A wonderful example of Hospitality

Brothers and Sisters,

I came across an  example of the charism of Hospitality.  Sara gives a great description of her experience with the charism on her blog.  Please click on this link.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

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Do you have a minute, I need to talk.

Brothers and Sisters,

Praise the Lord!!! God is good!!!  “Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)  These words are stirring in my heart as I begin this reflection.

Romans 12:6-8 says, “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.” RSV-CE

From this distinguished list of gifts, I would like to focus on exhortation.  In other translations of the Bible the word is translated encouragement and I think it is the same gift referred to in the Called and Gifted lists as the gift of encouragement.

I would say that there are at least two aspects to this gift.  One being exhortation, which in English has the connotation of challenging a person to move out of their comfort zone and may be more associated with what might come from a father.  The other word encouragement has a softer more motherly flavor to it.  The message that the exhorter delivers has to be tailored to the situation and to the recipient.

We can see this tailoring of the message in Jesus own ministry.  With the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 2-11), the scribes and Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus and they bring the woman to him and ask him to pronounce judgement on her.  In this instance Jesus masterfully defuses the situation, by inviting the person without sin to be the one to throw the first stone.  He alone has the right to throw the stone, but he chooses not to.  He then exhorts the woman not to sin any more.  We are left to imagine how his words were delivered.  I imagine that the words addressed to the scribes and Pharisees were more forceful, and the words to the woman a little gentler.  Nevertheless, he exhorts her not to sin any more, which is both a rebuke for the sin and an encouragement not to do it again.

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Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery by Alessandro Turchi (1578-1649)

Some definitions that I found of the charism are as follows:

“Encouragement empowers a Christian to be an effective channel of God’s love by strengthening and healing individuals in remarkable ways through his or her presence and words.”1

“The Spirit of God gives this gift to people in the church to strengthen and encourage those who are wavering in their faith.  Those with the gift of exhortation can uplift and motivate others as well as challenge and rebuke them in order to foster spiritual growth and action.  The goal of the encourager is to see everyone in the church continually building up the body of Christ and glorifying God.”2

“…It’s rather about Spirit-inspired speaking of God’s Word that causes the heart of the hearers to “burn” similar to what the disciples on the road to Emmaus experienced when Jesus explained the Scriptures to them. The same is true with the gift of encouragement or exhortation. We are grateful for “positive personalities” that lift up relationships but there are certain people who seem to have a particular gift for speaking the right word at the right time, words of encouragement that lift us up in a special way, so that we may experience the impartation of grace, peace, or hope that we need.”3

“Encouragement is the special ability God gives some to uplift, enrich, comfort, offer words of encouragement and reassurance in such a way that others become filled with hope. What is hope? ‘Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit’ (CCC #1817)”4

There is plenty more to say, but I will save that for a future post.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

  1. Fruitful Discipleship, by Sherry Weddell. Pg. 54.
  2. http://www.spiritualgiftstest.com/spiritual-gift-of-exhortation
  3. https://www.renewalministries.net/files/freeliterature/Charisms%20OSV_June%2013_07.pdf
  4. http://www.crmweb.org/publication/flamejulyaugust2011.htm

‘Cause You Delight in Showing Mercy

Brothers and Sisters,

Most everyone likes to receive mercy, but when it comes to extending mercy to others, maybe we don’t get as excited about that.  Today I would like to focus on what is meant by mercy in relation to scripture and Catholic teaching.  I would like to distinguish the mercy which all Christians are commanded to practice and what I will call the charism of Mercy.

Christ commands us to “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

The Catholic dictionary defines mercy as “The disposition to be kind and forgiving. Founded on compassion, mercy differs from compassion or the feeling of sympathy in putting this feeling into practice with a readiness to assist. It is therefore the ready willingness to help anyone in need, especially in need of pardon or reconciliation.”1

In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah relates God’s desire for mercy among His people:

“Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?“ (Isaiah 58:5-10)

In the New Testament we see that mercy is what the Lord is looking for on the Day of Judgement.

