This workshop was led by Clara Geoghegan, co-director of the Catherine of Siena Institute . More information about her is available through LinkedIn and she is active on Twitter.
(NB. These notes are only rough.)
By discerning charisms we work out how the Holy Spirit is active in our lives. Our purpose and mission as Church is to preach the Good News. How do lay people take part? The laity, present and operative, make the Church present in those places where only they can go. Being on a parish roster is derivative of the mission of the clergy. The role of the laity is to go where the clergy can't go: shopping, workplaces, clubs.
Lumen Gentium 33b : The lay apostolate, however, is a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself. Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself. Moreover, by the sacraments, especially holy Eucharist, that charity toward God and man which is the soul of the apostolate is communicated and nourished. Now the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth. Thus every layman, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself "according to the measure of Christ's bestowal".
Where is God calling me? What is my mission? Do you know that God has a plan for you? Do you have the road map? The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation give us the equipment: gifts of sanctifying grace for us to keep; and charisms for us to give away. The charisms are a clue to our vocation in life. Once we know them it is easier to know what we are meant to do.
1 Corinthians 12:7-12 gives us a list of charisms, but it is not the only list.
'The particular manifestation of the Spirit granted to each one is to be used for the general good. To one is given from the Spirit the gift of utterance expressing wisdom; to another the gift of utterance expressing knowledge, in accordance with the same Spirit; to another, faith, from the same Spirit; and to another, the gifts of healing, through this one Spirit; to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, the power of distinguishing spirits; to one, the gift of different tongues and to another, the interpretation of tongues. But at work in all these is one and the same Spirit, distributing them at will to each individual. For as with the human body which is a unity although it has many parts -- all the parts of the body, though many, still making up one single body -- so it is with Christ.'
Other lists are found in the bible at 1 Peter 4:10-11, Romans 12:6-8, Ephesians 4:1-12, 1 Corinthians 12:28 and even they are not exhaustive - lacking celibacy, redemptive suffering, intercession and many other ways the Holy Spirit bestows charisms.
Supernatural gifts are meant to have supernatural results.
We read in the life of Caroline Chisholm how she prayed and fasted for the whole of Lent one year, begging God to bestow on her at Easter all the gifts needed for the task to which God was calling her. (More good information is available at https://mrschisholm.com/ )
“On Easter Sunday 1841, I was enabled, at the altar of our Lord, (at St Mary’s Cathedral) to make an offering of my talents to the God Who gave them. I promised to know neither country nor creed, but to try to serve all justly and impartially. I asked only to be enabled to keep these poor girls from being tempted, by their need, to mortal sin; I resolved that to accomplish this, I would in every way sacrifice my feelings – surrender all comfort – nor in fact consider my own wishes or feelings but wholly devote myself to the work I had in hand. I felt my offering was accepted and God’s blessing was on my work: but it was His will to permit many serious difficulties to be thrown my way, and to conduct me through a rugged path of deep humiliation.”
Faith is both capacity and choice
Virtus fidei – is the power or capacity to believe
Actus fidei – is the personal choice to respond to God's grace
It is that personal act of faith which transforms a person from 'can be a believer' to be a believer. By some estimates around 5% of the people in our pews are intentional disciples of Jesus.
Your charisms are a major indication of God's call.
If you are called, you will be gifted. If you are gifted, you are called.
Knowing your gifts helps you avoid ineffectiveness, frustration, failure and burn out. They are all caused by trying too hard to do things you are not gifted for. Knowing the gifts the Holy Spirit has given you makes it easier to make decisions, to avoid judging others and to reduce conflicts.
Different people are called to do different things in different ways. In the same parish there were 2 women who both had a charism of music. However they didn't appreciate each other's music. One of them used upbeat music, the other went for soothing music. It turned out that the first one had a gift of evangelisation with her gift of music, and the other had a gift of healing with her gift of music.
Charisms are the means by which God's provision will reach your neighbour and the means through which Christ will be revealed to your neighbour.
