her,
To come to that poor Mother’s aid.
Some, lying, have been known to claim
(And thus that Mother they insult!)
That serving maids abounded there
And gave that Mother lots of help.
When in 1498 Poland found itself having to face an invasion by the Tartars and Turks, an army of 70,000 men in all, Ladislas led a prayer crusade to invoke divine intervention. Tradition attributes the consequent extraordinary floods of the Dnepr and Prut rivers to this, which blocked the foreign invaders. This particular intercession, increased his reputation as a great man of prayer.
He strongly upheld the Bernadine mission of preaching to the laity and poor in accessible, moving and often colourful and even entertaining sermons, although always with forceful appeal to keep and live the Christian faith in all its rigour.
It is also reported that, during the last Good Friday of his life, while he was meditating, he levitated into the air, assuming the position of Christ on the Cross. When he returned to the ground, he collapsed and was confined to his bed. He remained bed-ridden until his death on 4 May 1505 a few weeks later.
Ladislas was Beatified in 1586 by Pope Sixtus V and on 11 February 1750, Pope Benedict XIV his cult received official confirmation.
His relics are interred in the Chapel of Blesed Ladislas in Warsaw, see below.
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