Friday, March 29, 2013

Safety in God's Will

Father Tim Vakoc was serving as a parish priest in Minnesota when, in 1996, he felt a call to become an Army chaplain. It was not an easy decision to make. It meant leaving a parish that he had grown to love. It meant being away from his family and friends. But he accepted it as God's will for his life and felt at peace with his decision.

In the years that followed, he served overseas in Germany and Bosnia saying Mass for the troops, hearing their confessions and baptizing their babies. Then during the Second Gulf War, he was sent to Iraq serving troops within a five thousand square mile area. When his sister asked him whether he was afraid to be in such a dangerous part of the world, he responded in a letter to her saying, "The safest place for me to be is in the center of God's will. If that means being in the line of fire, then so be it."

In October of 2004, Father Vakoc was returning to his base after saying Mass in the field when he was struck by a roadside bomb. In the blast, he lost one of his eyes and suffered severe brain damage. Five years later, after many surgeries, he finally succumbed to his injuries, dying in June of 2009.

He freely chose to accept God's will, even though it put him in harm's way. He followed the example of Christ by risking his life to serve others. And he continues to serve as an example for us of what it means to follow Christ to the end.

Doing God's will is not always easy. Jesus himself had to struggle with accepting God's will. Sweating blood, he begged his heavenly Father to take the cup of suffering from him. As the second reading tells us, "he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death." But in the end, he accepted God's will for him. He did it out of obedience to his heavenly Father and out of love for us. During the Last Supper, he assured his disciples that no one would be taking his life from him. Rather he would be handing himself over freely to those who would crucify him. And so he does not run away when Judas leads the soldiers to him. He rebukes Peter for cutting off the ear of the high priest's slave. He stands silent before Pilate refusing to defend himself although he is innocent. And though he has the power to call down the angels of heaven to free him, he allows himself to be beaten, mocked and nailed to a cross out of love for us and obedience to God's will.

As we gather here today and ponder the mystery of the cross - the mystery of a God who loved us so much that he sent his Son to die in our place - we must ask ourselves, how freely do we embrace God's will for our lives? When we are faced with difficulties and suffering which is beyond our power to alleviate, how do we respond? Do we choose fear or faith? Do we allow our suffering to make us bitter and miserable? Or do we unite our sufferings with those of Christ and experience his power to free us from despair? Do we live as victims, lashing out and blaming others for our misfortunes? Or do we live in freedom, accepting the burdens of life when they are God's will and forgiving those who hurt us as Jesus did?

On the cross, Jesus left us a tremendous example of obedience, love and trust. More than that, he showed us the face of a God who cares about our suffering and chooses to suffer along with us. When we embrace God's will with obedience and love as Father Vakoc did and as Jesus did, then we can carry our cross without the additional burdens of shame, bitterness and anger. Then the peace of Christ can take hold of our heart, and God's victory over sin and death - the mystery we celebrate on this Good Friday - will be a reality in our day-to-day lives.

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