WHAT IS THE CATHOLIC SPIRITUAL GIFTS DISCERNMENT PROGRAM?
The Spiritual Gifts Discernment Program is specially designed to help Catholics discern the charisms of the Holy Spirit that they have been given. It helps them begin to learn how to use those charisms to serve God and other people.
WHAT IS A CHARISM OR SPIRITUAL GIFT?
Charism is simply the Greek word used in the New Testament for "favor" or "gratuitous gift". Charisms, or spiritual gifts, are special abilities given to Christians by the Holy Spirit to enable them to be powerful channels of God's love and redeeming presence in the world. Whether extraordinary or ordinary, charisms are to be used in charity or service to build up the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2003).
HOW DO CHARISMS OR SPIRITUAL GIFTS DIFFER FROM NATURAL TALENTS?
Charisms, or spiritual gifts, differ from natural talents in two important ways. Charisms are not "inborn" or inherited from our parents, but are given to us by the Holy Spirit, whom we received through baptism and confirmation, two of the three sacraments of initiation. Charisms are also supernaturally empowered. They are focused outward and enable Christians to bear results for the Kingdom of God above and beyond our normal human abilities.
As disciples, we offer our entire selves, including our personalities, natural talents, education, life experience, and background to God to be used for his purposes. Our natural talents can become wonderful tools for God's purposes, and sometimes an already existing natural gift is transformed by the Holy Spirit into a supernaturally empowered charism. But when we serve God, we are not limited to just the gifts with which we were born! Some charisms may seem 'extraordinary' (such as prophecy, healing, or discernment of spirits) and others quite 'ordinary' (such as administration, service, hospitality, or mercy), but all charisms are supernaturally empowered. We use our charisms together with our natural talents and all that we are to serve God and our neighbor.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SEVEN "GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT" FOUND IN ISAIAH 11, THE "FRUITS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT" LISTED IN GALATIANS 5, AND SPIRITUAL GIFTS (CHARISMS)?
There are gifts of the Holy Spirit that we are given to keep and gifts we are given to give away. The traditional "seven gifts of the Holy Spirit" and the "fruits" of the Spirit are gifts given to us to keep. They are part of our inner transformation as Christians and provide the inner "Christ-likeness" necessary for the effective use of our charisms (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1830-1832). Charisms, on the other hand, are gifts given to us to give away. Charisms are always focused outward; they are especially empowered ways by which God's love and goodness reaches our neighbor through us.
HOW MANY CHARISMS ARE THERE?
We don't know. There are three primary lists of gifts in the New Testament (in Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4). We don't have any reason to believe that these lists are meant to be exhaustive. The Catholic Spiritual Gifts Discernment Program covers 24 of the most common charisms, including most of those listed in St. Paul's letters. Two other charisms are described in the addendum at the end of the Catholic Spiritual Gifts inventory. There are additional charisms that are not covered in the inventory at all.
ARE ALL BAPTIZED CHRISTIANS GIVEN CHARISMS?
Yes, according to both the New Testament (Ephesians 4) and the teaching of the Catholic Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 951). All Christians are given one or more "long-term" or permanent charisms, empowered ways in which God uses us over and over again throughout life. "Long-term" charisms are the kind of spiritual gift that can be discerned through the Spiritual Gifts Discernment Program, can be deliberately developed, and should be taken into account when we try to discern our vocation(s) in life.
WHAT DIFFERENCE CAN THE DISCERNMENT OF THEIR CHARISMS MAKE FOR INDIVIDUAL CATHOLICS?
- Discerning their charisms gives many people a new sense of personal purpose and direction as a lay Christian.
Many lay Catholics do not understood that they have an active part to play in the Church's mission and are excited to discover that God is calling them to and equipping them for a unique work of love in the world.
- Discerning and exercising one's charisms can be a wonderful catalyst of spiritual growth.
Few things nurture faith in God's loving presence like seeing God's provision and goodness reach others through the charisms of an ordinary person like you or me. The spiritual disciplines necessary to mature in the use of a charism change us and help transform us into more Christ-like people.
- Understanding our charisms can free us from the need to compare ourselves with others and from judging others because they are different from us.
Participants regularly comment about how healing an experience it is to discern their gifts. Those who judged themselves for not measuring up to someone else's standard are freed by recognizing that their giftedness and calling may be different. Those who judged other Christians for having different priorities are able to relax and recognize the validity of the many calls within the larger Body of Christ.