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’” (Matt 25: 34-36)

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Another famous parable illustrates what is expected of followers of Christ.

“But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’  Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”  He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10: 33-37)

Mercy is what we receive from God when He forgives us in the sacraments of baptism and reconciliation.  We come to the Lord with no right to be forgiven, he forgives out of His loving mercy.  He sent Jesus to redeem us, to pay the price for sin that we could not pay.  Jesus is the model of mercy for us.  This gift of mercy is available to everyone.  So God is not asking anything of us that He has not already given.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines specific “works of mercy” in paragraph 2447.

“2447 The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.242 Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead.243 Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God: 244

  • 242 Cf. Isa 58:6-7; Heb 13:3
  • 243 Cf. Mt:31-46.
  • 244 Cf. Tob 4:5-11; Sir 17:22; Mt 6:2-4”

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With that background of what we mean by mercy we can move on to what makes the charism of Mercy unique. The charism of mercy is listed among the gifts listed in the following passage from scripture.

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:8)

Here are a couple of definitions of the charism:

“The charism of Mercy empowers a Christian to be a channel of God’s love through hands-on, practical deeds of compassion that relieve the distress of those who suffer and help them experience God’s love.”2

“The Greek word for “mercy” (eleos) means “to show compassion,” or “to feel sympathy of heart.” This gift is characterized by the ability to suffer alongside the person in pain, in a sense to feel the pain with them and to want to help them bear it. This extraordinary gift enables the believer to feel a deep compassion that transcends natural Christian caring and to minister to hurting people in a cheerful and sustained manner.”3

As with other charisms, certain individuals are drawn to this type of service, they are truly happy when they are able to serve others in this capacity.  If you find yourself feeling truly in touch with God in homeless shelters, nursing homes or working with prisoners you might have this charism.  One friend who has this charism affectionately refers to the people she serves as her “peeps.”  For some doing works of mercy might be a chore, for her it is spiritual sustenance.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

  1. https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=34849
  2. Fruitful Discipleship by Sherry Weddell, Page 59.
  3. https://rcohiovalley.org/gifted-and-blessed talk #4

 

To Help or To Serve that is the Question.

Brothers and Sisters,

The gift of helps is proving a little difficult to get my arms around, because it is kind of close to others such as service, mercy, encouragement and wisdom.  How do we make a distinction?  It may be really hard to extract it completely from related gifts.

I thought of an illustration that may shed some light on it.  I volunteered for a United Way project through work last week.  We were asked to help clean up a home, which had been used as a “rescue” shelter for unwanted pets, in preparation for eventual sale of the property.  The home was in bad shape inside and out.  Most of the items in the home had to be thrown in a rented dumpster and a great deal of cleaning was necessary inside.  Fortunately for me, I was able to work on taking down unwanted fences and clearing unwanted vegetation outdoors, so I did not have to deal with the overpowering smell inside.  I give the detail not to condemn the person who let the place get in this condition but to help you understand the situational context.

I had in mind to serve a person that was obviously overwhelmed with the amount of work to be done and being that she was in her later years she could not have done it herself.  The work that I was doing was a service to the owner, but it did not lend itself to a personal connection with the owner.  She was there during part of the day and I talked with her briefly, but it did not really cross my mind that I should help her beyond just the few tasks that I was asked to do.  I was focused on the tasked to be done.  That is my default behavior anyway, tasks first, relationships second.  Not that that is good, but I am just being honest.

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As I was struggling with what to say about helps, the light bulb went on, maybe that is the difference between service and helps.  Service is focused on the work that needs to be done to allow the project to move forward.  Helps is focused on the real needs of the person, not the tasks that are preventing them from making progress.

I read a quote from Mother Theresa that further brought the point home to me.  She says, “Sometime back, a high government official said, ‘You are doing social work and we are doing the same.  But we are doing it for something and you are doing it for somebody.’  To do our work we have to be in love with God.” I must admit that my focus was on the task (the something) rather than the “somebody”.

