The season of Advent is one of darkness and waiting.
We contemplate our holy longings for wholeness and peace.
We yearn for God to appear in our everyday lives.
We sing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” with trust that God enters our world again and again, making whole all that is broken, through love.
Our clients at Catholic Charities regularly bear witness to the presence of God in our midst through their vulnerability, courage and generosity of heart. One story that captures this is “Kathy’s gift” shared by Catholic Charities staff member Sarah Granger.
One December day our receptionist called me to meet with a woman who wanted to make a donation. When I arrived in the lobby, the only person I saw was a woman 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. I walked over and sat down next to her.
With a soft voice, Kathy introduced herself and expressed her interest in giving a gift to the Housing Transitions program. She shared how she sincerely loved “the ladies down in drop-in,” referring to the drop-in center. This is where women who are homeless can come to take a shower, do laundry, eat a hot meal, get help seeking housing and work and, perhaps most importantly, feel connected to a community and be reminded that they matter.
Kathy shared, “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 become much better for her. Reaching into one of her plastic bags she pulled out her brown, worn wallet. She took out a bill, unfolded it to show it was $100, 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 I was witnessing. I thanked her again 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.
I emailed the Director of Housing Transitions. Not a minute later she called me. She, too, was amazed 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 expansive generosity. And perhaps our own suffering and unique struggles play a role in expanding the capacity of our hearts.
During this season of Advent, may God come close to each of us and use our seasons of suffering to expand our hearts.