St Vincent Ferrer lived in Spain between 1350 and 1419. He became a priest of the Dominican Order. He had a special God-given gift of preaching. Many people were converted to God just by listening to him preach. St Vincent counted on God. He also asked for the prayers and penance of many people for the success of his sermons. He knew it was not his words or his talents that won people over. That is why he prayed before every sermon. But one day, when he knew that a very important person was going to listen to him, he worked harder than usual on his sermon. He ran out of time to pray. This sermon which he had prepared so carefully did not affect the nobleman much at all. God let that happen to teach Vincent not to count on himself. Another time, this same important person came to listen to Fr Ferrer preach. But this time the priest did not know it. He prayed and counted on God as usual. The nobleman listened to the sermon and was greatly impressed by what he heard. Vincent explained it like this: ‘In the first sermon it was Vincent who preached. In the second sermon, it was Jesus Christ.’ From 'Saints for Young Readers' Volume 1, April 5
'We want the joy that we have received in the encounter with Jesus Christ, whom we recognize as Son of God incarnate and redeemer, to reach all men and women wounded by adversities; we want the good news of the Kingdom of God, of Jesus Christ victorious over sin and death, to reach all who lie along the roadside, asking for alms and compassion (cf. Lk 10: 29-37; 18:25-43). The disciple’s joy serves as remedy for a world fearful of the future and overwhelmed by violence and hatred. The disciple’s joy is not a feeling of selfish well-being, but a certainty that springs from faith, that soothes the heart and provides the ability to proclaim the good news of God’s love. Knowing Jesus is the best gift that any person can receive; that we have encountered Him is the best thing that has happened in our lives, and making him known by our word and deeds is our joy.'
Discovering our vocation helps others to meet Jesus. There is no crisis in vocations, but there is a crisis in discerning vocations. We need to provide vocational discernment for every baptized Catholic.
When we are living out our vocation, and helping others to meet Jesus it becomes easier to share our story and to talk about Jesus. Sadly He is often 'He who must not be named' in our conversations even at parish level. This is what God wants: for us to be using our charisms and gifts to bring Christ's grace into ours and others' lives.
Gary Chapman's 'The Five Languages of Love' was recommended reading. http://www.5lovelanguages.com/
We then had an activity to do in small groups. We were given 2 sheets, one entitled 'Types of Charism' and the other had a list of extraordinary men and women together with the questions:
What methods did these people use to preach the Gospel?
Where did they preach their message?
What might their charism/s be?
It was our task to match the charisms to each extraordinary person. Start with the charism grouping they match with, then go deeper to individual charisms.
Types of Charisms
Focus-nurture of individuals and community
Encouragement, Helps, Hospitality, Mercy, Pastoring
Focus-communicating truth to change lives
Evangelism, Prophecy, Teaching
Focus-structuring an organization or group
Administration, Giving, Leadership, Service
Focus-a lifestyle and freedom for unusual ministry
Celibacy, Faith, Missionary, Voluntary Poverty
Focus-channelling God's healing and restoration
Healing, Intercessory Prayer
Focus-Understanding the ways of God and humanity
Discernment of Spirits, Knowledge, Wisdom
Focus-creative activity that orders and beautifies
Craftsmanship, Music, Writing
St Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) http://www.biography.com/people/mother-teresa-9504160#death-and-legacy
Ven Caroline Chisholm https://mrschisholm.com/history-2/
St Damien of Molokai https://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/DAMIEN.HTM
St Francis of Assisi https://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/FRANCIS.htm
St Catherine of Siena https://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/CATSIENA.HTM
St Therese of Lisieux http://www.littleflower.org/therese/
Dorothy Day http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/life-and-spirituality.html
J R R Tolkien http://www.tolkiensociety.org/author/biography/
Marjorie Liddy http://www.acountrypriest.com/marjorie-liddy-rip/
Bl Pier Giorgio Frassati http://www.bettnet.com/frassati/ https://www.ewtn.com/saintsHoly/saints/P/blpiergiorgiofrassati.asp
St John Paul II http://www.jp2shrine.org/en/bio/index.html
Eric Liddell http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/12/heroic-death-chariots-fires-eric-liddell/
An example of someone with the charism of administration would be Florence Nightingale. It was her diligent keeping of medical records that enabled improvements in hospital care to happen. She was a channel of God's wisdom providing the planning and co-ordination necessary for good things to be accomplished. Part of that is getting resources where they need to be.
An example of someone with the charism of wisdom would be Caroline Chisholm. She came up with creative solutions to specific problems, and made good decisions. She was a channel of God's goodness to many. She had remarkable insight. When she arranged immigration ships from England to Australia, they were the first ships to arrive without a death on board because there was no overcrowding. During the Victorian gold rush Caroline organised shelter sheds at a day's walk apart to help people get to and from the gold fields safely.
