As Providence would have it, yesterday morning I wrote about how I keep my journals in my nightstand where I collect my thoughts from retreats. Little did I know that I would be retrieving one of those journals that evening to read through the wisdom imparted to me just 16 months ago at a retreat by Cardinal Edward Egan. Cardinal Egan died of a heart attack yesterday just after lunch time. When I read the news, I immediately thought about the depths of the talks he gave us. Here was a retired Cardinal of our Church, former Archbishop of New York, so many stories, and he was imparting sound priestly wisdom on about 30 Miami priests. The theme of his five day retreat was simple: spiritual heroes. He singled out three that I encourage you to google: Pope Pius VII, Cardinal Ján Kurec, and to my surprise and delight, Father Felix Varela, the venerable Cuban priest who served for many years in New York in the 18th century. He spoke to us about spiritual regimen as if prescribing a medicine for priests or an exercise: "The first element of any priestly spiritual regimen must be the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The Mass is the once and forever prayer prayed at Calvary. (I can still hear him enunciating "Calvary" with his deep voice.) At Mass is Calvary sacramentally actual. The priest is essential to make this happen. The first effort to understand this wonder is to say Mass with fervor. You can never get deep enough into the celebration of the Mass." He lived those words because he celebrated Mass with us with this fervor and intensity which you can kind of see in the picture below.
He also spoke to us about the cross. When talking to us about Pius VII, he mentioned that when Pope Pius was arrested by Napoleon, the Holy Father had only one item in his jail cell: a crucifix. The Cardinal added a meditation on the cross and a challenge: "We need to learn as priests to focus on the crucifix for it is the central reality of our existence. We cannot deal effectively with the world around us without the crucifix and without taking upon us the soft yoke that Jesus talks about in Matthew 11. If we embrace the crucifix and take his yoke upon us, we will triumph no matter what the circumstances. You got God on the cross and you got God pulling the wagon with you: so get to it!"
Get to it we shall.
Rest in peace, your Eminence.