The Gifts and Charisms of the Holy Spirit

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for Pentecost Sunday; Acts 2:1-11; Psalms 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; First Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

Holy Spirit WindowAs a teen, I thought the clergy were supposed to do everything.   We laity were just called to pray, pay, and obey.  Oh yes, and keep the commandments, of course.  The original 10 seemed overwhelming enough.  Then I discovered the Sermon on the Mount and nearly passed out.

Perhaps this is why many inactive Catholics are so resentful of their upbringing in the Church.   For them, religion means frustration, failure, and guilt.

Somehow they, and I, missed the good news about Pentecost.  OK, we Catholics celebrate the feast every year and mention it in Confirmation class, but lots of us evidently didn’t “get it.”

Because if we “got it,” we’d be different.  Bold instead of timid, energetic instead of anemic, fascinated instead of bored.   Compare the apostles before and after Pentecost and you’ll see the difference the Spirit makes.

The gospel is Good News not just because we’re going to heaven, but because we’ve been empowered to become new people, here and now.  Vatican II insisted that each of us is called to the heights of holiness (Lumen Gentium, chapter V).  Not by will-power, mind you.  But by Holy Spirit power. Holiness consists in faith, hope, and especially divine love.  These are “virtues,” literally “powers,” given by the Spirit.  To top it off, the Spirit gives us seven further gifts which perfect faith, hope, and love, making it possible for us to live a supernatural, charismatic life.  Some think this is only for the chosen few, “the mystics.”  Thomas Aquinas taught to the contrary that the gifts of Is 11:1-3 (wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord) are standard equipment given in baptism, that all are called to be “mystics.”

Vatican II also taught that every Christian has a vocation to serve.  We need power for this too.  And so the Spirit distributes other gifts, called “charisms.”  These, teaches St. Thomas, are not so much for our own sanctification as for service to others.  There is no exhaustive list of charisms, though St. Paul mentions a few (I Corinthians 12:7-10, Ro 12:6-8) ranging from tongues to Christian marriage (1 Cor 7: 7).  Charisms are not doled out by the pastors; but are given directly by the Spirit through baptism and confirmation, even sometimes outside of the sacraments (Acts 10:44-48).

Do I sound Pentecostal?  That’s because I belong to the largest Pentecostal Church in the world.  Correcting the mistaken notion that the charisms were just for the apostolic church, Vatican II had this to say: “Allotting His gifts “to everyone according as he will” (1 Cor. 12:11), He [the Holy Spirit] distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. . . . These charismatic gifts, whether they be the most outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation, for they are exceedingly suitable and useful for the needs of the Church” (LG12).

Powerful gifts, freely given to all.  Sounds like a recipe for chaos.  But the Lord also imparted to the apostles and their successors a unifying charism of headship.  The role of the ordained is not to do everything themselves.  Rather, they are to discern, shepherd, and coordinate the charims of the laity so that they mature and work together for the greater glory of God (LG 30).

So what if you, like me, did not quite “get it” when you were confirmed?   I’ve got good news for you.  You actually did get the Spirit and his gifts.   Have you ever received a new credit card with a sticker saying “Must call to activate before using?”  The Spirit and his gifts are the same way.  You have to call in and activate them.   Do it today and every day, and especially every time you attend Mass.  Because every sacramental celebration is a New Pentecost where the Spirit and his gifts are poured out anew (CCC 739, 1106).


Acknowledgement

This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor as a reflection on the Mass readings for the Pentecost Sunday of Easter, year ABC.  It is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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