There is something deep in the human consciousness that finds great joy in giving and receiving gifts. This joy goes deeper than materialistic gain. Think of the joy that a child can bring by giving you a simple picture she has drawn or colored. Beyond being “cute,” such a gift touches us to the depths of our being. Why? Perhaps it’s because God created us to give and receive love, and gifts are a sign of our love for each other.
God gives us many gifts – our very life, all of creation, every good thing we experience – these are all gifts from God and signs of his love for us. But even more powerful are the gifts that we call “grace.”
Grace refers to the gift of God’s presence within our souls. Both terms – gift and grace – imply something that is given freely and not earned. But grace is even more powerful because it is given to us as a sign of God’s love when we are in a condition that is quite unlovable. In our sin, gifts of grace are completely unfathomable.
There are two kinds of grace – sanctifying grace and actual grace.
Sanctifying grace is God’s presence in our souls that destroys Original Sin and reunites us to God, making us once again members of His family. The theological virtues of faith, hope and charity are part of sanctifying grace. They work to directly give us a relationship with God.
Actual grace is God’s help to live our relationship with him and to grow in holiness. The term “actual” comes from “action.” Actual grace helps us to act as sons and daughters of God.
Charismatic Grace – the Charisms
There is a special form of actual grace that we would do well to be more aware of and to exercise more freely. Charismatic grace is actual grace that we are given so that we can in turn give gifts of love to others. That’s part of what makes these gifts so special. They empower us to become more than just beggars before God (though we could never stop considering ourselves beggars). We become participants in God’s divine life. We become his agents, spreading his goodness throughout the Church and the world.
The charisms are specific ways that the Holy Spirit works through us to serve the world. They are often identified as “talents,” but when they are exercised their effects go beyond what our natural talent could accomplish. The charisms are ways that God actually works in the world through us. Think of how Saint Peter was able to heal the beggar in front of the temple in the name of Jesus (Acts 3:1-10). Peter had no natural ability to heal, but Jesus worked through him in the charism of healing. Saint Paul teaches about the different “charisms” that Christians are given. Saint Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 12 about the different “charisms” that Christians are given.
So that we can become more aware of these gifts and so we can start to exercise them, let’s take a closer look at the charisms. Here are some important points to remember.
- Charisms are always given for the sake of others, not for our own sakes. God wants us to become people of love. Love means to will the good of the other. So God gives us the gifts of the charisms so that we can serve others.
- Charisms may complement and enhance our natural gifts, but they are not the same thing. I have a natural gift for writing, but not a charism for it. However, my charism of teaching complements my natural ability to write.
- When we exercise our charisms, Jesus really and truly acts through us. That means that charisms allow us to do more than we could through our natural ability. We are acting with God’s power.
- As Saint Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 12, every Christian is given a unique set of charisms. Our charisms add to our natural uniqueness. But they also add to our unity with other Christians, because we all receive our charisms from the same Spirit.
- We are uniquely and variously equipped, and we are uniquely and variously called. We are given our charisms for the sake of fulfilling a unique part of Christ’s mission in this world.
And that last point is very important. How would you respond if someone opened a Christmas gift from you, then set it aside and never looked at it again? Wouldn’t you feel that the recipient never gave your gift a chance, that the receiver never really received your gift, that the potential joy that you intended went wasted and unrealized? What is true of us reflects is true of God to an even greater degree. God gave us the gifts of charismatic graces because he intended us to use them. Using them means participating in his divine life by allowing him to work through us to share his love and goodness with others. That in turn means growing in intimacy and love with God as we work “by his side” to do good in the world.
Are you using your charisms? Have you discovered – or even sought – the mission that God has equipped you for? Or is your gift left under the Christmas tree, forgotten and neglected? It’s time for us to rediscover the adventure that God has invited us to.
By Jeffrey Arrowood