Friday, May 17, 2002

Charisms Of The Laity

Reflections on CFL: Paragraph 24

Last time, we explored (at great length) the ministries, offices and roles of the lay faithful and how the ministry of the ministerial priesthood and the ministry of the common priesthood are intertwined. Today, we take a look at the other half of this subsection of CFL: the charisms of the laity.

It's probably worth defining what we mean by charism. JPII tells us that it refers to the "particular gifts or promptings of grace" bestowed by the Holy Spirit. If you are looking for a finite list of charisms, you are out of luck. As the Holy Father reminds us, charisms:

"can take a variety of forms both as a manifestation of the absolute freedom of the Spirit who abundantly supplies them, and as a response to the varied needs of the Church in history."
Instead, what is important to note is that the laity just as the clergy might be given these charisms. It is a further reminder of our role in carrying out Christ's mission. We are not spectators, but participants. We should take comfort in the idea that the Holy Spirit will equip us for whatever particular role we are to play.

I'm sure for some of you who are familiar with more charismatic or pentecostal traditions (inside or outside of the Catholic Church), talk about charisms can make you feel a bit squeamish. I know that has been the case for me. There can be an overemphasis on special gifts like speaking in tongues or healing as being "true" gifts of the Holy Spirit, with a lack of emphasis on the more ordinary gifts, such as the gift of administration. (Which, from the looks of it, a fair number of our Bishops lack.)

When I was a freshman in college, I almost left the Catholic Church because of the campus ministry outreach of the Assemblies of God, Chi Alpha. I can't say I would have joined an AG church if I had left. They just raised a lot of questions in my mind about Catholicism, which the Lord in his grace answered very quickly and decisively. (I have always toyed with the idea of writing a book on my college experience. For now, a warning to all parents: if you are depending on junior high CCD classes and passive attendance at mass to instill the faith in your teenage children, beware when you send them off to college. They will be prime candidates for falling into a cultural Catholic lifestyle or joining a non-denominational or evangelical protestant church that dares to talk to them explicitly about matters of God.)

All of that is background. It was in this group that I was first exposed to charismatics and the whole notion of speaking in tongues. I vividly remember one all-night prayer vigil at the local church most members of Chi Alpha attended. Very early into the night, someone started to pray in tongues and then another and another. There was a sense that everyone should be praying in tongues. There wasn't much emphasis on discerning whether the person was in fact speaking praise in those tongues. I was spooked. Combined with the low lighting in the place, I fled to a corner of the sanctuary and read Revelations. (You can tell what I thought at the time about praying in tongues!)

Before I get too far off on this tangent, the pope reminds all of us in CFL that charisms are ordered "to the building up of the Church, to the well-being of humanity and to the needs of the world." Those who have received gifts are to place them "at the service of others" and "become 'good stewards of God's varied grace'", exercising them "for the growth of the whole Church."

That's an important point. Ego is a powerful thing, and many might be tempted to see charisms as some sign of approval of one's own sanctity rather than something entrusted to them for the benefit of the Body. In a document encouraging the laity to step up to the plate and recognize just how important a part in the mission of salvation they play, the pope is wise to remind us not to let that go to our heads and forget that we are part of a Body. I think there can be a great temptation to act outside of, and not in concert with, the Church. The pope cautions against that, recognizing that the action of the Holy Spirit "is not always easily recognized and received." Thus, "discernment of charisms is always necessary", and "no charism dispenses a person from reference and submission to the Pastors of the Church." The Church is to test the authenticity of these charisms, not to stifle the Holy Spirit's work, but to make sure that it is authentically of the Spirit and "so that all the charisms might work together, in their diversity and complementarity, for the common good."

Coming Soon: Reflections on Paragraphs 25 through 27 of CFL

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