Czech Republic: A life under the sign of the cross
• Last Saturday (25th March), Cardinal Miroslav Vlk was laid to rest in the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. Thousands of people paid their last respects to a shepherd whom the Communists would have liked to silence.
By Eva-Maria Kolmann
Just a few hours before his death, Cardinal Miroslav Vlk whispered, “Most beautiful King!” When he was asked what he meant, he answered, “Jesus on the Cross.” These were his last words.
The crucified Jesus was his “symbol”, Bishop Frantisek Radkovký, the bishop emeritus of Plzen, said last Saturday in his homily during the requiem for Cardinal Vlk in the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. The abandonment of Jesus on the Cross had been his “true education” while attending the seminary that had been under surveillance by state security services, Bishop Radkovký continued, directly quoting the deceased. He read testimony from the cardinal, in which the latter had written about the period of persecution under the Communist regime, “I understood that in this so difficult period for the church, our only avenue of escape was the Way of the Cross. Is there disgrace greater than death on the cross, and yet that is what leads us to life, should a person place himself into the hands of God.”
(Cardinal Miroslav Vlk © Aid to the Church in Need)
Embracing the cross and with it the crucified Christ were not just empty words in his life. Since he had refused to join the communist youth organisation, he had to wait several years to even receive permission to attend a university. He waited a total of 17 years after completing secondary school to be ordained to the priesthood, without knowing whether the day would ever come. After working as both a priest and as a secretary for his bishop following his ordination, the government forbad him to work as a priest for 11 years. During this time, he earned his living as a window cleaner and archivist and carried out his priestly duties only in secret. Time and again he spoke of how difficult it had been for him to make this sacrifice. However, he was still able to say, “I discovered that this cross did more for my salvation and that of others, than had I continued to work as a secretary for the bishop for several more years. (…) The time I spent as a window cleaner was the most blessed time of my life. I understood that I was living my priesthood to the fullest.” To find and accept the reflection of the crucified Christ in any situation, no matter how difficult, was the most profound secret of his life.
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6). As an adolescent, Miroslav Vlk had heard these words during Holy Mass at a southern Bohemian pilgrimage site after asking God for an answer to his questions. For he felt the call to the priesthood, but despite his outstanding marks, the communists refused to allow him to even study at a university. Considering the humiliation and obstacles he faced, humbling himself under the mighty hand of God was exactly what he spent his entire life doing. When he was elevated to cardinal in 1994 by Pope John Paul II, he was shaken to hear those same words again in a reading from the First epistle of Peter during the consistory. These words literally had come true in his life.
Last Saturday (25th March), Cardinal Miroslav Vlk was laid to rest in the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. Hundreds of bishops and priests from all over the world and thousands of people from Prague and all over the Czech Republic came to pay their last respects. He was buried in the most important church in the Czech Republic, in which the monarchs of Bohemia had been coronated and buried. However, his king was Jesus Christ, the Crucified. After his coffin had been lowered into the stone floor, voices rang out in song across the overflowing church, “Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat” (Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands). As the cardinal whispered his last words, it was this king that he had in mind, who had allowed him to share in His suffering and His abandonment throughout his life and now exalted him.
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