Last Saturday I officiated at my second wedding, and it was beautiful. Well, except for the fact that the wedding was at 6pm, and the priest showed up at exactly 6pm. And the rest of the story is…
I was trying to make good time as I drove from Chicago to Cinncinati, but an Ordination I attended earlier in the day went a little longer than planned. The GPS said I would arrive at 5:30, not exactly an hour early as I had hoped for, but still respectable.
During my morning prayer time earlier that day I had been reading one of my favorite authors, Ruth Burrows. She was talking about how we need “constant watchfulness for the call of God,” and how “we miss countless opportunities when he is there offering himself because we don’t notice him, we are not really looking for him.”
I was pushing the speed limit – 70mph – the whole way. So was everybody else. It was a beautiful sunny day, and many people were out joyriding in sports cars and motorcycles. Indiana is one of the states where you don’t have to wear a helmet when driving a motorcycle, and there were many helmetless bikers out.
My GPS had said there would be no traffic the whole way, so I was surprised when people started hitting their brake lights. Then things grew to a standstill.
As I sat there watching the clock, I was starting to grow impatient. Of all times! Wish I had a helicopter!
Finally traffic started moving slowly. We all inched ahead until some stopped cars came into view.
Then the Red Sea parted.
The car in front of me pulled into the fast lane and there, sitting in the middle of the road with his back to me, was a man.
Now this was I-465, the beltway around Indianapolis, a three lane highway. You don’t sit in the middle of I-465.
I stopped my car and put on my hazard lights.
As a seminarian, one of the things you’d hear about were stories of priests coming across accidents and being able to offer the anointing of the sick or absolution to a dying soul. (one of the most amazing stories is here)
So as a young priest I would often think about the day it might happen to me.
But not today. Not when I was in such a hurry – and for a wedding of all things. You don’t arrive late to weddings when you’re the priest.
I honestly think I might have kept driving if it hadn’t been for my reading that bit about always being ready for the “call of God.”
And so I got out of the car. Several other people had already gotten out out too. The police hadn’t arrived yet. Then I noticed the blood. There was a pool of it behind the man. A woman was kneeling in front of him holding a torn t-shirt against a wound.
I try to wear my clerics as much as possible, and so one of the people who had stopped asked if I was a Catholic priest. “Yes,” I said. “Oh man, good thing. I was going to try to pray with them but you’re way better,” he said.
The woman was in tears, not hysterical but almost. She kept repeating, “You can’t die, I’m so sorry, you can’t die.”
While the man had lost a lot of blood and definitely had some broken bones, he could talk and move a good bit. One of the bystanders had some medical experience and we both told the woman, “He’s going to be ok.”
“Are you sure?” she asked. We reassured her, but she kept crying and kept repeating, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, you can’t die.”
As I knelt there on the pavement, holding both of them by the shoulders, I learned they were Christians, a married couple, and asked them if they would like to pray. “Yes, I really want to pray now,” the woman said. We prayed the Our Father together and I offered a little spontaneous prayer. That seemed to give them both a little more peace.
Soon a police officer arrived and then the paramedics. Before they whisked the man and his wife into the ambulance, I gave them a blessing and reassured them both that they would be ok.
As I headed back to my car, an older man came up to me, obviously wanting to talk.
“Did you see what happened?” he asked.
“No, I didn’t see the accident,” I said.
“They just lost control, right in front of me,” he explained. “I had just come from rehab with my son, who was in a motorcycle accident 13 years ago. He wasn’t supposed to ever walk again, but is doing perfectly fine now. When I pulled onto the highway, there was this couple right in front of me, with no helmets on, and I thought of my son. So I kept my distance and was able to stop when they lost control.”
I was speechless.
“It was a miracle,” he said, “just like my son’s recovery.”
I agree. It was a miracle. And somehow God put me there, in just the right place, to give a little support and encouragement.
And the wedding? They were just happy to have a priest, and everything went beautifully.
In the heat of the moment it’s so hard to hear God’s call and trust that everything will be ok if we follow it.
Thankfully last Saturday, he placed his call smack dab in the middle lane, and all was well!