So I have to confess – I am a little ashamed to say this – but the end of the Mysterious Priest of Missouri left me a little, well, let down. Come on, people, admit that you liked the story better before the revelation (probably not the best word) that this was no apparition. We’d all love to have a big, splashy miracle on our hands. Instead, we have the other kind.
You probably have seen the media reports about this story. A young woman was driving along a highway in Missouri, when a driver traveling the other way crossed into her lane and hit her head on. She was trapped in the wreckage of her car, badly injured. Emergency workers tried to free her, but their efforts weren’t working. The young woman, in terrible pain, clung to her prayers and asked the emergency crew to pray with her. Then, a Catholic priest showed up and added his voice to the prayers. Witnesses vary about what he did or said. But he provided something that made a difference, and the young woman finally was extricated. The priest had left without fanfare. His timely appearance and silent departure left people wondering: Was he an angel? Was it a miracle? Just who was this person?
If you are a serious atheist, you believe that a human being is just another piece of hardware. Yes, a great deal more complicated than anything on a firetruck, but ultimately, just a machine, running according to its specs. That is what your rational mind tells you. And then, a lot of kinetic energy turns an automobile into something that’s like nothing more than a set of metal jaws, biting your legs with mindless fury. That’s when you stop being a machine and realize that you are a person. That’s when you need something more than an explanation. You need someone like Father Patrick Dowling, the priest who showed up with a message from the One who says, I Am Here With You.
That doesn’t sound like a miracle, but don’t dismiss it too quickly. Remember, miracles are always easy to explain away. One of my favorite parables of Jesus – funny how he’s always relevant – is the story of the rich man and Lazarus, in chapter 16 of the Gospel of Luke. The rich man learns too late what life is for, and he wants, like Jacob Marley, to go back and warn people. Surely, he says, if someone returns from the dead, they will repent. No, says father Abraham, if they did not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if some one should rise from the dead. They will say it is a purely psychological phenomenon brought on by stress (okay, I added that last part).
If people will dismiss large miracles, and they certainly will, then what chance do small miracles have? I am not quite ready to walk away from the one in Missouri. As I read about the events, I wonder if some of the people out there on that highway were getting close to giving up. Enter Father Dowling, the ambassador from the country of life. A miracle happened, or didn’t happen, God only knows. But at least we know that hope returned, and there was that glorious moment when Katie Lentz was lifted free. Go ahead and drop explanations on the whole business. I say, thank God for small miracles.