- Every charism represents a call from God. Becoming clear about the charisms that you have been given can greatly clarify decision-making.
A lot of energy is released for service as individuals begin to acknowledge where they are not gifted and begin to concentrate on the areas where they are called and gifted.
- Understanding your charisms helps prevent unnecessary failure and burn-out.
Charisms of the Holy Spirit enable us to be exceptionally effective for the Kingdom of God. It is unusually energizing and fulfilling to exercise a charism and we are much less likely to burn out if working in the arena of our giftedness.
- The discernment of charisms can help individuals understand and name what they are already experiencing.
After interviewing hundreds of average Catholics, we have discovered that many lay Catholics are having remarkable experiences of God, which they don't understand, can't put into perspective, and don't feel that they can talk about with anyone else. Gifts discernment enables lay Catholics to begin to see that some of these experiences may be signs of a charism and helps them name and begin to responsibly exercise these gifts for the sake of others.
WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS DISCERNMENT PROGRAM?
- Discerning the charisms we have been given can be an exciting and fruitful experience for nearly all baptized adults, young and old, lay and clergy.
- Those with limited experience in living as a committed Christian (young adults or those who are newly baptized or have recently returned to the practice of the faith) will gain an exciting perspective on their new life as a follower of Jesus and will be prepared to recognize the charisms as they emerge.
- Mature Christians will have the chance to sort through their experience and discern the ways in which God regularly uses them to bless others.
- Understanding one's own charisms and being able to help others discern theirs is an essential pastoral skill for those called to leadership or ministry in the Church.
Gifts discernment is particularly attractive and useful for people in transition:
- Young adults discerning career direction or vocation;
- Catholics discerning a call to religious life or the priesthood;
- Adults who are entering or "returning" to the Church and are trying to understand what it means to live as a Catholic;
- Single men and women seeking to make the best use of their freedom;
- Those who are unemployed or contemplating a career change;
- Men and women in mid-life;
- Adults who are coping with the loss of a spouse or other significant relationship;
- "Empty nesters" whose children have left home; and
- Older adults nearing or at retirement age.
HOW DOES HELPING INDIVIDUALS DISCERN THEIR CHARISMS AFFECT THE LARGER CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY?
- The discernment process helps individuals cease to be anonymous to the leadership of the community and to each other.
In our large Catholic parishes and institutions, it's easy for individuals to come and go without being noticed and to believe that they have nothing to contribute. The personal interview is a most critical part of the discernment process because it gives individuals the opportunity to share their experience of being used by God with the leadership of the community. The small groups enable Catholics to talk to each other about something that is seldom named in our communities: how does God use us to bless others?
- The discernment of their gifts draws people from the periphery of the community to the center.
Some of our most gifted people are sitting, unrecognized, in the back of the church. Many lay Catholics emerge from the gifts discernment process with a much stronger sense that they have something important to give to the larger Christian community and the world. Catholics who sat quietly on the sidelines start taking new risks and others emerge as leaders of new initiatives.
- Discerning the charisms of the community makes it possible to move our ministries from being "vacuum-driven" to being "charism-driven".
Our communities are filled with organizational and pastoral "needs" that we usually try to meet by recruiting anyone who shows any interest - or who, perhaps, is just unable to say "no". Because we seldom look first at the gifts and call of individuals, our communities often contain generous and energetic people who have been burned-out or even traumatized trying to fill "vacuums" for which they were ill-equipped. Discerning the gifts of individuals helps avoid these problems. When people become aware of their own (and each other's) charisms, our communities can begin to be "charism-driven".
- Recognizing the charisms of the community makes it much easier to "recruit" volunteers.
People are much more likely to say "yes", to be effective, and to find the experience satisfying and spiritually nourishing, when approached to work in an area of their giftedness.
- Recognizing the charisms of all fosters co-responsibility between the clergy and the laity in the Church's mission to the world.
It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that the clergy and the laity are co-responsible, responsible together, for presenting Christ to the world. The local parish is the most natural, most accessible place for the laity and clergy to acknowledge and support one another in their mutual call. The charisms and call of lay Catholics are their primary contribution to this collaboration.
HOW DOES THE PROCESS OF GIFTS DISCERNMENT WORK?
There are two parts to the gifts discernment process:
- The introductory Called & Gifted Workshop, and
- The Extended Discernment Program.