An example of someone with the charism of mercy is St Pier Giorgio Frassati. His life was filled with practical deeds of compassion, so that the distress of those who suffer would be alleviated – helping them to experience God's love. Mercy is always practical. If a visitor came to see Mother Teresa she was more likely to tell them to 'go help mix the curry' than anything else.
An example of someone with the charism of teaching is St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. She was a channel of God's truth and wisdom, enabling others to learn skills.
An example of someone with the charism of Helps is Brother Leo, who helped St Francis of Assisi and was called by him 'the perfect friar'. People with this charism serve in the background and not in the limelight. They use their talents and charisms to enable other people to be more effective in the roles and ministries to which God has allotted them. Thus they serve God and help God's people by being like the Brother Leo to St Francis and like the Bl Anne of St Bartholomew to St Teresa of Avila.
How to discern a charism
•How does it feel?
•Is it effective?
•Is it affirmed by others?
If people keep coming to you for something (eg encouragement), then that could be a charism.
If people keep asking you to do something, then they might be seeing a charism operate in you when you do that something.
Discovering how to use our gifts to make the love of Jesus present to our neighbour leads to growth in faith and in effectiveness – and helps us develop our personal evangelising style.
How does it feel? Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire) said, 'When I run I feel His pleasure'. Hugh Jackman, the actor, dedicates his performances to God, and knows a pleasure when he acts that is both frightening and exciting – like falling in love. His prayer becomes 'allow me to surrender'.
Parish is where we are in the business of making disciples and equipping apostles. Parish is the place to form lay apostles.
Some of the best material on the lay vocation is found in St John Paul II's Christifideles Laici, and in particular sections 37-44 which have the headings Promoting the Dignity of the Person, Respecting the Inviolable Right to Life, Free to Call upon the Name of the Lord, The Family: where the Duty to Society begins, Charity: the Soul and Sustenance of Solidarity, Public Life: for Everyone and by Everyone, Placing the Individual at the Centre of Socio-Economic Life, Evangelising Culture and the Cultures of Humanity.
How come we have this 'Don't ask, Don't tell' culture about Jesus that exerts negative pressure? Is it a fear of appearing intrusive and judgmental? Is it a fear of imposing faith and implying a possible judgement on a person's spiritual condition? What is 'normative' in your parish? How do you treat your Daniel's? .Daniel has experienced a major conversion to Jesus. Is he odd or weird? Or is he merely on fire and excited about Jesus? Many disciples are not effective because they are trying to fit into a parish culture of non-discipleship.
The aim is to produce intentional disciples, where priorities change from action not out of guilt but out of relationship with God. There are several stages to this process, from seeker to disciple, and from disciple to apostle. In the Apostle stage, a person takes on responsibility for the mission of the Church, and becomes as Pope Benedict XVI put it, 'co-responsible, not just collaborators'.
From Pope Benedict XVI's 26 May 2009 Address to the Pastoral Convention of the Diocese of Rome:
'There is still a long way to go. Too many of the baptized do not feel part of the ecclesial community and live on its margins, only coming to parishes in certain circumstances to receive religious services. Compared to the number of inhabitants in each parish, the lay people who are ready to work in the various apostolic fields, although they profess to be Catholic, are still few and far between. Of course, social and cultural difficulties abound but faithful to the Lord's mandate, we cannot resign ourselves to preserving what exists. Trusting in the grace of the Spirit which the Risen Christ guaranteed to us, we must continue on our way with renewed energy. What paths can we take? In the first place we must renew our efforts for a formation which is more attentive and focused on the vision of the Church, of which I spoke and this should be both on the part of priests as well as of religious and lay people to understand ever better what this Church is, this People of God in the Body of Christ. At the same time, it is necessary to improve pastoral structures in such a way that the co-responsibility of all the members of the People of God in their entirety is gradually promoted, with respect for vocations and for the respective roles of the consecrated and of lay people. This demands a change in mindset, particularly concerning lay people. They must no longer be viewed as "collaborators" of the clergy but truly recognized as "co-responsible", for the Church's being and action, thereby fostering the consolidation of a mature and committed laity. This common awareness of being Church of all the baptized in no way diminishes the responsibility of parish priests. It is precisely your task, dear parish priests, to nurture the spiritual and apostolic growth of those who are already committed to working hard in the parishes. They form the core of the community that will act as a leaven for the others.'
