This morning I attended the St. Paul Cathedral funeral Mass for Father Tim Vakoc, the Army chaplain who was severely injured in Iraq five years ago, in St. Paul, Minn.
In attendance were two bishops, another bishop-to-be, at least a hundred priests, military personnel and hundreds of family, friends and others.
The Gospel reading was the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. In answer to the question of where was God five years ago, the homilist, Father Stan Mader, a seminary classmate of Father Vakoc’s, said, “Jesus wept. But then he turned to his Father, had Lazarus unbound, and then let him go.”
Father Mader urged those in attendance to let Father Tim go “from the bed that had been his altar of sacrifice.” “Let him go ... for the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will, and that is where he is now.”
Perhaps the most beautiful moment of the funeral Mass for me personally was the cathedral bells being rung during the consecration as Archbishop John Nienstedt sang the words of institution. From inside the cathedral one could faintly hear them. I imagine that outside, in downtown St. Paul, they made quite a long and impressive sound. In that moment, one could clearly see the link between the sacrifice of Father Tim’s life and the sacrifice of Christ.
Father Mader also beautifully spoke of Father Tim’s various ministries — his ministry of intentional presence to fellow soldiers, and, then later, after his accident, of his ministry as a witness to the value of human life, his ministry of prayer, and his ministry of building a community of people who cared for him.
After the funeral, Father Vakoc was laid to rest in Fort Snelling National Cemetery.