As a Christian, do you know you have superpowers? We’ve been taught all our lives that we’re part of one body, the body of Christ. Did you know that God planted specific, identifiable gifts within each of us meant for the benefit of others, connecting us to each other in a concrete way that supports the notion that we really are one entity in Christ? Thirty-one years as a Catholic, and I had no idea.
This past Saturday I participated in a “Called and Gifted” workshop at a local parish. The purpose of the workshop is to begin discerning your charisms. Created by the Catherine of Siena Institute, I had never heard of a charism or this specific discernment process that’s been around since 1993.
What is a charism?
A charism is a spiritual gift granted by the Holy Spirit that gives a Christian special empowerment to bring God’s redeeming love into the world (Huntington + Weddell). Charisms are imparted by the Holy Spirit when Christians receive the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.
Three signs of a charism
Charisms are different from natural talents. They are supernatural in character, can only be used for good, and are not inherited from our parents.
To “test” if your talent might actually be a charism, follow the 3 F’s:
- Feeling – Does using the gift make you feel energized? Peaceful? Joyful? Like praying?
- Fruits – Does it bring about unusually successful results?
- Feedback – Do people take notice of your ability?
Unlike other gifts from the Holy Spirit that are for our own personal sanctification, charisms are designed exclusively to benefit others. Your charisms are meant to be shared, and everyone has their own set. A talent might actually be a charism if it produces unusual success, feels like praying, and if others around you don’t seem to have the same ability.
Types of Charisms
A minimum of 24 charisms are recognized to exist. The full number is unknown. To read descriptions of individual charisms, check out this list.
In general, charisms fall within one of seven categories:
The number of charisms a person has can vary, and everyone has their own blend. Every cake is made with sugar, but cakes made following the same recipe still have a unique number of individual sugar grains. Charisms are gifts intended to be used for activities both in and outside of the church. They are meant exclusively for the benefit of others and can’t be used for evil.
The experiment begins
The workshop and its self-assessment exercises are just the beginning. They offer clues as to what your charisms might be. The formal process continues with a 1:1 interview between you and an appointed person within your parish to explore your potential charisms and their evidence in your life. After that, life becomes an experiment, an undefined period of trial and error where you try using your potential gifts in real situations and measure the results. Does using the gift come easily? Does it almost feel like praying? Are the results unusually successful? Do other people take notice of your ability? Some people are completely surprised by their gifts, while others have been living them out loud for some time.
I have my 1:1 interview tonight with a man from the parish named Joe. One of my potential charisms is leadership. In the past I’ve equated leadership with popularity and never considered myself a leader as a result. But in the context of a charism, leadership describes a person who identifies problems or gaps that others do not see, and large numbers of people get behind the vision. I thought back to my experience as Co-Chair of the Faith Formation Commission at Holy Name Cathedral. I had an intuition for coming up with program ideas that met the spiritual needs of people in our church. One event idea in particular, an art show in honor of the Year of Mercy, brought in more than 200 people. The night had fairy dust on it, and the success of it left me scratching my head.
“Reflections of God: Artistic Impressions of the Acts of Mercy.” | Art Show @ Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago. (Oct. 2016)
Putting ideas into action is a different story. I’m decent at project management, but it takes all my energy and makes me slightly hysterical (my fiancé can and would attest). On the flip side, our Vice Chair, Ken, could organize the details of each event, thinking two steps ahead, in his sleep. I suspect someone with his abilities might have the charism of administration, a person who brings a leader’s vision to life. We worked together seamlessly and accomplished so much as a team, potentially because of our complementary charisms.
Your charisms can serve as guides for where to focus your energy. Sometimes opportunities arise or we’re asked to take on certain responsibilities. If we know our gifts, we can make wise decisions on where our time and energy would serve others best. By the nature of charisms, the work would not be draining or exhausting to us. Instead, it would bring joy and peace.
Why care about charisms?
The Called and Gifted workshop is an expense for the parish. Participants don’t pay except for a voluntary contribution for lunch. Why are parishes allocating significant financial resources to this workshop on charisms?
Christians believe we are all one in the body of Christ. We’re more connected to each other than our own hands and feet are to our individual bodies (for Catholics, this one-ness is symbolized by drinking the consecrated wine out of a single cup at Mass). The Holy Spirit imparts specific supernatural gifts to each of us not to make us feel good, but so they necessitate that we depend on each other to build up the community of Christ on Earth.
Service activities have developed as a result of parishioners understanding and acting on their charisms. Those with the charism of craftsmanship formed a group that builds wheelchair ramps and other necessary structures for homes and businesses. Using her music charism, another woman began playing the piano in the lobby of a local hospital. She also has charisms of encouragement and intercessory prayer, so she provides comfort to people who often sense she is someone they can talk to.
If this program is not offered at your parish or one nearby, I highly recommend speaking with your pastor. Called and Gifted re-affirms in a concrete, livable way how connected we are, and how we can do more together than apart.
Father Dan closed the workshop with this remark that applies to both charisms and life as a Christian:
“The joy at the end of our lives comes from liberating the goodness of other people.”