What is a charism?

A charism is any free gift from God. According to St Thomas Aquinas, ‘We must distinguish two kinds of graces. The first unites man himself to God. And the second makes a man help another to turn to God. The latter grace is called a charism and when granted to someone, it exceeds the power of their nature and personal merits. In addition, it is not given so that the one who receives finds holiness in it, but that they should cooperate in the sanctification of another.’
Paul meanwhile tells us that the word ‘charism’ means ‘To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ (1 Cor 12:7). Also we are not owners of charisms – only the Holy Spirit can give them. We learn in prayer to submit to Him more and more in obeying the impulses of the Lord. Furthermore, charisms are not superior to charity but ordained towards its growth.

Why must we exercise the charisms?

It is the pressing invitation of the Church: ‘… the Holy Spirit Who sanctifies the people of God through ministry and the sacraments gives the faithful special gifts … From the acceptance of these charisms, including those which are more elementary, there arise for each believer the right and duty to use them in the Church and in the world for the good of men and the building up of the Church, in the freedom of the Holy Spirit who “breathes where He wills’(1) (John 3:8).

In addition, charisms have always been exercised in the Church – in the Acts of the Apostles, in the early Church and by the saints of all ages. 
To exercise the gifts, we must learn to abandon ourselves to them, while identifying the obstacles (ignorance, pride, doubt, laziness, etc.) and in inviting them for those around us, by desire, praise, mutual trust, unity, fraternal submission and encouragement.

There are two types of charism:

  • ‘Extraordinary’ charisms: singing in tongues, prophecy, words of knowledge, healing.
  • ‘ordinary’ charisms: welcome, singing, teaching, exhortation, discernment, charity, etc.

To remember 

Charisms are very varied gifts from God which each person exercises according to their call for the growth of the community.

1) Apostolicam Actuositatem Vatican II, §3.

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