The Stealth Catholic Charism Print
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 24 January 2008 06:33
Take a look at this thoughtful post over at Gashwin Gome's place on the reluctance of most Catholic mission groups to proclaim Christ. As a native Indian and Hindu turned Catholic as a young adult, Gomes's comments are particularly interesting.

Gashwin and I had dinner and a chance to talk at the Paulist house in DC in November and it was pretty clear, even after a short conversation, that here was a man with a charism of evangelism. Gashwin burns with the desire to proclaim Christ and yet is not fundamentalist at all in either theology or approach. My experience in the past is that Catholics with a charism of evangelism feel extremely isolated. Because Gashwin, (like myself) was not born and raised Catholic, he hasn't absorbed the wide-spread Catholic cultural norm that evangelism is not Catholic and simply isn't done. So he talks about it openly. Quell horror!

Among most Anglo cradle Catholics, it is culturally so unacceptable that we gradually noticed that the charism of evangelism literally goes underground and is most commonly exercised under other, more acceptable labels like education or catechesis or administration. I"ve taken to calling evangelism the "stealth Catholic charism" because Catholics almost always want to call it something else and pretend that they aren't doing the "E" thing.

A couple of examples:

I was interviewing a Catholic school principal who scored high in administration on her Catholic Spiritual Gifts Inventory (the inventory that we give everyone who goes through the Called & Gifted process as a quick and dirty way to sort through their life experience and indentify areas that show evidence of a charism at work). So I asked her to talk about her experience with administration. Three times I asked her to talk about administration and three times she told me stories of bringing parents of her students into the Church.

Finally I had to point out to her that she consistently talked about evangelism every time I asked her about administration. The principal gasped in horror. "I couldn't be evangelizing! I'm an administrator!" Yes, she was. An administrator who spent a good deal of her office time evangelizing and whose charism of evangelism is coloring and shaping her administration as all charisms do.

I had another memorable experience in a different southern diocese. I was training a group to do "gifts interviews" - the one-on-one sessions in which we help individuals do another level of discernment by listening to their stories of using their charisms and pointing out patterns that they may not yet recognize. In the course of the training, one brave soul gets up and tells their stories in front of the rest so they can practice listening for patterns. On that day, the hardy volunteer was a young black woman who was an unapologetic disciple. (I'll call her Carol)

Again Carol's high score was in administration so I asked her about her experience in that area. She crossed her arms, crouched down in her chair, and a scowl on her face, talked about administration like it was a battlefield. Although I approached it from several different perspectives, Carol's experience of administration was clearly negative. But when I asked her about evangelism, her face lit up, her whole body relaxed, and she became absolutely lyrical. The other trainees were beside themselves with delight as they pointed out to her the dramatic difference in her body language. I finally had to point out that the evidence strongly suggested that the gift in question was not administration but evangelism.

Carol was thunderstruck. The next day, Carol told me (and I quote)

"I couldn't sleep. I've been up all night thinking about this. Damn, that's powerful!

There is no single gift I've ever helped someone discern that causes as much astonishment or initial discomfort, that turns a cozy little interview into a life-defining moment as the recognition that a Catholic was evangelizing all along under another, more respectable label.

The primary mission of the Church is the very activity many of us can't bear to think about or name as Catholic. No one seems to know exactly how this cultural norm became so firmly rooted among Catholics. But young Catholics like Gashwin (who feels strongly called to the priesthood) are a wonderful sign that the norm may be changing.