The Introductory Called & Gifted Workshop
This workshop usually runs from 7 to 9:30 p.m. on a Friday night and from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. the following Saturday. Normally, it is taught by two presenters. Participants have the opportunity to:
- Take the Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory;
- Learn the signs and characteristics of 24 of the most common charisms;
- Learn the five steps of discerning their own charisms;
- Begin their own discernment process;
- Better understand the critical role of every Catholic and of the local parish in the mission of the Church to make the risen Christ present to every man and woman;
- Learn the role charisms play in collaboration between the clergy and laity; and
- Understand some of the implications of gift discernment for the life of their parish or Christian community.
All participants in a Called & Gifted Workshop receive an extensive packet of gift resources, including the Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory, a list of recommended books for all 24 charisms, and biographies of saints and other great Catholics who have demonstrated each specific charism in their own lives.
The Extended Gifts Discernment Program
This program enables those who have taken the Called & Gifted Workshop to spend 8 weeks actively discerning a single charism of their choice. They do this through:
- A personal one hour interview conducted by a trained interviewer who helps each participant evaluate his or her inventory results in light of their life experience. The interviewer also assists participants in: identifying areas that require further discernment; looking at their work, vocational, or community involvement in light of their possible giftedness; and choosing a single charism to experiment with for two hours a week for the next eight weeks.
- The personal report: a printed summary of inventory results and interview with discernment questions relevant to the individual, and a reminder as to what gift they have chosen to focus on. (Given to participants at the first of the extended discernment sessions)
- Eight weeks of experimentation with a single charism of the participant's choice.
- Four 2½ hour sessions at intervals of 1-3 weeks which include further presentations on advanced topics, personal exercises, and small group work. Participants gather in small groups with others who are discerning the same or a similar charism.
- Session 1 focuses on recognizing and releasing ways we have learned to control life which can get in the way of using our charisms.
- Session 2 helps participants understand how our charisms work together and affect and color one another.
- Session 3 is co-taught by a priest and a lay person and covers the importance of both the clerical and lay roles and how collaboration between the clergy and laity is an essential key to the Church's effectiveness in mission.
- Session 4 focuses on the important relationship between discerning our charisms and discerning our call or vocation in life.
WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR MY GROUP TO SPONSOR THE INTRODUCTORY CALLED & GIFTED WORKSHOP?
An introductory Called & Gifted Workshop is easy to put on because we do most of the work for you!
The Catherine of Siena Institute provides:
- Instructors (2-5) and all content;
- Spiritual Gift Inventories and originals for duplicating information packets for each person;
- Advertising materials (posters, brochures, bulletin inserts); and
- A book table of recommended resources for participants.
What we need from you:
- Two days, usually a Friday night from 7 to 9:30 p.m. and Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- A minimum of 40 participants (they do not need to all come from your parish or organization). The only limits to the number who can attend are the size of the room in which the workshop is held.
- A room large enough to accommodate all the participants and equipped with:
a. A projector screen,
b. a digital projector,
c. adequate sound system,
d. Tables and chairs for participants,
e. A table for registration and packets,
f. 2 tables for recommended books and supplementary hand-outs
- Hospitality: coffee, tea, snacks, name tags, etc.
- Local advertising within your parish or organization.
Our instructors are happy to travel and have done so throughout the United States and Canada. If the proposed workshop is outside the Seattle area, our team will need to have their travel costs covered and simple overnight accommodations.
WHAT WOULD IT TAKE FOR MY GROUP TO SPONSOR THE EXTENDED SPIRITUAL GIFTS DISCERNMENT PROGRAM?
If you would like your community to experience the full ten-week Spiritual Gifts Discernment Program we will need from you:
- The help necessary to put on the Called & Gifted Workshop (see above).
- A facilitating team of ten members from within your community who will be willing to go through the whole program first and then help put it on for the larger community. Your team should include at least one staff member or member of your leadership team, as well as a number of lay leaders. As many members of the team as possible should have strong listening skills/training in active listening or pastoral care. Team members with such skills will be trained by the Siena Institute to do gifts discernment interviews for your community.
- Several small rooms, each with a table and a couple of chairs in which to hold gifts interviews.
- The room and facilities to hold the four sessions of the extended discernment program. There will need to be enough space for participants to break up into small groups of 4 or 5. A screen and overhead projector will also be required for each session.
- The Extended Discernment Program costs $40 per person, which includes the one hour personal interview. The whole ten-week Spiritual Gifts Discernment Program costs $70 per person. Alternate financial arrangements can be made for the full program. (See the above section on the cost of the Called & Gifted Workshop.)