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The 'mystery priest' appears, but the mystery remains

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 13, 2013

OK, the mystery is solved. The priest who appeared at an accident scene in Missouri is Father Patrick Dowling, of the Jefferson City diocese.

(For some reason it seems appropriate that a priest associated with a mystery is named Father Dowling. I can almost hear the late Ralph McInerny chuckling.)

“I have to admire the calmness of everybody involved,” Father Dowling said of the incident. But people weren’t all that calm afterward, when the internet exploded with reports of a miracle. Well, now we know better.

Or do we? Yes, there’s a perfectly rational explanation for the priest’s appearance on the accident scene. Still, the accident victim and the emergency workers felt a profound sense of calm and confidence as they prayed together; and a very ticklish rescue effort, which had been going badly, worked out smoothly. Are there natural explanations? Sure. But do you find them entirely convincing?

The reports of a miracle proliferated because most of us, whether we admit it or not, actually believe in miracles. Haven’t we all experienced extraordinary things, and felt sure that—even if we could never prove it—we’d been touched by some supernatural grace?

A few days back I suggested that the “mystery priest” might be some holy priest of past years, making a cameo appearance from beyond the grave. If that wasn’t the case this time, it doesn’t mean those holy priests aren’t capable of doing favors for the living today.

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  • Posted by: koinonia - Aug. 15, 2013 9:14 AM ET USA

    The priestly character makes him a minister to all men. The priest brigs Christ to men, and it is this divinely instituted mission that bears testimony to the charity of Christ's Mystical Body. In an age of secularism and sentimentality the priesthood has taken some big hits. Sentiment has too often resulted in compromise and a surrending of that awesome sacramental identity to human respect. We are reminded once more that despite secular inroads most know the priest is something more.

  • Posted by: Defender - Aug. 14, 2013 2:20 AM ET USA

    There is also the possibility that the priest was meant to be there at that place in time - who's to say?

  • Posted by: msorensen71798 - Aug. 13, 2013 11:36 PM ET USA

    A miracle occurs at every Mass, yet we don't typically "see" it as such. Too many miracles with "fireworks" would render them all as ordinary. Like the birth of a baby or even the sun coming up each morning. Deo gratias!

  • Posted by: ramonantonio3455448 - Aug. 13, 2013 10:50 PM ET USA

    Interesting comparison that of Cana and the inconspicuous miracle. IS it part of the new wave of miracle explanations that present those occurrences as a succession of events that seemed to be outstanding but were in fact changes in peoples minds? As some suggest, the multiplication of bread and fish was supposedly a change of heart in the people who then shared whatever they had moved by Jesus exhortation. It seems faith is reaching new lows in humanity.

  • Posted by: p.hession20095038 - Aug. 13, 2013 10:31 PM ET USA

    Part of the miraculous is not just the event but the timing of the event. The fact that Fr. Dowling was there at that particular time was miraculous. Most of the miracles of Jesus happened just at the time he was passing by.

  • Posted by: littleone - Aug. 13, 2013 9:26 PM ET USA

    I believe there was a miracle that day,and that,indeed,there were many miracles that day.We forget the "ordinary" miracles of every day. There is mystery and miracle in the reality that in this wounded world,there are those,every day,willing to sacrifice their time and talent for the sake of others.This caring,humble priest,who ministers to those in prison,and views wounded lives regularly,extended himself for this vulnerable girl,trapped in the prison of her car.Those with Faith see.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Aug. 13, 2013 6:20 PM ET USA

    I think you are onto something here that all Catholics should think about: miracles DO NOT have to be spectacular. Maybe it's the effect of too many 1950s movies like "The Miracle at Fatima", but most of us seem to want fireworks with our miracles. Christ didn't operate that way. At Cana, I fancy that many attending the wedding never learned that the superb wine at the end of the feast rather than the beginning was anything but the sommelier's mistake. It was no less a miracle for that.

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