“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them.” We have gifts. Have you ever prayed on the gifts God has given you? Have you asked God to help you to discern the gifts you have been given? While I have heard such practice in certain Christian circles, it does not seem as common for Catholics. I do not hear many in the Catholic faith claim the gifts God has given them. And yet, Saint Paul, in the quote from his letter to the Romans, mentions that we have gifts. There are many instances where Saint Paul mentions specific gifts, though the names and lists do not always match.
Everyone preparing for Confirmation in the Catholic Church has probably been introduced to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, either that of Saint Paul or in the book of the prophet Isaiah. In the Old Testament too we see that God takes care to give those who believe in him the gifts they need. Moses has great qualities of leadership, but it is Aaron who is his spokesman, for example.
All these gifts really are expressions of God’s grace, and so any conversation about gifts and charisms rightly begin there. As Catholics, we identify two types of grace, namely sanctifying grace, that which makes our soul holy, and actual grace, the grace we receive from God to help us, as the name implies, in actual circumstances and situations.
Grace, simply put is that help God gives to us. It is not the case that we can earn our salvation, but rather it is a gift freely given, that we do not earn, or even deserve. God freely gives grace (and salvation) because God is love. Even though we sin and fall short, God continues to pour out grace and love to us so that we will repent and allow conversion to take over our hearts so that God becomes closer and closer to us.
What this means for us is that in everything, we are immersed in the love of God. Even when we sin or fall short, God does not stop loving us. God hates the sin, but not the sinner. When we pray, go to Mass, Confession or any of the other sacraments, God gives us grace. We are made holy by God, not be any effort on our part. That said, when we do the things associated with prayer or the sacraments, or when we help someone in need, we are opening our heart and soul more fully to receive the grace God longs to give us.
While we do not earn God’s salvation, we do need to cooperate with God’s grace. God pours out grace upon us constantly, but God never takes away from us our free will. Even in spite of God’s grace, we can still choose to reject God. We can still think something is a “good”, even though it goes against the will of God for us. In any sinful decision, what we say is that I know that God wants me to do such and such, but I do not care, I am going to do the opposite. I am going to sin.
Any gift, then, we receive from God is a supernatural gift bestowed upon us so that we can use it for others. There are special gifts called charisms, that are used not simply for others, but for the Church. The many religious orders in the Church are founded because they saw a need in the Church and identified the way or ways in which they could meet that need by seeing more clearly what God had given them.
The reason it matters, then, that we name the gifts we have been given is that when we recognize the gifts we have been given, we can more easily use them for the glory of God. Whether as a gift or a charism, everything we have been given by God is for his greater glory. It is in this sense that Saint Paul describes the gifts. The more fully we become aware that God has given us certain gifts, that we can name and identify, then the more fully we can use these gifts in the way that God wants us to use them.
For example, I believe I have been given the gift of teaching. That said, I must pray that I will use the gift of teaching in the way God wants me to use it. So, one thing I do on my way to school is to pray the rosary. (The timing between leaving my house and arriving at school is about one rosary!) I do this because while there is indeed content in teaching theology, it is always first and foremost about the relationship with Jesus in our lives, and the ways in which Jesus wants us to be active in the Church. I need to do everything I can to seek the grace God gives me so that I can glorify God in what I do, in how I listen, and in the ways in which I interact with the students I teach and the colleagues I work with at school.
Over the next few weeks, we will seek to find those ways in which we can name the gifts God has given us. This is not boastful or prideful, because in every gift given to us by God, we are to use it for God’s glory. While we might receive accolades or compliments when we use our gifts, we need always to understand that these gifts are for his glory, and to bring others (and ourselves) into deeper and deeper relationship with God.
What gifts do you think God has given you? How is it that God is pouring out his grace into your heart and soul? While there is not exhaustive list of gifts humans can be given by God, it is important for the Christian community that we know what gifts we have been given, so that we can share the good news that Jesus loves us and wants to save us. How many people need to hear about the love of God because they are broken and in need of healing?
Everything in our lives of faith starts with prayer. It is no different when we seek to understand ourselves as persons loved by God. So, begin by praying. Ask God to help you to know the gifts he has given you and pray that he will help you to discern how you are to use them.