Angels among us

At some level, were you just a bit disappointed to learn that the “mystery priest” had come forward in that much-talked-about auto accident and rescue case involving a young Quincy woman last week?

We Catholics love and embrace mysteries of the deepest kind. On Thursday, when most receive this newspaper, we will be celebrating the mystery of the Blessed Virgin Mary being assumed body and soul into heaven. We’ll do so by attending Mass, at which we believe — among other mysteries accepted by faith — that ordinary bread and wine becomes the very body and blood of our risen-from-the-dead Savior.

So in comparison, a priest appearing and then seeming to vanish at an accident site among cornfields in rural northeast Missouri is not that grand a stretch. But it was compelling, wasn’t it?

For this mystery — some were already calling it a miracle — happened in our time. To people who could be our neighbors. Along a roadside by cornfields that look just like the roadsides and cornfields in rural central Illinois.

What if, many of us wondered, just what if that priest who brought calm and hope and healing at a horrific scene really was an angel among us, sent by God as an answer to the prayers of young accident victim Katie Lentz and her brave rescuers? What if, some of us even ventured, he was a beloved, deceased priest like St. Padre Pio or even Venerable Fulton Sheen somehow visiting our time and place?

So we shared the story on Facebook and via email, and talked about it at dinner tables and office water coolers. And we got goosebumps with each hearing and telling.

Well, the “mystery priest” is a mystery no longer. Father Patrick Dowling, a priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City, reportedly came upon the scene while between Mass assignments. Praise God that he did what priests do. “I came by, and anointed and absolved,” he said. And then Father Dowling went on his way.

Should that shatter our belief in angels? Hardly. The existence of these spiritual servants and messengers of God is a truth of faith revealed in Scripture. “From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church. How angels help us is a mystery, and we Catholics are just fine with that.

And then there are the “angels” in bodily form who also surround us. We know who they are in our lives. The teacher who inspired our vocation. The nurse whose compassion was other worldly. The first responder who came to our rescue, whether that be a professional or a family member or friend. The priest who anointed and absolved us or our loved ones in times of great need.

It’s no mystery that the world would be a better place if we shared more of their stories on Facebook, via e-mails, and at dinner tables and office water coolers. And we should get plenty of goosebumps at the goodness of God to place these people, and the marvelous mysteries of faith, in our lives at just the right times. — Thomas J. Dermody

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