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The Spirit: Source of Spiritual Gifts

General Audience — February 27, 1991

We concluded the preceding catechesis with a text of the Second Vatican Council which we must take as our starting point for the present catechesis. In the Constitution Lumen Gentium we read: "The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple (cf. 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19). In them he prays on their behalf and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons (cf. Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15-16, 26). The Church, which the Spirit guides in the way of all truth (cf. Jn 16:13) and which he unified in communion and in works of ministry, he both equips and directs with hierarchical and charismatic gifts and adorns with his fruits (cf. Eph 4:11-12; 1 Cor 12:4; Gal 5:22)" (LG 4).

After having spoken in the preceding catechesis about the Church's ministerial structure which is inspired and sustained by the Holy Spirit, we are now going to discuss, following the Council's line of thought, the spiritual gifts and charisms given to the Church by the dator munerum, the giver of gifts, as the Spirit is called in the Pentecost sequence.

Here also we can draw upon the letters of St. Paul for the doctrine to explain it synthetically as is required by catechesis. In the First Letter to the Corinthians we read: "There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone" (1 Cor 12:4-6). In these verses the diversity of charisms is placed together with the diversity of ministries and works. This suggests to us that the Holy Spirit is the one who gives a multiform wealth of gifts which accompanies the ministries and the life of faith, charity, community and fraternal collaboration of the faithful, as was already seen in the story of the apostles and the first Christian communities.

St. Paul pauses to emphasize the multiplicity of gifts: "To one the Spirit gives wisdom in discourse, to another the power to express knowledge. Through the Spirit one receives faith; by the same Spirit another is given the gift of healing, and still another miraculous powers. Prophecy is given to one.... One receives the gift of tongues" (1 Cor 12:8-10). Here we must note that the Apostle's list is not meant to be exhaustive. Paul is indicating the gifts which were particularly significant for the Church at that time. These gifts were still manifested in later eras, but without limiting, neither at the beginning nor later, all of the room available for the ever new charisms which the Holy Spirit can give in response to new needs. Therefore, "to each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good" (1 Cor 12:7). When new demands and new problems arise for the community, the history of the Church reveals the presence of new gifts.

In any case, whatever type of gift it may be, even when it seems primarily to serve the person who receives it (for example in glossolalia, which the Apostle speaks about (cf. 1 Cor 14:5-18), they all merge together in some way for the common good. They serve to build up "a Body": "It was in one Spirit that all of us...were baptized into one body. All of us have been given to drink of the one Spirit" (1 Cor 12:13). Hence Paul's recommendation to the Corinthians: "Since you have set your hearts on spiritual gifts, try to be rich in those that build up the Church" (1 Cor 14:12). In the same context we find the exhortation to "seek...the gift of prophecy" (1 Cor 14:1), which is more "useful" to the community than that of tongues. "Whoever speaks in a tongue is talking not to people but to God. No one understands him because he utters mysteries in the Spirit. The prophet on the other hand, speaks to people for their upbuilding, their encouragement, their consolation. He...builds up the Church" (1 Cor 14:2-3).

Evidently Paul prefers the "edifying" charisms, we could say those of the apostolate. However, above all the gifts he recommends that which is even more useful for the common good: "Seek eagerly after love" (1 Cor 14:1). Fraternal charity, rooted in the love of God, is the "more perfect way" which Paul insists on and exalts in a hymn of great lyrical power and sublime spirituality (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-3).

In the Constitution on the Church the Second Vatican Council takes up Paul's teaching on the spiritual gifts, and especially on the charisms, in order to specify them: "These charisms, whether they be the more outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation for they are perfectly suited to and useful for the needs of the Church. 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). This text is filled with pastoral wisdom. It is entirely in line with the recommendations and norms which, as we have seen, St. Paul gave the Corinthians in order to help them to a proper understanding of charisms and the necessary discernment of the true gifts of the Spirit.

