One of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to discernment of charisms is, “What is the difference between natural talents and charisms?”. The question comes up because before even considering the discernment of one’s charisms, often times Catholics tend to think the natural talents we have are indeed the ‘gifts’ that have been given to us by the Holy Spirit that are referred to as ‘charisms’. I hope to clear up this confusion in this short article.
Let’s first look at the word charism. ‘Charism’ is the Greek word that Saint Paul used in the original text of his letters when referring to the spiritual gifts. The word literally means ‘favor’ or ‘gratuitous gift’. He speaks about these ‘spiritual gifts’ given to us by the Holy Spirit as the very gifts that lead others to say “Jesus is Lord” (cf. 1 Cor 12:1-3). The most important aspect of these ‘gifts’ is the Spirit who gives them. (cf 1Cor 12:4) They are given to us not for the good of ourselves, but so others may receive the grace of the Holy Spirit and come to know the presence of God in their own lives to build up the kingdom of God. (CCC 951) So it is important to understand and remember that these gifts are uniquely provided to us by the Holy Spirit to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others.
“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” Lumen Gentium, 12
“Charism are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church.” CCC 2003
How do charisms differ from natural talents? There are several important ways they differ. First, charisms are not ‘inherited’ like natural talents, but are uniquely provided to us by the Holy Spirit during Baptism and Confirmation. Secondly, charisms are supernaturally empowering meaning that they empower us to have an effectiveness that are beyond our human capabilities. We discover how this has been happening or continues to happen in one’s life through discernment. We are empowered by grace so we become a channel of God’s love, truth, goodness, mercy and wisdom for the sake of others and the mission of Christ. And lastly, charisms cannot be used for evil, only ‘good’. Natural talents can be abused and self-serving in a way that can be destructive to the individual and others around them.
A story I often like to tell when presenting workshops on charisms that helps people to see the difference is about a childhood dream I had about being the next Bobby Orr. At the age of 10 after playing many years of hockey the hockey rink in the area had to close. My parents substituted my dream with guitar lessons. I can still play the guitar today but I wouldn’t say I am talented.
Many years later I married a beautiful woman named Margie who is a wonderful pianist. When she plays the piano at recitals it brings me to tears. One of our sons at the age of 12 picked up a bass guitar and just started playing it. Now he plays all kinds of guitars, drums and piano. Any string instrument he puts his hands he can figure out how to play. That is a natural talent inherited. And a dad who is very jealous! LOL….
Let me end with this quick thought. Charisms and talents are both important for the building up of the kingdom of God. When discerned properly they can work cooperatively in one’s life so individuals play an effective role both at the parish level and in everyday life. Proper discernment of charisms and talents I believe is one of the ways we find a healthy understanding of how a parish can respond to the need of both maintenance and mission.
“a more ready application of their talents to the projects of their spiritual leaders. The latter, on the other hand, aided by the experience of the laity, can more clearly and more incisively come to decisions regarding both spiritual and temporal matters.” Lumen Gentium, 37
If you are interested in learning more about how the Holy Spirit is calling you to be part of ‘renewing and building up the Church’ through the discernment of your charisms I would encourage you to consider Called and Gifted Small Group process. I would be happy to assist you. To learn more click here.
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