So allow me to speculate, the gift of helps then entails the ability to see the gaps between where the person is and where God wants them to be.  It also involves the ability to sense what will be the best way to help them become what God desires.  Some of the descriptions that I have read about helps would seem to suggest that it is about freeing the important person, say the pastor of a church, from some of the mundane tasks that are keeping them from doing the things that they really need to focus on.  This brings to mind the situation in Acts 6, when the deacons were chosen to free the apostles up for “prayer and serving the word.”

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“Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. 2 And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4 while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.’ 5 What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.”  Acts 6: 1-6.

So certainly the appointment of deacons was a help to the apostles, but that seems more like service rather than what I am trying to define as helps.  I think what I said about service last month suggested that we should be seeing Christ in those that we serve, which allows us to serve with real love and draw those we serve closer to God.   Helps on the other hand, goes beyond just meeting the immediate needs of the person, but takes a particular interest in helping them to do what God is calling them to do.

I welcome your thoughts on the subject.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

Wisdom from Above

Brothers and Sisters,

Wisdom is something that we typically associate with those who have lived a long time and have a great deal of life experience.  Wisdom is often the result of having learned things by trying things that did not work.  This process is certainly one way to acquired wisdom, but wouldn’t it be great if we could get it before we are close to end our earthly pilgrimage?  Before we go there though let’s look at what we mean when we speak of wisdom.

Wisdom is mentioned quite a bit in scripture and can have different meanings.  To better understand the charism of Wisdom it will be helpful to understand the distinctions.  There is an obvious difference between human wisdom and the wisdom of God which St. Paul talks about in the following passage.

 “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.  My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish.  But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” (1 Cor. 2: 1-7)

So if we separate out wisdom that is from human intellect or demonic spirits, we can focus on God’s wisdom.  Wisdom that comes from God itself has further distinctions.  This allows us to revisit the question posed in the first paragraph.

King Solomon was able to get around the life experience requirement by asking God for it when he was young.   In 1 Kings 3: 9 -12 Solomon says to the Lord, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” The Lord’s response after expressing great pleasure with Solomon’s request is, “Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.”  As we know the Lord also granted him many other gifts (wealth, long life, and fame) that other’s might have asked for.

This wisdom was a special gift from God that allowed him to be an effective ruler of the kingdom, but it did not prevent him from later falling into idolatry under the influence of his pagan wives.

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The Judgement of Soloman by Nicolas Poussin

In the book of Wisdom (7:23), Solomon personifies wisdom with these beautiful words,

“There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy,
unique, manifold, subtle,
mobile, clear, unpolluted,
distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen,
irresistible, 23 beneficent, humane,
steadfast, sure, free from anxiety,
all-powerful, overseeing all,
and penetrating through all spirits
that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle.”

When Catholics are confirmed the church teaches that we receive the seven-fold gifts that are referred to in the following passage:

 “The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
       His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:2-3)

“The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations. “ (CCC paragraph 1831)

These are generally given to all the faithful for the perfection of their virtues, so this is not the same as the charism of Wisdom.

The following passage contains gifts of the Holy Spirit that are often referred to as the charismatic gifts.  These gifts are given to individuals and not necessarily everyone.  They are given for the benefit of others and not for ourselves. This passage tells us about what I am referring to as the charism of Wisdom.

”To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,  to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” (1 Cor. 12:8-10)

The following are some definitions of the charism that may be helpful in understanding it.

