Stirring Up the Gifts of the Holy Spirit Part II
By Sr. Nancy Kellar S.C.
“The Spirit you have received is not a spirit of timidity, but a Spirit of love, power and self-control" (2 Tm 1:7). In writing about stirring up the gifts, I have already focused on how love motivates, releases, purifies and authenticates the spiritual gifts (see March/April issue). Now I would like to turn to how power and self-control are related to stirring up the gifts of the Spirit.
A. The Gifts: Power for Mission
"You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you; then you are to be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The Greek word for power is dynamis from which we derive the word dynamite—an explosive! The Holy Spirit is meant to be explosive in our lives. Being baptized in the Holy Spirit is meant to be more than a conversion experience, it is meant to be an empowering call to go out and witness to Christ. In Tertio Millennio Adveniente (45) Pope John Paul says, "In our day, too, the Spirit is the principal agent of the new evangelization." The Spiritual gifts are an integral part of the mission of evangelization. Paul uses three words for the charismatic gifts—gifts, services and workings of power! All three are used to stress that the gifts are for the work of building up the Church. Without the gifts there is no power in evangelization. Failure to say yes to our mission stifles the charisms.
B. The Variety of Gifts
The gifts are stifled by too narrow a view of the variety of the gifts and the variety of the ways the Lord wants to use us with His gifts. We need to ask the Lord to stir up the more familiar charisms of tongues, prophecy, healing and deliverance and pray for fresh outpouring of the gifts of teaching, preaching, the gifts of faith, giving, mercy, of being knowledgeable, and the gifts of marriage, celibacy, voluntary poverty and even martyrdom.
Don’t limit God’s activity to what seems like the supernatural activities. Charisms are concrete manifestations of the action of the Holy Spirit that are oriented towards service and the building up of the community. The gifts of administration, helping and giving are all charismatic gifts mentioned by St. Paul. We need to recognize our natural gifts and abilities and ask God to empower them for greater service to the Body. A charism does not always have to be emotionally charged—it just has to be moved by the Spirit.
The most important charisms that have been renewed are the fundamental charisms of our vocations in life. We need to recognize them as — -charisms—as empowerments by the Spirit—and appropriate them anew. I was on the verge of leaving religious life before I was baptized in the Holy Spirit. My vocation with the gift of celibacy was renewed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
C. Variety of Ways and Places
We need to have a greater expectancy of the variety of the ways and places the Lord wants to use us. Be open to surprises! Don’t limit God’s activity to our past experiences. Charismatic gifts are not just for charismatic prayer meetings. A "word of knowledge" is an insight into a reality for practical decisions, not just for healing services. It is a gift for responding to problems with children, for counseling, for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The gift of prophecy needs to be used in priests ’assemblies, congregational meetings and parish meetings. The Lord wants us not only to speak in prophecy in prayer meetings, where it is easy to do so, but also to be prophetic when it means speaking for unpopular Gospel principles. To Paul, prophets are important people in the Church, along with apostles and teachers. They have a ministry of receiving divine revelation and speaking it. He says prophecy is a sign for the unbeliever; if there is a lack of prophets there is going to be a lack of conversion. Also, if there is a lack of teachers, the community is going to be confused. They won’t know what is true and false doctrine. We need to stir up the gift of teaching for homes, schools, prayer groups, ministries in our church as well as our charismatic gatherings. The first place I experienced the charismatic gift of teaching was in my secondary school classroom.
We need to have a broader expectancy even for the most familiar gifts of healing and the gift of tongues. An expectancy of healing never completely left the Catholic Church, but we often relegated it to extraordinary places like Lourdes and Fatima and to extraordinary people like the saints. I think there is a danger in the Charismatic Renewal today that we again expect healing to happen only in relation to extraordinary people and places. We need to expect healing to happen in our homes when we pray with our children, in the Sacraments, in the healing ministries of our prayer groups, in our sharing groups, in our doctors’ offices as we experience that extension of the Lord’s healing ministry, and even on the telephone!
Spiritual Gifts Need the Discipline of Self-Control
if We Are to Grow in Them.
A. The Gifts and Maturity
The gifts are stifled by limiting them to only when we were younger in the Spirit. It is not uncommon to hear, "we don’t need these spiritual gifts anymore. They were just for the beginning days of the Charismatic Renewal to get us started, but now that we have matured we don’t need them anymore." Charisms are for mature Christians. We do need the spiritual gifts for our ongoing growth. They are not to diminish but in fact grow stronger as we mature. However, there is a change in the way we experience them and use them. One reason for a weakening in the use of the spiritual gifts is a failure to recognize that our charismatic spiritual maturing needs to go through the same "testing by fire" that the great spiritual masters have told us about down through the ages. Often, the manifestations the Lord used in the beginning to get our attention when He wanted to use us, stop. Each use of a spiritual gift becomes an act of faith, a kind of walking on water. This stepping out in faith is easy when we are still close to our own personal experience of the Holy Spirit, but then we often fail to recognize that God purifies us of whatever attachments would keep us from closer union with Him... it’s not only our sin, but also our attachment to our good feelings that can lead us to think that we are a lot holier than we are. He purifies us even of our attachment to His gifts that can make us value the gifts more than the Giver.
B. Pruning the Gifts
Gifts are stifled by our failure to give and accept correction in the use of them. The spiritual gifts need to be pruned, not to stifle them, but so that they can flourish without being discredited by misuse. If the gifts are sensationalized and make ends in themselves, they will never become a normal part of our Christian life, and some day far too soon, they will again be lost. Our job is to learn how to use the gifts with a discipline that can release their fullest power, and at the same time fulfill their true purpose We are taught to seek the prophetic gifts (1 Cor 14:1), but we are also shown that prophecy is a heavy responsibility and that the prophets themselves should be the first to desire authoritative discernment. The charismatic gift of discernment—the gift to distinguish "inspiration" and to judge whether it is really being inspired by the Holy Spirit—needs to be stirred up. Likewise the gift of Pastoring, which is the gift to both encourage and prune the gifts, needs to be developed. We need to have both the willingness and humility to give and accept correction. If the gifts are disciplined according to God’s own mind, and used for the one purpose of revealing and glorifying Him, we will experience them as vital keys to the building of the Kingdom and they will remain as a permanent asset of the Church.
C. Studying the History of the Gifts
Gifts are stifled by being ashamed of them or too defensive about them. Our need for acceptance can lead us to be ashamed of the gifts and to curtail them because they might keep people away. We need to study about the spiritual gifts throughout history and know the statements of the Church on them. It is important to know who we are, to know that the spiritual gifts are really in the teaching and history of the Church, so we don’t play them down. We need to be convinced of the support we have from the Church so that we can be at peace with who we are.
Reprinted with Permission from ICCRS Newsletter January February 1998