It’s the season of giving. It’s also Advent, the season of darkness and waiting, when we contemplate our holy longings for wholeness and peace, our longing for God to appear in our everyday lives.

I had what Pope Francis calls an encounter experience one Advent that captures the longing of this season. It was with a woman named Kathy, who had turned to Catholic Charities when she lived on the streets, when her season of darkness had lasted for years.

I work on the development team at Catholic Charities and one December day our receptionist called me to meet with a woman who wanted to make a gift to Catholic Charities. A call like that was not uncommon but on this particular day, I felt inconvenienced since I was working on what I considered a big proposal that I would present the next day. Nonetheless, I went downstairs.

When I arrived in the reception area, the woman waiting on the orange couch was wearing a drab, oversized, winter coat and dark green sweat pants. A half-filled plastic bag sat on her lap and another was tucked tightly next to her. I glanced at the receptionist to make sure the woman sitting there was the donor she had phoned me about, and she nodded. Feeling humbled and ashamed for assuming she wasn’t, I walked over to her and sat down.

With a soft voice, Kathy introduced herself and expressed her interest in giving a gift to the Housing Transitions program at Catholic Charities. She shared how she sincerely loves “the ladies down in drop-in,” referring to the drop-in center on the first floor of our headquarters, which is run by the Housing Transitions team. The drop-in center is where women who are homeless can come to take a shower, do laundry, eat a hot meal, get help seeking housings and work and, perhaps most important, feel connected to a community and be reminded that they matter.

Kathy then gave me a glimpse into her life. “I’ve had some hard times in my life, and during those times, I went to the drop-in center for support. The ladies became my family. They helped me through and now I want to give back.”

Kathy smiled a big smile, exposing her missing teeth, and she said that things had recently gotten much better for her. She then reached into one of her plastic bags and took out her brown, worn wallet. She took out a $100 bill, unfolded it, and as she placed it in my hand, our eyes met and I saw that this gift was coming straight from her heart. My thank you felt inadequate. Not because it was insincere, but because I knew that I could never fully comprehend the depth of the generosity and faith I was witnessing. I thanked her a second time after I wrote down her name and said that I’d let the ladies “down in drop-in” know about her gift. She put away her wallet, stood up and went back out into the street.

When I returned to my office, I was unable to resume my work on the proposal. Instead, I emailed Margi, the Director of Housing Transitions. Not a minute later Margi called me. She too was filled with awe by Kathy’s generosity. She shared that Kathy had been without an income for years, living solely on food stamps and vouchers, barely managing to get by. Just recently Kathy was approved for disability benefits, and it was in the past week that she received her first monthly check of $730, $100 of which she just gave to Catholic Charities.

An encounter experience, according to Pope Francis, is when you allow yourself to be moved by another so that you are changed, transformed by the grace of God in your midst, and as result, you see differently.

My encounter with Kathy that day in December expanded my understanding of what it means to be a significant contributor to Catholic Charities. Kathy reminded me that no matter who you are or what your circumstances are, each one of us is capable of transformational generosity. And perhaps our own suffering and unique struggles play a role in expanding the capacity of our hearts. I wonder if that is why Dorothy Day, when asked how one might best live the Gospel, said, “Stay close to the poor.” She didn’t say “Save the poor” or “Give to the poor” or even “Pray for the poor.” When we stay close to the poor, we have encounters that open our eye and enlarge our hearts, and that result in a renewed commitment to the needs of others.

Granger is director of donor engagement at Catholic Charities and a member of St. Andrew Parish.