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home : bishop : columns

11/12/2015 9:00:00 AM
BISHOP'S COLUMN
Let the spirit flow
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


You have many of them -- no doubt, more than you know. Jesus had all of them. You didn't earn them. God gives them to you gratuitously.

They are, indeed, graces, but they are not for you; they're solely for the benefit of others.

When you have them, you may not always know it, but you will feel them working when you engage them. They produce good effects in others that you will know did not come from your own efforts or talents. They are a wonderful tool for evangelizing, or making the Good News of the Gospel a reality present in the lives of those you touch.

Scripture calls them "charisms." St. Paul mentions more than 20 of them in his letters.

Though some of them might seem extraordinary and may be less common than others -- like the gifts of healing, prophecy and discernment of spirits -- they are a part of the ordinary life of the Church for the sake of the Church, which is the Body of Christ. All of them flow from the power of the Holy Spirit, which drives us out to do good works to spread the Gospel -- the same Spirit that "drove" or "pushed" Jesus in the wilderness, where He was tempted by Satan.

Does our world seem, at times, like a spiritual wilderness? Does it seem like this wilderness is not so much one of desolation, but an overabundance of noise, chaos and confusion, so thick that the "voice crying in the wilderness" cannot even be heard? Shouting and screaming seem to have replaced civil discourse and respectful listening in many sectors of our social lives, not just in politics.

I sometimes am asked how can we bring the Gospel to our young people, many of whom seem alienated from religious observance and traditional church communities. The best answer I have is that we must first love them and, if we love them, get into conversation with them.

In the first place, we can never evangelize anyone whom we do not love. Second, all real evangelizing - or spreading the Gospel -- is personal. It requires looking the other person gently in the eye and, most of all, listening.

One personal challenge that I have been struggling with is the use of my mobile phone: the temptation to catch up on emails and texts while I am in the presence of others. This is very rude, I know, and I am consciously focused on eliminating this bad habit, with the help of God's grace.

How often have you had the experience of visiting with someone, at a home or even a hospital, and having a television blaring as you are trying to carry on a conversation? Some people, it seems, cannot even go to sleep without a TV or a radio on.

It's hard to imagine how one can pray before retiring or after waking when one is bathed in a constant sea of talk and background rhythms.

If the main mission of being a disciple of Jesus is to make every moment count as an occasion of grace, to spread the Gospel consciously with the person or persons nearest me at every moment, a certain discipline is required. The question is, how can I be most present to my neighbor?

One of the best ways is by exercising our charisms. At least 27 of these charisms or gifts from the Holy Spirit are referenced in Scripture. In addition to those mentioned above, they cover a wide range of gifts, such as mercy, teaching, generous giving, encouragement, hospitality, leadership, service and administration. They are worth reviewing in context if you have a Bible at hand or an online source (see 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4).

A person may not always be aware of his or her charisms, but one sign is if you find yourself almost compelled to do something that you feel needs to be done and no one else seems to do it better or more effectively than you.

As a practical example, some people at a church gathering seem to have an inbuilt sense about how to make people comfortable. They will know if the seating is going to be adequate and, if not, will naturally provide for extra chairs. They will be aware of the right lighting and climate control, and whether water, coffee or more are needed.

This is what hospitality looks like. You will naturally relax people, and a person in your company may tell you things they will tell no one else. You've got a charism and you can use it to help someone open their soul.

Another charism is that of intercessory prayer. Everyone naturally goes to priests for blessings and prayers, because they expect these from the priest's office. But the charism of intercessory prayer is distributed widely among laypersons, as well. In fact, all of the charisms are, in the degree that Holy Spirit provides, for the good of the Church and, in many cases, reach beyond that.

Encouragement, for example, is the charism you might have that will impel people to call you at odd hours, even if they are not practicing Catholics or even believers. My father had that gift. He would talk to anyone, even telemarketers, sometimes giving them advice from his experience and age-acquired wisdom.

The gift might seem sometimes like a curse, but the Holy Spirit will only use it for the good -- and you will feel energized every time you use the charism, maybe even wondering where you got the strength for it.

God uses everything we have, if we will only let Him, including our weaknesses. But nothing works better to help us spread the Gospel than when we let the Holy Spirit activate the charisms with which He has already blessed us. Know them, run with them and let the Spirit flow.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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