The charism of Wisdom can be defined as “enabling a Christian to be a channel of God’s goodness through extraordinary insight that enables him or her to come up with original or creative solutions to specific problem or to make good decisions.”1

Others refer to a word of Wisdom which they define as “a manifestation of the Spirit in a particular time for a particular situation that builds up the body of Christ by providing understanding of how to live or how to respond. This charism may be manifested in a large public gathering or in counseling an individual.”2

“Wisdom – an understanding in our inner being, which enables us to see God’s viewpoint or vision of the world. It helps us develop the ability to make judgments about everything in our lives on the basis of a deep, personal union with the Lord and his abiding love.”3

In a future post, I hope to further explore this wonderful charism.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

“Uughh!” or Render Service with Enthusiasm

Brothers and Sisters,

In this reflection I would like to start exploring the charism of service.  This charism can be defined as, “It empowers a Christian to be a channel of God’s purposes by recognizing the gaps or unmet needs that prevent good things from happening and by personally doing whatever it takes to bridge the gap or meet the need.”1   I would like take a look at the following scriptural source to begin the investigation.

“Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women,  knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.” (Eph. 6:7-8)

When most people think of service, I imagine the most common response is, “Uuughhh! Can’t someone else do that?”

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The slaves that St. Paul addresses in the above passage are instructed otherwise.  When they get a job, their response should be, “Yes sir, I would be happy to sir, is there anything that I can do for you when that task is complete sir?”  I suggest that type of response to my children from time to time, but I can’t seem to convince them to respond that way.   I do hear a lot of the common response though.

So what motivations might a person have to render service with enthusiasm when asked to perform a task?

One could be forced to respond that way as young soldiers are when they go to basic training.  That I am quite sure is not the charism.  Enthusiasm can be faked, but a charism really can’t.

A person could try to do it out of love and or respect for the person asking.  This relies on will power.  If my wife asks me to do something that is different than my preferred way to spend my time, I might try to do it because I love her and want to please her.  But if my heart is not in it, my effort may not yield the type of service mentioned in the scripture passage.  In some attempts at service with enthusiasm, I have heard, “Oh, you were trying to do that, I hadn’t noticed.”  This is probably not the charism.

If we go back to the verse, it says do it “as to the Lord and not to men and women.”  That may be an even bigger help.  We are supposed to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and that being a much greater level of love than we can achieve for another person.  People have things about them that are not lovable, which is not the case with God.  We should love God above all things.

Enter Saint Mother Teresa. She says, “There is always the danger that we may just do the work for the sake of the work. This is where the respect and the love and the devotion come in – that we do it to God, to Christ, and that’s why we try to do it as beautifully as possible.”  And again, “the miracle is not that we do this work, but that we are happy to do it.” (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/mother_teresa.html)

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The people Mother and her sisters serve have been referred to by Mother as “Jesus in his most distressing disguise.  But how could she do it, how could she recognize Jesus these disguises?  She gives us the secret.

Mother Teresa knew how crucial this was. Seeing Christ in the Eucharist enabled her to see him in the streets. “If we recognize [Jesus] under the appearance of bread,” she explained, “we will have no difficulty recognizing him in the disguise of the suffering poor.” This is why Mother Teresa could say, “I have an opportunity to be with Jesus 24 hours a day.” Whether in the chapel or the slums, the pew or the hospital, she recognized the Lord everywhere she went because she trained herself each morning at the altar. 2

Mother Theresa had many gifts, wisdom, not being the least of them.  I think we can learn a lot from her regarding the charism of service.  An opportunity to serve cannot be met with, “uuughhh!” if we imagine ourselves receiving Christ in the Eucharist as we serve others.  Faith is necessary for believing Jesus is present in the Eucharist and also in believing he is present in the poor and the overburdened.

An additional difficulty is that sometimes the people that ask for our service are not behaving like Christ would, perhaps they are taking advantage of us.  In that case though, Jesus is not taking advantage of us.  We can serve Christ in people regardless of what their motives are.  The work of the Missionaries of Charity (Mother’s order) is to be seen as an experience of contemplative prayer.  They are encountering Christ though their work.   This I think is the key to the difference of the natural good of serving others and the charism of Service.

