If you followed the news last week, you may have read about Katie Lenz, the 19-year-old from Missouri, whose collision with a drunk driver left her near death in a mangled wreckage.
Forty-five minutes into the rescue attempt, tools began to break in a most disheartening way. First responders were left to contemplate a desperate effort to lift the car when an unknown priest appeared from seemingly nowhere to offer a prayer.
Within moments of his prayer, new tools arrived and Katie was successfully airlifted to a local hospital where she is now recovering. The story stirred the imagination of many Internet bloggers who speculated that the mysterious priest was an angel in disguise.
The notion that angels roam among mortals has some support in the Biblical book of Hebrews where the writer urges people not to “forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
During my senior year of high school, I, too, was credited with an angelic act.
It happened as Wendi Sommers and I were driving through the rural hills of Atascadero, Calif. As we rounded a curve, we noticed a large dust plume erupt from the far side of the hill. In the next moment, we were on the scene of an overturned dune buggy, its occupants yelling for help.
I quickly recognized one of the voices as Tommy Goldsmith.
“Tommy, is that you?”
“Norris?” my trapped classmate called. “I’m stuck! Get this thing off of me!”
When Wendi and I tried to lift the lightweight buggy, it gave Tom’s leg a painful pinch. Tom responded with colorful language that I interpreted as his request to summon professional help.
Seeing that Tommy was making a valid point, Wendi went to a neighbor to call fire and rescue while I stayed to pray and reassure Tommy.
Within 30 minutes, Tommy was loaded onto a stretcher for his ambulance ride into town. He spent much of the next school year in a cast, but rarely missed an opportunity to thank Wendi and I for being his rescue angels.
Angels that step out of nowhere to save people in their most desperate hour is a high notion, and it perhaps happens, but in this case I was no angel.
And neither was the priest who materialized to pray for Katie, the college girl. He was simply a Catholic priest named, Father Dowling. (Particularly odd if you are old enough to recall the mystery series of the same name.)
If knowing the human conclusion of this story makes you think I’m dousing the flames of faith, let me share with you what I know from the many prayers I’ve given at the bedside of many seriously ill patients:
Regardless of the hand used, it is the way in which rescuers welcome God’s presence into the scene that will always give them the clarity of mind they need.
My point is that both of these stories illustrate what God requires of all of us. We must become that angel. We must be there when people crash, both spiritually and physically. We must be there for our fellow man when life upends them and circumstances trap them in places that seem inescapable.
My guess is that the good Father Dowling would back me on this.
Tommy died of an illness last year, but not before he was able to repeat a similar angelic act. According to his obit in the Atascadero News, Tommy “saved peoples’ lives, pulling them out of a truck that was about to explode.”
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of “No Small Miracles.” Recorded comments are welcome at 843-608-9715. You may also send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Visit thechaplain.net.