According to the Council, among the charisms special importance is given to those that serve the fullness of the spiritual life, especially those which are expressed in the various forms of consecrated life according to the evangelical counsels, which the Holy Spirit has always raised up among the faithful. In the Constitution Lumen Gentium we read: "The evangelical counsels of chastity dedicated to God, poverty and obedience are based upon the words and examples of the Lord. They were further commended by the apostles and the Fathers of the Church, as well as by the doctors and pastors of souls. The counsels are a divine gift, which the Church received from its Lord and which it always safeguards with the help of his grace. Church authority has the duty, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, of interpreting these evangelical counsels, of regulating their practice and finally to build on them stable forms of living.... The religious state...clearly shows all men both the unsurpassed breadth of the strength of Christ the King and the infinite power of the Holy Spirit marvelously working in the Church. Thus, the state which is constituted by the profession of the evangelical counsels, though it does not belong to the hierarchical structure of the Church, nevertheless, undeniably belongs to its life and holiness.... The hierarchy, following with docility the prompting of the Holy Spirit, accepts the rules presented by outstanding men and women and authentically approves these rules" (LG 43-45).

This concept of the religious state as a work of the Holy Spirit is especially important. Through it the third Person of the Trinity almost makes visible the activity which he performs in the entire Church in order to lead the faithful to the perfection of charity.

It is also legitimate to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in the efforts of all those—bishops, priests, deacons and lay men and women of all types—who try to live the Gospel in their own state of life. It is a matter of "various orders," as the Council put it (LG 13), which all manifest the "multiform grace of God." What counts for everyone is that "as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another" (1 Pet 4:10). The communion of the Church is a result of the abundance and variety of gifts; she is one and universal in the variety of peoples, traditions, vocations and spiritual experiences.

The Spirit's action is manifested and at work in the multiplicity and richness of the charisms which accompany ministries in various forms and degrees as required by the needs of time and place. For example, we see this in helping the poor, the sick, the unfortunate, the handicapped or those suffering from various types of disability; or on a still higher level, in counsel, spiritual direction, making peace between opposing factions, conversion of sinners, drawing people to the word of God, the efficacy of preaching and writing, teaching the faith, encouraging people to do good, etc. There is an enormous range of charisms through which the Holy Spirit shares his charity and holiness with the Church, similar to the general economy of creation in which, as St. Thomas observes, the one divine Being gives things a share in his infinite perfection (cf. Summa Theol., II-II q. 183, a. 2).

These charisms are not in contrast with the hierarchical nature of the ministries and, in general, with the "offices" which were also established for the unity, proper functioning and beauty of the Church. The hierarchical order and the entire ministerial structure of the Church are also under the action of the charisms, as Paul pointed out in his letter to Timothy: "Do not neglect the gift you received when, as a result of prophecy, the presbyters laid their hands on you" (1 Tim 4:14); "I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God bestowed when my hands were laid on you" (2 Tim 1:6).

There is, therefore, the charism of Peter; there are the charisms proper to bishops, priests and deacons; there is a charism granted to those called to assume an ecclesiastical office, a ministry. It is a question of discovering and recognizing these charisms and of supporting them, but without presumption. Therefore the Apostle writes to the Corinthians: "I do not want to leave you in ignorance about spiritual gifts" (1 Cor 12:1). And then Paul begins his instruction on the charisms in order to give some instructions about behavior to the converts of Corinth who, when they were still pagans, let themselves be "led astray to mute idols, as impulse" drove them (improper behavior which they now had to avoid). "That is why I tell you...that no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except in the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3). This is a truth which, together with that of the Trinity, is fundamental for the Christian faith. The profession of faith in this truth is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it is an act far greater than an act of purely human knowledge. In this act of faith, which is and must be on the lips and in the hearts of all true believers, the Holy Spirit "is manifest" (cf. 1 Cor 12:7). This is the first and the most basic fulfillment of what Jesus said at the Last Supper: "He [the Holy Spirit] will give glory to me, because he will have received from me what he will announce to you" (Jn 16:14).