Bookmark and Share

The role of charisms in the Church's life

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 24 June 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. "It is not only through the sacraments and the ministries of the Church that the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God and enriches it with virtues, but, 'allotting his gifts to everyone according as he wills' (1 Cor 12:11), he distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church" (LG 12). This is the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. Therefore, the People of God's sharing in the messianic mission is not obtained only through the Church's ministerial structure and sacramental life. It also occurs in another way, that of the spiritual gifts or charisms. This doctrine, recalled by the Council, is based on the New Testament and helps to show that the development of the ecclesial community does not depend only on the institution of ministries and sacraments, but is also furthered by the free and unforeseeable gifts of the Spirit, who works outside established channels, too. Because of this bestowal of special graces it is apparent that the universal priesthood of the ecclesial community is led by the Spirit with a sovereign freedom that is often amazing--"as he wishes," St. Paul says (1 Cor 12:11).

2. St. Paul describes the variety and diversity of the charisms, which must be attributed to the work of the one Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 12:4). Each of us receives from God many gifts which are appropriate for us personally and for our mission. Because of this diversity, no individual way of holiness or mission is ever identical to the others. The Holy Spirit shows respect for each person and wants to foster in each one an original development of the spiritual life and the giving of witness.

3. But we must keep in mind that spiritual gifts are to be accepted not only for one's personal benefit, but above all for the good of the Church. St. Peter writes: "As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God's varied grace" (1 Pet 4:10). Because of these charisms the community's life is full of spiritual wealth and every kind of service. Diversity is necessary for a greater spiritual wealth; everyone makes a personal contribution which the others do not. The spiritual community lives on the contribution of all.

4. The diversity of charisms is also necessary for a better ordering of the entire life of the body of Christ. St. Paul emphasizes this when he explains the purpose and usefulness of the spiritual gifts: "You are Christ's body, and individually parts of it" (1 Cor 12:27). In the one body each person must fulfill his own role in accord with the charism he has received. No one can claim to have received all the charisms, nor can he allow himself to be jealous of the charisms of others. Each person's charism must be respected and appreciated for the good of the body.

5. It should be noted that the charisms require discernment, especially in the case of extraordinary charisms. This discernment is given by the same Holy Spirit, who guides the intellect along the way of truth and wisdom. Since the whole ecclesial community has been placed by Christ under the leadership of the ecclesiastical authority, this latter is responsible for judging the value and authenticity of the charisms. The Council says: "Extraordinary gifts are not to be sought after, nor are the fruits of apostolic labor to be presumptuously expected from their use; but judgment as to their genuinity and proper use belongs to those who are appointed leaders in the Church, to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good (cf. 1 Thess 5:12, 19-21)" (LG 12).

6. Some generally followed criteria of discernment can be indicated both by the ecclesiastical authority or by spiritual masters and directors: a) Agreement with the Church's faith in Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor 12:3). A gift of the Holy Spirit cannot be contrary to the faith which the same Spirit inspires in the whole Church. "This is how," St. John writes, "you can know the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God, and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God" (1 Jn 4:2); b) The presence of the "fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace" (Gal 5:22). Every gift of the Spirit fosters growth in love, both in the person himself and in the community, and thus it produces joy and peace. If a charism causes trouble and confusion, this means either that it is not genuine or that it has not been used in the right way. As St. Paul says: "He is not the God of disorder but of peace" (1 Cor 14:33). Without love, even the most extraordinary charisms are not at all useful (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-3; cf. also Mt 7:22-23); c) Conformity with the Church's authority and acceptance of its directives. After laying down very strict rules for using charisms in the Church of Corinth, St. Paul says: "If anyone thinks that he is a prophet or a spiritual person, he should recognize that what I am writing to you is a commandment of the Lord" (1 Cor 14:37). The authentic charismatic is recognized by his sincere docility to the pastors of the Church. A charism cannot cause rebellion or a rupture of unity; d) The use of charisms in the community is subject to a simple rule: "Everything should be done for building up" (1 Cor 14:26). That is, charisms are accepted to the extent that they make a constructive contribution to the life of the community, a life of union with God and of fraternal communion. St. Paul insists firmly on this rule (1 Cor 14:4-5, 12, 18-19, 26-32).