Discernment of gifts/charisms is best done in the latter part of the discipleship stage. Discernment of vocation is best done in the latter part of the apostleship stage. Discerning gifts comes naturally after doing something like an Alpha course, or after going through RCIA. (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) We need multiple, overlapping and diverse ways of encountering Jesus at parish level.
If the discernment of gifts and charisms is done at the right place on the faith development journey it will have the impact it should. If it is done too early – in the still seeking stage – it won't have that impact. That is another reason why we need multiple events during each year so that as people become ready, there is path to help them discern God's specific calling in their lives.
Where these things converge: church teaching, your uniqueness, your time, your place, the things you are passionate about – that is where you will find your vocational call.
'If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.'
St Catherine of Siena
The Catherine of Siena Institute offers a three part Called & Gifted discernment process. The first part is a 10 hour workshop. The second part is a Spiritual Gifts inventory and interview. The third part is Discernment in Depth with 5 small group sessions. Specialized versions are available.
It was refreshing to hear that lay vocations outside the church walls are important. Why is it so easy for us to fall into the mentality that only those roles with direct links to the parish's operation matter (counters, lectors, catechists, wardens, sacramental preparation, altar servers, church cleaning, musicians, choir, parish council etc)? Faith filled nurses, doctors, teachers, accountants, politicians, business owners, carpenters, lawyers, and front line customer service people do untold good in our communities and often bring many souls back to Jesus. (Don’t you just breathe a huge sigh of thanks when you discover that your surgeon prays as he operates?!) Why don't we celebrate and acknowledge them more?
Does your parish have pathways for parishioners to discern their gifts with? It can't be seen as an 'optional extra' any longer. If we are serious about doing God's will in our lives, then discovering what He has given us to serve Him with becomes essential. Some gifts will be for building up the body of Christ, and some will be for external outreach. All of us are called to both ministry (internal) and mission (external).
With regard to the groupings of charisms, anyone I have known with a more than ordinary gift of prophecy has also had the gift of intercession. They are like two halves of a whole. Think of the story in Genesis 18 where God tells Abraham what He wants to do to Sodom and Gomorrah (prophecy) inviting Abraham to bargain with Himself (intercession).
Earlier this year a copy of the Spiritual Gifts inventory was made available to me, and I answered the questions. Some gifts have a more wide ranging group of questions than others. For example the gift of music questions seemed to focus exclusively on those who wrote original music and not on other ways a charism of music might manifest itself. For me the inventory results were not as useful as those that came from doing the transferable skills exercise in 'What Colour Is Your Parachute?' and the Clifton StrengthsFinder questionnaire.
Let me explain that better. The results from Parachute and StrengthsFinder confirmed each other. The results from the inventory were all over the place. But that's only for me, it could be different for you. If we believe what St Thomas Aquinas taught, ie 'Grace does not destroy but perfects nature' then charisms should take some of our natural talents to supernatural levels when we co-operate with the Holy Spirit. Knowing what our nature level gifts are (from both nature and nurture) will be the best road map to discovering where our charisms can be found.
Here are the one liners that stood out for me, and that I'd like to see become mainstream ideas in parish life:
The charisms are a clue to our vocation in life.
Supernatural gifts are meant to have supernatural results.
If you are called, you will be gifted. If you are gifted, you are called.
Discovering our vocation helps others to meet Jesus.
We need to provide vocational discernment for every baptised Catholic.
As much as I loved remembering the lives of the Saints in the workshop activity, it was the story of Daniel that cut to my heart. So often we forget that the lives of the Saints show us what ordinary Christian living looks like. Over the years I have seen many Daniels come and go. By and large we have done a poor job of helping them ground the life-changing spiritual experiences they have had with community, catechesis, sacraments and prayer. Without that grounding, it is hard for anyone to persevere when the well of spiritual experiences starts drying up and God starts inviting them to love Him for Himself rather than for His gifts. All too often we have a successful RCIA, Alpha or parish mission and then haven't planned any follow-up bible studies or small group activities to assist in the 'grounding' process. Instead of seeing our Daniels as disrupters, let us see them as God's gifts sent to help shake us out of our mediocrity of response to His love.
In the next issue will be notes from the very good Workshop on Evangelising Parishes through the Family and the Couple with Francine and Byron Pirola.