Anyone who has ever observed young children opening gifts on Christmas morning has witnessed the sheer delight that receiving a gift can bring. Their unbridled enthusiasm as they tear open their presents brings joy to the hearts of their parents who have painstakingly sought to find the perfect gift for each child.
The greatest gifts of all are those that bring the children together in a mutual experience of sharing and discovery. On the other hand, few scenarios can match the crushing disappointment of a parent whose gift has been rejected by their child, or by a child who stubbornly refuses to share their gift with a sibling.
Pope Francis began his catechesis this week on the charisms, by defining a charism as “a grace, a gift lavished by God the Father, through the action of the Holy Spirit.” He went on to say that the charism is not received by someone because “he merited it: it is a gift that God makes so that, with the same gratuitousness and the same love, he can put it at the service of the whole community for the good of all.”
Charisms, like the Christmas gifts showered on children by generous and loving parents, are gifts given out of love and not awards doled out for past performance. Furthermore, charisms are given in order that they might be shared.
The Pope described the process of discerning the charisms as one that happens in the context of the community of the Church. How do we know if we have received a charism? We know because the community has recognized that charism in us. Once the community has called forth a charism within us, we are obligated to respond to that call.
The Holy Father challenged every member of the Body of Christ to examine their own consciences with regard to whether they have used their charisms properly by asking: “Do I live it with generosity, putting it at the service of all, or do I neglect it and end up by forgetting it?” The charisms are given by God not for us to hide, ignore, or worse, show off like a trophy. Rather, they are given to us to be placed at the disposal of the Church where the Pope says they render her “always alive and fruitful.”
Pope Francis’ catechesis on the charisms is nothing new. It reiterates similar teachings given by his predecessors and by the Scriptures themselves. Saint Pope John Paul II, in a 1994 Wednesday audience, taught that “the primary or principal aim of many charisms is not the personal sanctification of those who receive them, but the service of others and the welfare of the Church.”
At World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI stressed the communal benefits of the charisms in words which boldly exhorted the young people present: “Let us invoke the Holy Spirit….Let his gift shape you!…you are called to exercise the Spirit’s gifts amidst the ups and downs of your daily life….In accepting the power of the Holy Spirit you too can transform your families, communities, and nations. Set free the gifts!”
St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, which the Pope mentioned in his address, details the nature and purpose of the charisms: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” (1 cor 12:4-7)
The Pope concluded his teaching by expressing awe at the beauty which shines forth in the diversity of charisms present in the Church. This “multiplicity of charisms”, he explained, should lead us to exclaim, “What a beautiful thing! So many different gifts, because we are all God’s children and all loved in a unique way.”
Possessing this attitude of wonder and joy over God’s gifts protects us as individuals and the Church as a body from painful divisions which can creep in when we view another’s charisms with suspicion, fear or envy. Like the siblings opening up their Christmas gifts, we must rejoice over the charisms received by another, knowing that in doing so we express gratitude to the giver of the gifts.
When we respond in gratitude to the uniqueness of another’s charisms, we become partakers in the benefits of all the gifts which the Lord lavishes upon his children and become, as Pope Francis said “a credible sign and living testimony to the love of God.”