7. Among the various gifts, St. Paul holds that of prophecy in such high esteem that he recommends: "Strive eagerly for the spiritual gifts, above all that you may prophesy" (1 Cor 14:1). It appears from the history of the Church and especially from the lives of the saints that the Holy Spirit often inspires prophetic words which are meant to foster the development or the reform of the Christian community's life. Sometimes these words are addressed especially to those who wield authority, as in the case of St. Catherine of Siena, who intervened with the Pope to obtain his return from Avignon to Rome. There have been many faithful and, above all, many saints who have given Popes and other pastors of the Church the light and strength necessary for fulfilling their mission, especially at difficult times for the Church.

8. This fact shows the possibility and usefulness of freedom of speech in the Church, a freedom which can also appear in the form of constructive criticism. The important thing is that what is said truly expresses a prophetic inspiration coming from the Spirit. As St. Paul says, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Cor 3:17). The Holy Spirit fosters in the faithful a manner of acting characterized by sincerity and mutual trust (cf. Eph 4:25) and enables them "to admonish one another" (Rom 15:14; cf. Col 1:16). Criticism is useful in the community, which must always be reformed and must try to correct its own imperfections. In many cases it helps the community to take a new step forward. But if it comes from the Holy Spirit, criticism must be animated by the desire to advance in truth and love. It cannot be given with bitterness; it cannot be expressed in insults, in acts or judgments which offend the honor of individuals or groups. It must be filled with respect and with fraternal and filial affection, and it should avoid recourse to inappropriate forms of publicity by always adhering to the directions given by the Lord about fraternal correction (cf. Mt 18:15-16).

9. If this is the profile of freedom of speech, we can say that there is no opposition between charism and institution, because it is the one Spirit who enlivens the Church with the various charisms. The spiritual gifts also help in exercising the ministries. They are bestowed by the Spirit to help advance the kingdom of God. In this sense we can say that the Church is a community of charisms.

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit diesen Worten begrübe ich Euch, liebe deutschsprachige Pilger und Besucher, sehr herzlich und lade zugleich dazu ein, mitzubeten, damit wir die Gnadengaben des Heiligen Geistes nicht vergeblich empfangen, sondern zum Aufbau einer brüderlichen Gemeinschaft einsetzen, indem wir als Glieder des einen Gottesvolkes aufrechtes Verhalten und Ehrlichkeit walten lassen.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den mit uns über Radio und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je vous salue cordialement, chers visiteurs et pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience. Je confie au Christ le pèlerinage que vous accomplissez au tombeau des Apôtres Pierre et Paul. Prenez exemple sur ces témoins intrépides qui ont su mettre leurs charismes au service de l’Église naissante.

Je demande au Seigneur de bénir chacun d’entre vous et tous ceux qui sont chers à votre cœur.

Ai fedeli di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to the School Sisters of Saint Francis. Dear Sisters, with gratitude for the testimony of your consecration and apostolate, I ask God to give you new strength and zeal through the programme of formation you are following.

I greet the members of the Italian American Bar Association, and the numerous pilgrims from England, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Singapore, Canada and the United States. Upon all the English-speaking visitors I invoke Almighty God’s choicest blessings.

A un gruppo di pellegrini giapponesi 

Saluto i dirigenti del gruppo religioso “Rissho-koseikai”.

So che la vostra comunità intrattiene buoni rapporti con vari gruppi cattolici e che in questo momento voi state facendo un “pellegrinaggio di dialogo”; dopo Roma sarete ad Assisi e altrove.

Manteniamo sempre questo spirito di dialogo, avendo di mira il bene dell’umanità.

Vi saluto cordialmente e vi ringrazio per la vostra visita.  

