Today's feast always brings Blessed John Paul II to my mind since he is one of the successors of the Saint we honour today. St Stanislaus, the great martyr bishop of Krakow, had a worthy successor in Karol Wojtyla. Like Stanislaus, Cardinal Archbishop Wojtyla had to defend the flock from secular authorities who sought to bring the Church to heel. St Stanislaus was brutally martyred in 1079 by King Boleslas the Bold.
Stanislaus offers us many points for reflection. The first is his ability to put things in their right order. A passionate Christian and passionate man of his land, he knew what had to be rendered to God and to Caesar - that his king could not work that one out was not Stanislaus's fault. The holy bishop put God first in his life and he was prepared to lay down his life rather than deny God the first place in his life and affections. Some would say he was not a true patriot, and yet the Polish people see Stanislaus as their greatest patriot - indeed his tomb is now the "altar of Poland". They, like their martyred bishop, see that true patriotism does not exclude God, but rather emerges from an ordered love of him.
Stanislaus is also a wonderful example for bishops and priests. He was courageous, unafraid to stand for the faith. Fear is a dreadful plague over the clergy - it paralyses. It often comes in various disguises, tolerance being one, desire not to offend being another. Stanislaus loved his people, but he preached the truth without fear. It was not appreciated by some, but he continued to proclaim it even in difficult circumstances.
Finally Stanislaus by his life and death reassures us that there is no shame in belonging to the Catholic Church, and it is not wrong or inappropriate to defend the Church's rights. We live in an age where secularism dominates and we are told that the Church has no rights and has no place in public discourse. We try to defend the Church but it seems our defence must always be prefaced with an apology: why? Why must we qualify our reasoning that the Church has a right to exist and act? It seems that those who have a gripe against the Catholic Church call the shots, set the agenda for what is discussed.
We hear so much about separation of Church and state, and yet those who want it (as if it doesn't exist as it is) really do not want the Church to exist at all - in their eyes, it seems, the Church must have no rights, not even those enjoyed by secular and civic associations. Stanislaus reminds us that the Church has rights, and in guarding those rights she guards the rights of those who make up the Church. When secularists tell us the Church has no right to speak, ultimately they are saying that those of us who make up the Church lose our rights as citizens because we belong to the Church: that we must be silent - if we insist on being in the Church, then we must be content with being second class citizens in the particular state in which we live. Stanislaus said "No" to that; so should we.
St Stanislaus also reminds us that, ultimately, we are bound to God. Blessed John Paul II puts it beautifully in the first of two poem he wrote about the Saint:
There was a man; through him my land
it was bound to heaven.
There was such a man, there were such people, such always are -
Through them the earth sees itself in the sacrament
of a new existence. It is a fatherland,
for here the Father's house is begotten and here is born.
I want to describe my Church in the man whose name was Stanislas.
And King Boleslas wrote this name with his sword
in the ancient chronicles,
wrote this name with his sword on the cathedral's marble floor
as the streams of blood were flowing
over the marble floor.
A fitting tribute to the great martyr bishop of Krakow.
St Stanislaus, pray for us.