Her eyes were beautiful and dark. They were all the more striking because of the contrast they presented to the pale elegance of her face. She was wrapped in layers of winter clothing to protect herself from the mean bite of the cold Butte morning. She was young, from out of state and was just passing through. She had stopped by St Patrick's Church and asked to talk to me. It was in the season of Advent, just before Christmas.
The story she told me was one of the most moving I ever heard. The sadness that was in her heart was the sadness of humankind. She bore a pain too great for one person. It reminded me of the searing verse by the incomparable poet Anna Akhmatova: "I felt the grief that all of humanity has experienced since the time of King David."
In her voice there was also dignity, courage and an unmistakable goodness. This was not an exercise in self-pity. It was a sublime moment of defiance -- the encounter that marks the beginning of reinventing a vanished existence. She chose the sacred sanctuary of our church to deposit the wreckage of her life. With profound reverence, I received the pieces of her heart. Then, she walked out of the church and into the icy dawn and the warm hopes of a new life.
Pope Francis has declared a year of Mercy to begin on December 8, 2015. The longing of this young woman was simple yet universal. It belonged to a history of millennia of Mercy since the time of King David.
The tragic experience of the mysterious visitor and her infinite sadness are why Jesus told his most beautiful parables .The tenderness, compassion and love of the first Christmas were all that I could offer her. They were all that she was looking for.
Note: Reflection was first published in the Montana Standard.