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo dirigir mi cordial bienvenida a todos los peregrinos de lengua española. Provenientes de España, saludo particularmente al grupo de catequistas y feligreses de la parroquia San Pancracio, de Barcelona; así como a los feligreses de las otras parroquias aquí presentes. Igualmente doy mi cordial acogida a los profesores y alumnos de los diversos colegios que participan en la audiencia. De Latinoamérica, me es grato saludar a los grupos de visitantes procedentes de Puerto Rico; del movimiento Schönstatt, de Ecuador, y a los peregrinos mexicanos. Exhorto a todos a poner vuestros carismas al servicio de la edificación espiritual de la Iglesia.

Así mismo, dirijo mi afecto al grupo de Hermanas Adoratrices y a los miembros del Movimiento “Regnum Christi”. Os animo a seguir entregando generosamente vuestra vida para ser así testigos del amor misericordioso del Corazón de Cristo.

Para todos vosotros y vuestras familias, mi Bendición.  

Ai fedeli di espressione portoghese 

Amados irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa,

A fé recorda-nos que o Senhor actua constantemente: foi Ele que nos criou e nos conserva o ser; é Ele quem, com a sua graça, conduz a criação inteira para a liberdade da glória dos filhos de Deus.23 Por isso a tradição cristã resume a atitude que devemos adoptar perante o Espírito Santo: docilidade. Temos que ser sensíveis àquilo que o Espírito divino promove à nossa volta e em nós mesmos: aos carismas que distribui, aos movimentos e instituições que suscita, aos efeitos e decisões que nos faz nascer no coração. Aproveito para saudar com afecto os brasileiros de São José dos Campos, funcionários da Tembraer para todos, e para os seus familiares, invoco as luzes do Espírito Santo para que os ilumine em todos os seus caminhos. 

 A un gruppo di bambini di Chernobyl 

Mi fa grande piacere salutare oggi un gruppo di fedeli di Spello e Città di Castello, e in modo particolare i bambini di Chernobyl ospiti di famiglie italiane.  

Ai gruppi di lingua italiana 

Nel porgere il mio saluto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, sono lieto di rivolgere il pensiero al gruppo dell’Associazione “Ami ci dell’Università Italiana per gli Stranieri” di Perugia, i quali stanno compiendo a Roma un viaggio di studio, che include anche una visita ai Musei e ai Monumenti del Vaticano. Mi compiaccio per questa iniziativa culturale, che vi consente di ammirare l’immenso patrimonio di storia e di arte fiorito attraverso i secoli nell’Urbe, e di considerare il vivo rapporto tra la Roma classica e quella cristiana. Vi auguro che questi giorni vi servano ad elevare le vostre menti alla contemplazione del bello e a considerare come la fede cristiana abbia saputo apprezzare l’arte e farne segno eloquente della bellezza increata, che è Dio stesso.

Saluto, poi, i pellegrini di Fossano, i quali, accompagnati dal Vescovo, Monsignor Natalino Pescarolo, sono venuti a Roma per ricordare il quarto centenario della fondazione della loro diocesi. Carissimi, nell’ambito delle celebrazioni commemorative voi avete voluto includere questa visita, come espressione di profonda comunione ecclesiale con il Successore di Pietro. Vi ringrazio per questa iniziativa e assicuro tutti voi, Sacerdoti e Fedeli, della mia benevolenza e del mio ricordo nella preghiera.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Rivolgo ora il mio saluto particolarmente affettuoso ai Giovani, ai Malati ed agli Sposi Novelli.

Sono lieto della vostra presenza, che mi è molto gradita, perché è indice di convinta fede cristiana e di sentita devozione. Oggi, solennità di San Giovanni Battista, vi esorto a meditare sulla figura di colui che fu il Precursore del Signore e che indicò in Gesù il Messia, Redentore del mondo. San Giovanni Battista, che “venne nel mondo per rendere testimonianza alla Luce” (Io. 1, 7), aiuti tutti voi, cari giovani, ad accogliere Gesù, Luce del mondo, con fede, con amore e con coraggio; aiuti voi, ammalati, a trovare in Lui quella fortezza che è un segno distintivo dei seguaci di Cristo; aiuti voi, sposi novelli, a vivere con coerenza e senza compromessi gli ideali della famiglia cristiana. A tutti la mia benedizione apostolica.

© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana