FROM A READING FOR JAN. 31, FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'Strive for the greater gifts....If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.' -- I Cor 12:31-13:1


I presume most of us don't worry about even coming close to being martyred for our faith, as Jeremiah and Jesus did during their ministries. We know from reading Jeremiah's "confessions" (chapters 10-20) that the prophet constantly had to deal with people who wanted him dead.

Jesus' encounter with His hometown folk in our Gospel passage (Luke 4:21-30) demonstrates how frequently His ministry brought Him to the "edge."

On second thought, perhaps we shouldn't boast about our distance from martyrdom. If we're supposed to be "other Christs" and the first Christ was martyred on Golgotha, should we be proud that we've avoided that part of the historical Jesus' ministry?

In last week's reading, which was the chapter preceding our I Corinthians (12:31-13:13) passage this week, Paul stated his conviction that the Holy Spirit had given every follower of the risen Jesus a unique gift - a talent which made him or her a special part of the body of Christ.

Though the Apostle lists only eight of these special abilities, we presume there are as many unique gifts as there are disciples of Jesus: each is given "for the common good;" each, when used together with the gifts of those other Christs around us, helps to make the risen Jesus present in this world.

Waiting, waiting
The problem is that some of us are still waiting for those gifts to appear in our lives. We presume one day the Spirit will make a miraculous appearance, tap us on our foreheads and zap! We'll be gifted.

My experience with the permanent diaconate years ago convinced me that's not how it works. One of my tasks was to find out if those who applied for this ministry possessed the special characteristics which would make them good deacons.

We quickly learned, for instance, that the abilities which an effective priest possesses aren't the same an effective deacon has. But we also discovered that someone's unique gifts were always part of that individual's personality. There wasn't a time in their lives when they weren't part of who that person was. That's why most of the candidates never recognized them as the Spirit's gifts.

As I was giving the men feedback on what we'd discovered about their gifts, their wives, usually sitting next to them, would often give them a gentle nudge and remark, "I've been telling you this for years, but you never listen to me."

Gifted all
Just as Jeremiah was already dedicated as a prophet in his mother's womb (Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19), so are we dedicated as parts of the risen Jesus' body in our mother's womb.

I, for instance, "by nature" can mentally order parts of a homily or a college class in just a few seconds. As far back as I can remember, I could always think well on my feet. (Adolf Hitler had the same gift, but he certainly didn't use it for the common good.)

On the other hand, I'm the messiest housekeeper around. I never know what to keep or what to throw away. The Spirit hasn't gifted me with that ability.

As we hear in Sunday's second reading, Paul's main concern for his Corinthian community isn't that they "get gifted;" it's that they use the spiritual gifts they already have with the love which will help them build up the body of Christ.

If we can't immediately surface our unique gifts, we should check with someone close to us, like a spouse. But once we find out what those gifts are, we should reflect on how we've used them. If we constantly employ them with love, we're using them as the Spirit intended -- and if we do so, we might also reflect on how close we also come to Jesus' and Jeremiah's "edge."