by Allison R. Shely
On Thursday, April 10, Father Scott Brodeur, S.J., a professor at the Gregorian University in Rome, gave a lecture entitled “What St. Paul Teaches Us About Charisms.” Held in the Heights Room, the talk was co-sponsored by the Center for Ignatian Spirituality, the Roche Center for Catholic Education, and the School of Theology and Ministry. In the beginning, Father Brodeur admitted that a “formidable topic” was at hand. First, he defined some terms and presented their etymological background. The Greek chárisma appears 17 times in the New Testament: 16 in Paul’s letters and once in First Peter. Deriving from cháris, grace, chárisma means “something given out of generosity” or “gracious gift,” which is Father Brodeur’s preferred translation. The New American Bible translates chárisma as “a gift” and other translations render it as “a free gift,” but Father Brodeur called this problematic, for the term cannot apply to gifts given by humans to humans and “clearly [refers to] a divine activity.” Moreover, natural talents and fortunate circumstances are natural, not spiritual gifts.
References to “gracious gifts” appear in five Pauline letters: First and Second Corinthians, First and Second Timothy, and Romans. While a disciple of Paul wrote First and Second Timothy, the other three letters are “authentically Pauline,” written by the Apostle to the Gentiles himself.
Father Brodeur chose to focus on chapter 12 of First Corinthians, where the term chárisma appears seven times. Only here does Paul explain the link between the Holy Spirit and charisms. Paul’s other focus was on the diversity of gifts that come from the one Lord. This was in response to divisions that had developed in the Church at Corinth. Paul, writing from Ephesus, knew the Church extremely well. The Corinthian Christians shared the “consumer values” of other citizens of their prosperous city and had turned the celebration of the Eucharist into an occasion to outdo each other. Their preferred method was to speak in tongues or prophesy, disrupting the service and directing the focus to themselves. Paul sought to put these two gifts into their “broader liturgical and theological contexts.” When listing the charisms distributed by the Spirit—wisdom, knowledge, the faith that leads to miracles, healing, and miraculous powers and exorcisms—Paul put prophecy and speaking in tongues, along with the complementary charisms for their interpretation, at the end. Paul warned the Corinthians that prophecy and tongues would cease, but faith, hope, and love, the greatest of the three, will last. The Spirit acts freely for the benefit of the community and no disunity can originate from God.
Father Brodeur concluded that the diversity of charisms reveals the “superabundance of divine life that God chooses to communicate to the followers of Jesus through the activity of the Holy Spirit.” These gifts are to draw Christians towards greater love and for use in the service of love. “God treats us, His adopted sons and daughters, as adults,” said Father Brodeur. Through these gifts, the Spirit even now is “transforming us into a New Creation” that will be perfected on the last day. Confident that God is always at work renewing the Church, members of religious orders are called to rediscover the charisms of their founders, though not only religious receive charisms. As for American Catholics, they must remember faith, hope, and love.