I felt some hesitation blogging about this story last week: Mysterious Priest Showed Up to Pray With Missouri Crash Victim. The hype gained momentum over the week, and it seemed better to “wait and see” if someone would come forward or not before making a bunch of pronouncements about what it all means.
MSM outlets became excited by the story when it was discovered that more than 70 photographs were taken following the accident, but that the “mysterious priest” could not be seen in any of the pictures. We began to see the word “miracle” in secular news stories, which is always a bit of a head-scratcher because every good secular agnostic materialist knows there’s no such thing as miracles. Even Mr. Spock says so in the last Star Trek movie.
Then there were some interesting discussions about whether it was actually one of God’s angels who appeared in the guise of a Catholic priest. This speculation was fueled by eyewitness accounts of several rescue workers and first responders who stated that the priest offered some reassurance about the fact that they would be able to get their equipment to work and would ultimately save the young woman trapped inside, which turned out to be true.
I even read an article that suggested that the priest was actually a deceased Venerable who worked at a nearby parish in Missouri while he was alive and whose cause for sainthood would be manifestly improved if it could be established that he was the one who actually appeared.
A bunch of water was poured on the flames of secular speculation when it turned out that the priest, who probably doesn’t watch much television, actually identified himself by commenting on the original story about the incident that appeared in the National Catholic Register. We now know that a living Catholic priest appeared, a Fr. Patrick Dowling (Fr. Dowling, a fitting name for a “Mystery Priest”!), originally from Ireland, whose ministry is in Jefferson County, Missouri
But you would be grossly mistaken if you concluded that this wasn’t a miracle after all. The fact that Fr. Dowling is a living priest does not make what he did any less miraculous. The word “miracle”, in Latin is miraculum, from mirari, “to wonder”. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, a miracle is generally a “a wonderful thing”:
The Latin Vulgate designates by miracula wonders of a peculiar kind, expressed more clearly in the Greek text by the terms terata, dynameis, semeia, i.e., wonders performed by supernatural power as signs of some special mission or gift and explicitly ascribed to God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (para. 434) states:
Jesus’ Resurrection glorifies the name of the Savior God, for from that time on it is the name of Jesus that fully manifests the supreme power of the “name which is above every name.” The evil spirits fear his name; in his name his disciples perform miracles, for the Father grants all they ask in this name.”
What we know is that a young woman was in a terrible head-on collision. The metal that composed her vehicle was so crumpled and folded that the rescue equipment of emergency workers kept breaking because the metal was too thick and close together. They couldn’t get her out and they needed to move the car (which carried the risk of severely injuring her further by moving her without immobilization).
Then she asked for someone to pray with her! The Father granted her request. Miraculously, a priest appeared (and she isn’t even Catholic! Yet?) — to anoint her, to comfort her, and to pray with her. He was passing through on his way between mass assignments.
Indeed, this was a wonder performed by supernatural power, beginning with Fr. Dowling’s own ordination, in which “it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth. This is what the Church means by saying that the priest, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, acts in persona Christi Capitis…” (CCC 1548).
A miracle is not simply the appearance of a dead person or an angel of God, or an unexplained healing, or an averted disaster. Yes, these things are often supernatural, but what interests us about them the most is not the fact that they are supernatural, but that they are extraordinary. In other words, God — who as Creator of the Universe is inherently supernatural — does something He doesn’t always do from time to time. The novelty of an extraordinary occurrence is what appeals to many.
However, the miracle here is so miraculous because of how terribly ordinary it is: God gives us the blessing of a priesthood which is capable of representing Christ to God’s people. The priest “…is truly made like to the high priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of the person of Christ himself.” (CCC 1548).
What would Christ himself have done differently than Fr. Dowling? Would he not have appeared, almost magically, without raising much of a scene or fuss? Would he not have put everyone at ease, and told them not to worry? Would he not have directed his attention to the frightened young woman trapped in her vehicle, assuring her that all would be well? Would he not have prayed and poured out his mercies on a suffering soul? Would he not have left much the same way he arrived, without trumpets or fanfare? Would he not have lauded the courageous work of the emergency workers, law enforcement, and other first responders on the scene, upon being identified?
This was a miracle. It’s the same miracle that surrounds every validly ordained priest. It’s the ordinary common type of miracle that speaks to God’s constant attention to our needs. Because we don’t need extraordinary miracles; we need miracles thousands of times a day to bring about the work of our salvation. We need miracles that speak to God’s seeking us, now and always. We need the ordinary common miracles that bring Christ himself to every Catholic altar.
God works ordinary common miracles so frequently that we miss almost all of them! The extraordinary ones are the equivalent of getting hit with a frying pan over the head, but we (stupidly) act as though these “frying pan” miracles are the only ones that are authentic. In other words, it is our blindness, not the absence of the supernatural, that is evident here.
Say a prayer of thanks to God for the blessing of our priests. Pray that God continues to call men to Him for this important ordinary common miracle.