Sanctifying Gifts and Charismatic Gifts

Connecting the Dots: Part one in a new Register series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Confirmation is ordered toward friendship with God and mission to the world.

Therefore, when you are confirmed, the Holy Spirit pours out on you two kinds of gifts — sanctifying and charismatic gifts — reflecting those twin purposes of God.

Sanctifying gifts are the gifts we get to keep. They make us into little Christs, creatures who participate in the life of the Blessed Trinity and share in the grace that makes us, in our own small ways, sons and daughters of God, filled with the Holy Spirit and conformed more and more to the life of Jesus.

Charismatic gifts are, in contrast, the gifts given to give away to others. They are given, not to build us up, but so that we might build up others and renew the face of the earth.

So, for instance, the generous person’s money is not there to make the generous person fat and sleek, but to help the poor person. The person with the beautiful singing voice has that voice for the ears of others. The gifted preacher preaches not to himself, but to build up his hearers.

Such gifts demonstrate one of the core facts of the spiritual life: that the chosen are chosen for the sake of the unchosen.

Charismatic gifts get a lot of press, what with saints like Padre Pio or St. Christina the Astonishing who occasionally turn up and are favored by God with dazzling miracles. We will discuss such charisms (and the typical — and much more mundane — ones) eventually, but the first thing our Tradition directs us to is the sanctifying gifts. Why? Because what matters most is not cool special effects, but genuine holiness.

And what matters most in helping others become holy is that we take responsibility for becoming holy ourselves (with the help of the Spirit, of course). The charismatic gifts enable us to help in the process whereby God makes others holy, supplies their needs and heals their wounds.

But to wield them well, we must first be about the business of getting our own houses in order, and that means living the sanctifying gifts, which do the real heavy lifting of making us holy.

Because the sanctifying gifts are, by far, the more important gifts, we are promised by God that we will receive all of them. In contrast, though everybody gets some sort of charism or charisms (since everybody has a mission from God and therefore needs the tools to carry out that mission), nobody gets all or even most of the charismatic gifts.

Instead, the charisms are, as St. Paul said, distributed throughout the body of Christ so that each member can serve others with their particular gifts. But everybody receives the sanctifying gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.

Why those gifts? Because those gifts, persistently pursued with the help of the Holy Spirit, will make you a glorified, divinized being like Christ.

Sound grandiose? Actually, it’s cold, sober reality. It is what Jesus promises when he tells us: “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). It’s what Paul promises when he declares, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).

The whole Christian life is about being transformed — from the inside out — into divinized, glorified creatures who share perfectly in exactly the same divinized, glorified human life Jesus has had since he walked out of the tomb and ascended to heaven.

Mark Shea is a Register columnist and blogger. His personal blog is Catholic and Enjoying It!