Last Sunday, a horrible accident happened on Missouri Route 19, near Center Mo. It is a stretch of road I have traveled many times. A young lady was trapped in her car and there was great difficulty in extracting her. She had been hit by a man who chose, allegedly, to get behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated. As she laid pinned to her steering wheel, she asked those trying to rescue her to pray aloud with her. I would bet this is not something they hear often. From nowhere a priest shows up, anoints the young lady with the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, assures everyone to be calm and then seemingly disappears in to the ether. No one knows who he is. He does not match the description of any nearby priests, all of whom would have been at Mass in their respective parishes that morning. Was he a priest on vacation? Was he an order priest on his way to a parish? Who knows? Was he an angel, as some speculate? Who knows? What matters is that God heard the young lady's prayers and intervened.
In reading the comments sections of the various postings of this story, there were many who wanted to rally around this as a miracle. There were also those who scoffed at such a notion. The anti-Catholic haters made their appearance as did the militant atheists. The objection I saw over and over again is why did this accident even take place? If God loved this young lady so much why did he allow her to get in an accident? The whole thing was just dumb luck in their eyes. For many more, it is a moment of grace. We need those.
We need them because the world is unfair and capricious. The reason the young lady was in the accident was because a young man thought it fine to get behind the wheel of a car intoxicated. Because of his poor use of free will, other people ended up paying a dire price. This is nothing new. This doesn't make this young man a special kind of evil. It just points out how the stupidity of our own actions bear directly on others. No choice happens in a vacuum. It is why Catholics are called to be in battle with sin; it hurts others as well as ourselves. The victims of these events are often collateral damage of human selfishness. This young lady also made a choice. She chose to turn to God in her distress and ask those helping her to do so as well. He answered.
The odds of a priest being on that road on Sunday morning are overwhelmingly small. Yet he is there. Most priests do keep their oils in their cars for just such an emergency. It would not be irregular for a priest to do what this priest did. It is part of our call. I have had to do this myself. It is also part of our calling to bring calm in the Lord; to settle down moments of panic. It is refreshing to see a positive story about a priest doing what we do everyday in some form or another. Even if it were an angelic intervention, how interesting is it that it comes in the form of a priest offering the Anointing of the Sick? This would be something for anti-Catholic Christians to ponder.
The Christian faithful needs these miracles and moments of grace. The world is growing more and more isolating and violent everyday. Our news is an endless repetition of savagery, inhumanity, callousness, and greed. Bloodshed and violence are heaped onto our plates everyday. Fear of our government and economy grow as we watch our freedoms and resources ebb away little by little. It instills a sense of helplessness and ultimately doubt in God's care for us. Moments such as this event have a way of reminding us that God does care, does intervene, and does reach out to those who trust in Him. He carries us in our troubles, agonies, and problems that are a part of this life.
The non-believer, however, has no choice but to scoff, mock, and dismiss. As their only hope is in this world and the short lifetime we are given here, the sense of hopelessness only sets in deeper as they see the same things we do. They either ignore it through total self-consumption or rage against religion because it doesn't protect them from the free choice of others nor does it give them all they want, in the quantity they want, and it isolates them from any divine compassion. They need there to be no miracles and no divine power. If such things do exists, they know that all of their reality is built on sand and that they are blowing the one chance they have at happiness. This is why so many are so angry. Life with no God is an angry and desolate place; an exercise in futility that no amount of money, power, honor, or pleasure can satiate. It is something I want no part of. Furthermore, it is not reality.
Over the course of the priesthood I have been called to, I have seen so many things that can only be qualified as miracles, as moments of grace by which God makes know his care for me and for those around me. They remind me not only of His goodness, but the goodness I am called to live in conjunction with others. It is the regulator when I am ready to do something knowingly sinful, knowing that others will be hurt by my exercise of free will. Miracles are necessary to remind us that God is watching and He does respond. They remind us to stay on course and not let the evil we see so regularly bog us down into depression, doubt, and hopelessness.