Wed. Program: Spiritual Gifts

“Now in regard to spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be unaware. … There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; … To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” —1 Cor 12:1,4-5, 7

After our Wednesday Night Supper—an amazing Middle Eastern meal prepared by Sam (junior)— David Mayeux presented on Spiritual Gifts as presented in Scripture and according to the teachings of the Church. Before we gathered, he shared with us links to an online Spiritual Gifts Assessment Tool, in order that the teachings and reflections might be personal.

The tool we used for our Spiritual Gifts Inventory can be done online here:

Or, if you’re a more pen and paper person, you can print it off here:

The substance of his presentation is below:

Part of our life as Christians is the promise of Spiritual Gifts, or charisms, given to us by Christ in the Spirit. St Paul reflects on the spiritual gifts throughout his letters. One such spot is in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

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. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.

From this passage, we can discern several important points about spiritual gifts. First, that they are given; they are not natural (though our natural talents often play a huge part in these gifts), they are not earned; they are gratuitous gifts from God. Second, the gifts are particular to each person, and different persons will have different gifts. Third, they are given for “some benefit” or as it has it in the RSV “for the common good”: our gifts are meant to be used in service to others. Finally, because the gifts are distributed differently, and because they are to be used for the common good, this means that the very nature of the Spiritual Gifts creates in our community an interdependence, we must rely on other’s spiritual gifts for our own good, and we must use our gifts or others will not get what they need (this further point is spelled out more concretely in vv. 12-26 of 1 Cor 12).

Now it is important to distinguish the spiritual gifts, or charisms, from the Gifts of the Holy Spirit—wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord (see Isaiah 11:1-2)—for ALL the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to Christian to make them predisposed to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The charisms, on the other hand, are particular talents distributed to individuals to build up the Body of Christ. They are at the service of the community, and not the individual.

This “inequality” of the distribution of the spiritual gifts is not always looked on kindly by the world, but the Church recognizes the reality that there ARE real differences “tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual or moral aptitudes, the benefits derived from social commerce, and the distribution of wealth. The ‘talents’ are not distributed equally.” (CCC 1936) Recognizing this does not condone systems of injustice in which those with some gifts use them to control others. Instead the differences should “encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods.” Read rightly, this means that not only are those who receive the affects of the gift lifted up, but in the act of sharing a gift, the giver is also lifted up. ALL benefit from the distribution of charism and their use in charity.

During St Catherine of Sienna, in her mystical Dialogues with Christ, heard him say this on the distribution (as quoted in the Catechism):

I distribute the virtues quite diversely; I do not give all of them to each person, but some to one, some to others…. I shall give principally charity to one; justice to another; humility to this one, a living faith to that one…. and so I have given many gifts and graces, both spiritual and temporal, with such diversity that I have not given everything to one single person, so that you may be constrained to practice charity towards one another…. I have willed that one should need another and that all should be my ministers in distributing the graces and gifts they have received from me.

The gifts may be extraordinary (speaking in tongues, miraculous healings, etc) or ordinary (teaching, administration, exhortation, etc), but as St. Paul points out in 1 Corinthians chapter 14, the flashier gifts tend to be of more benefit to the individual more often than the community. Also, that one’s gifts might be “ordinary” does make them any less supernatural. In using your gifts, whatever they may be, you are operating on a reality that transcends the material world.

An important note about the gifts, causes us to return to St Paul:

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

If our gifts are not used in charity, that is in service to God, who is love/”charity”, then they are not truly gifts of the Spirit. This means we can have natural talents that are not necessarily charisms. Part of discerning our gifts is evaluating how we use them, and our success in using them in service to the Lord. One might have a natural talent that is beneficial only to oneself, and never manifests itself in service, or even have a talent that only seems successful in the use of pursuing sin (it’s not too hard to think of those with natural charisma who use it for merely selfish purposes, for example). Only when the gift is used in charitable service, for the up-building of the Body of Christ, and is successful can it be rightly considered a Spiritual Gift.

This means that in our self-evaluation of our Gifts, we must be humble, and recognize what we may think of as a gift, isn’t. We may present our talent to the Church, submitting it to her service, but her shepherds are called to “test all things and hold fast to what is good.” And in the testing, while they should not “extinguish the Spirit,” they are called to discern for the sake of the Body, including the individual with the talent.

But when we have rightly discerned our gifts, and when we use them from a place of love in service to up-building the Body of Christ, we become mediators of God’s sanctifying grace. The gifts are “special graces,” that when used for the common good, participate in the divine nature and invite others into that same divine nature. In using our charisms we work toward our deification, and the theosis of others.

So let us discover our gifts using tools that recognize the supernatural nature of these talents, self-reflection, and the wisdom and counsel of those who know us well. Let us meditate on our gifts in prayer, asking God how he desires us to use them; study that we might grow in our gifts and use them well; reflect on our use of them to see how and when we use them; listen for affirmation of our gifts from others in the Body of Christ (and make sure to take the time to affirm others and thank them for the use of their gifts!), and above all PUT YOUR GIFTS TO USE ad majorem dei gloriam, “for the Greater Glory of God!”

Published by David Mayeux

Roman Catholic, father, husband, pilgrim, substitute librarian.