By Eva-Maria Kolmann
JUST a few hours before his death March 18, 2017, Cardinal Miroslav Vlk—Archbishop-emeritus of Prague, whispered, “Most beautiful King!” When he was asked what he meant, he answered: “Jesus on the Cross.” Those would be his last words.
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, citing the cardinal’s own words.
The celebrant read testimony from the cardinal describing the Church’s persecution under the country’s former 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 not always place himself into the hands of God?”
Because Cardinal Vlk refused to join the communist youth organization, 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. Then, after working for a spell as priest-secretary for his bishop, he was not allowed to work as a priest—for 11 years.
During this time, he had to earn his living as a window cleaner and archivist, carrying out his priestly duties only in secret. It was a time of trial, yet he wrote: “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 Mass at a southern Bohemian pilgrimage site after—they confirmed his call to the priesthood. Indeed, humbling himself while he trusted in 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 during the consistory. They told the story of his life.
At his funeral, 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 respects. The cardinal was buried in the most important church in the Czech Republic, St. Vitus Cathedral, where 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).
Whispering his final words, it was this King that he had in mind, the King who had allowed him to share in His suffering and abandonment throughout his life—the King who now exalted him.