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BY Mark Shea
The Church teaches that there are two kinds of
gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit in baptism and confirmation. The first
kind, which we have been surveying over the past few issues, are called the
sanctifying gifts. These are, so to speak, the gifts you get to keep: They are
gifts that enable you to be conformed to the image of Christ and to be a saint.
these gifts, wonderful though they are, do not exhaust the generosity of God.
There is another class of gifts known as “charisms.” The Catechism explains, in
No. 799: “Whether extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of
the Holy Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as
they are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the
as distinct from the sanctifying gifts, are the gifts you give away. These are
the gifts alluded to in 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 5 and Romans 12. They are
gifts given not so much to you as through you: They are primarily given to you to use for
the sake of others. All the baptized receive, in some measure, all the
sanctifying gifts because everybody is intended by God to become a saint. But
though all the baptized receive some charism, nobody receives all the charisms
— because not everybody is intended to do the same work. As St. Paul says,
“There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of
service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the
same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation
of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12: 4-7).
means that you have a gift to give to the Church and the world, a gift no one
but you can give. What that gift (or, more likely, “those gifts”) will be is
related to your vocation — the work of love to which you are called by God. In
your baptism and confirmation, you have been both called and gifted to do what
God desires you to do, and you will find that it is also your own deepest
Every gift is, so to speak, a minority
gift. There is no gift that most Christians have, yet all the charisms
necessary for the healthy functioning of the body are present in each
said, it is also vital to remember that God does not call you or gift you to be
the Lone Ranger. The task of discerning a charism is never carried out apart
from the Church. Some people can become bent on demanding a charism from God
that they think is cool while ignoring the charisms he actually means them to
have. The Church is vital for rooting us in reality here. Charisms range from
the ordinary-sounding to the spectacular (think Padre Pio), but they are all
vital to the building up of the body of Christ.
to this is the reality that the mere possession of a charism does not guarantee
sanctity. Far more than the working of signs and wonders, the Church considers
the day-to-day charity of a saint the thing that marks him or her as a saint.
One can (and often does) meet highly gifted people whose charisms may be
well-developed but who are still jerks. The lesson of Mozart in Amadeus
should be a caution to us all.
God for the various gifts he has given you. Find a way to both foster God’s
sanctifying gifts within your soul while liberally giving away whatever
charisms he has bestowed on you so that others may also experience the grace of
Mark Shea is content editor of