If we can see Christ in those we serve, we will feel good about doing our work and do it enthusiastically; if we treat those we serve as we would treat Christ we should get good feedback; if we use the charism as we serve, others will encounter Christ as we serve them, then our work will bear fruit in their lives.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

  1. Fruitful Discipleship by Sherry A. Weddell. P 73.
  2. Source: http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/blog/jesus-in-his-most-distressing-disguise/4479/

Rejoice With Me, I Have Found My Sheep

Brothers and Sisters,

Do you have a passion for bringing people together to talk about Jesus, faith, prayer, scripture, etc.?  Do you get energized by helping people grow in their Christian life?  Do you feel more connected to God when you are with a group of people sharing your faith experience than you do in other faith-based settings? Do you get energized when the light bulbs start going on in groups you are working with? Can you guess what charism these questions might identify?

The charism of Pastoring can be defined as, “empowering a Christian to be an effective channel of God’s love, building Christian community by nurturing relationships and long-term spiritual growth of a group.”1 In scripture we see mention of this gift in Ephesians chapter 4: 11-12, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

The name that we use for the leaders of Christian churches is also pastor.  So we need to make a distinction between the charism and the office of pastor.  The pastor of a church may or may not have the charism of pastoring.  Ideally a person in the office of pastor would have charisms of prophecy, evangelism, pastoring, and teaching.  That does not necessarily mean that any given pastor has all or any of these charisms.  Nor does it mean that a person who does not hold the office can’t have the charism of pastoring.

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The charism of pastoring comes from the Greek word poimen which is defined2 as follows:

  • a herdsman, esp. a shepherd
    1. in the parable, he to whose care and control others have committed themselves, and whose precepts they follow
  • metaphorically
    1. the presiding officer, manager, director, of any assembly: so of Christ the Head of the church
      1. of the overseers of the Christian assemblies
      2. of kings and prince

The charism involves a sense of responsibility for the group, particularly for the spiritual development of the people in the group.  This can be formal as in the case of the office of pastor, but it can also be informal.  The informal sense can exist in a small group context where there are different levels of spiritual maturity.  More mature Christians may feel a sense of responsibility for those who have less knowledge or experience.  Similar to a shepherd’s care of a flock of sheep, the person with the charism (pastor) will be aware of the spiritual dangers that less experienced believers may be vulnerable to, and will try to help them to avoid those dangers.  In order for this to work well the pastor will need to develop the level of trust in the group and earn the respect of those being pastored.  When the pastor is working in the charism, this trust happens naturally without a great deal of thought or planning.

The pastor not only helps the “sheep” to avoid dangers but also is concerned that the flock is properly “nourished” with information and resources that will help them to grow in spiritual maturity.  Unlike the case with a shepherd of sheep, the pastor will try to help the members of the group eventually assume (according to their giftedness) roles in discipling others.  As Jesus says, “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master.” (Matt. 10: 24-25).

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The pastor will also try to foster harmony in the group by using good facilitation techniques to avoid conflicts and to try to make sure the members feel valued and appreciated.  This may also involve making decisions that will put the good of the group above the individual.  If for example, a person in the group has the ability to fill any silence with words relevant or not, the pastor may need to, as politely as possible, ask the person to give other people a chance to talk.  Ultimately, the hope is that the group will develop a bond of loving concern for one another, appreciating each other’s strengths and weaknesses, while challenging one another to courageously respond to God’s call on their lives.

I personally have discerned this charism.  If I look back across my life since my adult conversion, I see the roll of informal pastor happening over and over again.  I have worked with all different age groups, within the Catholic context, and outside of it.  I suspect that everyone in a pastoral role feels some level of inadequacy, just like every parent feels like they could have done (or be doing) a better job parenting.  So perhaps one of the hindrances to the discernment of this charism is the feeling that my fruit is not supernatural.  Supernatural fruit does not necessarily need to be equated to the accomplishments of famous pastors, it just means that you could not have accomplished it without divine assistance.

Peace of Jesus,

Dave

  1. Fruitful Discipleship by Sherry A. Weddell. P 61.
  2. https://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/poimen.html