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Column: Archbishop regrets accident for more reason than one

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

Two weeks ago, I drove to St. Louis to pick up my mother to bring her to Kansas City for Holy Week and Easter. I had just entered St. Louis County when traffic on the interstate came to a halt because of an accident ahead.

I was in the far left lane and had just about come to a complete stop, when I was stunned by the impact of a car hitting the rear of my Trailblazer. I am not certain if I hit my head on the sun visor or the steering wheel. When I looked up, my car had pivoted to the right and was rolling across three other lanes of traffic. I was unable to accelerate and the car was difficult to steer. Miraculously, I made it across the highway without being hit or hitting anyone else.

Once I had come to a stop on the right shoulder, I got out of my car and surveyed the scene trying to figure out what had happened. Another car had pulled over
on the right shoulder. The driver asked me if I was all right. He said that he had seen the entire accident. He volunteered to remain as a witness.

The car that had struck me was partially in the far left lane and partially on the shoulder of the highway. The front of the car was completely demolished. I was amazed to see a young man emerge from the car. Traffic was completely stopped so he was able to run across the lanes to the right shoulder where I was standing.

He immediately apologized for hitting me and asked if I was all right. I assured him that I was not seriously hurt. In a short time, a police officer arrived on the scene. He first checked to see if either of us was seriously injured. The young man, who hit me, was obviously quite upset. The officer, attempting to calm him down, counseled: “Cars can be replaced. The important thing is no one is seriously hurt.”

You could see the officer was perplexed by how my vehicle was on the right shoulder and the other car was on the far left shoulder. I explained to him what happened. I suggested that he speak to the witness who had viewed the entire incident.

With my cell phone, I tried to call the friends whom I had planned to meet for dinner that night. I got their voice mail and left a message that I would not be able to join them. The young man, who hit me, asked if he could use my cell phone.

I gradually began to realize my predicament. My car needed to be towed. I had to find a ride to the seminary for the night and figure out how to get back to Kansas City the next day. Consequently, I was not exactly experiencing warm feelings toward this young man who had disrupted my plans. I somewhat begrudgingly allowed him to use my phone. I noticed that the young man was carrying a bouquet of flowers. I presumed he had been hurrying to take the flowers to his girl friend. I thought: “I sure hope she was worth it!”

It took a couple of hours to get my car towed. I called one of our seminarians, Mark Ostrowski, who was kind enough to pick me up and take me to the seminary, where I had planned to stay the night. Mark and one of the police officers were both Benedictine College graduates. They enjoyed a little mini- Raven reunion.

I was fortunate in so many ways. My injuries were very minor. The scrape on my forehead gave me what my mother termed “the Gorbachev look.” The seminary was able to lend me a car, until mine could be repaired. The insurance company was very accommodating, doing everything possible to restore my car as quickly as possible. In fact, as you are reading this week’s Leaven, hopefully one of our seminarians is driving my car back to Kansas City.

As I reflected on this whole episode, I could not help but marvel how everyone had been so remarkably kind and helpful (e.g., the witness, the police officers, our seminarians, the insurance agent, etc.). There was only one person with whom I was disappointed: me!

In my reaction to the other driver, I had failed to live the great commandment: to love as Jesus loved. One of the police officers had told me that they were surprised the young man had survived, much less walked away from the accident. Yet, I was more preoccupied with the inconvenience to my own life, than with the fact that this young man had “a near death experience.” The Lord had provided me with a unique opportunity to share his merciful love with another and I had blown it.

I thought about the Little Sisters of the Lamb. They are so skilled at recognizing God’s providence everywhere, especially in adversities and inconveniences. I thought of Immaculée Ilibagiza, the Rwanda genocide survivor whom I had met this past year. She had forgiven so generously those who had killed her parents and two brothers.

I thought of Divine Mercy Sunday. Jesus came into the world and endured Calvary so that I could receive his Father’s mercy. In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus commissioned the apostles to be his ambassadors of mercy in the world. Mercy is the gift that we have received from God. It is a gift, which once received and accepted, we are obligated to share with others. Here, I was a bishop — an apostle — and I had neglected to forgive another in my heart.

Fortunately, I had the young man’s name and address. On Good Friday, I wrote him a note informing him that: 1) I hoped his physical injuries were not more serious than they appeared; and 2) I was praying for him. I wrote that I thought both of our guardian angels should be up for the “Angel of the Year” award. God had protected us both from serious harm. I suggested that God had shown us his mercy because the Lord has something special that he desires for both of us to do in this world. I wrote that I hoped this experience would open the door for him to draw closer to God. I wished him well and assured him of my prayers.

I am glad that I had the opportunity to write the note, but I wish I had responded more immediately to the opportunity the Lord provided me to share his merciful love. I trust God will give me other chances. I hope not quite so dramatic! Regardless, I pray the next time I will respond more like Jesus.

This experience was a grace for me, because it reminded me that I have a long way to go on the path to holiness.

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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