After Mass one day, Margaret stayed longer to pray. As she left, she came across a young woman cleaning the church. Ordinarily, she would have smiled and walked past her, eager to get to work. But this time, something moved her to stop and say hello. She had seen this woman before, but she didn’t know her name.
In her conversation, Margaret got to know Olga’s story. She learned that Olga had fled her home in Eastern Europe at age thirteen, when her father threatened her in a drunken stupor. In a foreign city, completely alone, she lived in constant danger on the streets, became pregnant, and had three children before she was seventeen. She lived and worked as an unpaid servant in the home of her in-laws, where she suffered much abuse. One day, her common-law husband and the family matriarch told her to leave and never return—and to leave her children behind.
Miraculously, Olga found legal asylum in another country. Years later, she married a godly man and began working for a cleaning service. Every month, she sent money to her elderly mother, who lived as a widow in her native land. “God has been good to me,” Olga said. “I don’t understand why people do these things, but I know God wants me to love them and forgive.”
Margaret was stunned. Olga had been almost invisible to her for so long. But now it was as if her eyes were suddenly opened to this real person in her life. Olga reminded Margaret of poor Lazarus, lying unnoticed at the rich man’s doorstep. Olga’s story also caused Margaret to realize that she was preoccupied with her own comparatively small concerns and that she needed to make time for other people. The two women agreed to meet for coffee, and their friendship grew. Over time, Olga came to dinner so often that she became almost like a member of the family.
Like the parable in today’s Gospel, Olga shows us that the people who are unimportant by human standards are precious to God. He never forgets the invisible or abandoned ones, and he calls us to go and do likewise.
“Jesus, help me to see you and love you in the distressing disguise of the poor.”
O God, who delight in innocence and restore it, direct the hearts of your servants to yourself, that, caught up in the fire of your Spirit, we may be found steadfast in faith and effective in works.