BY Mark Shea
January 31-February 13, 2010 Issue | Posted 1/25/10 at 3:00 AM
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.
However, 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 world.”
Charisms, 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).
This 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 desire.
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 particular Church.
That 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.
Related 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.
Thank 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 God.
Mark Shea is content editor of
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