Charisms and the Mission of the Holy Spirit
The scriptural accounts of the early Church, especially in the Acts of the Apostles and in the epistles of Saint Paul, show that the guidance and grace of the Holy Spirit were central to the life of the early Church. In fact, the early Fathers of the Church recognized that the Church and the Holy Spirit are inseparable. “Where the Church is, there also is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church,” said Saint Irenaeus.
The Holy Spirit is the “soul,” the inner life-giving principle, of the Church which is the Mystical Body of Christ. One sign of the Spirit at work in the Church is the presence of “charismatic” gifts within the community. In addition to the hierarchical and sacramental gifts given to the whole Church to serve unity and holiness, and in addition to the inner gifts that make individuals holy, there are also many charisms.
These charisms are graces not given simply for the sake of the individuals who receive them, but for the benefit of others, that is, “for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). They are signs of the presence of God and sources of encouragement to holiness of life. In a special way, many of us have experienced the fruits of these charismatic gifts in the life of our parishes through such groups as Marriage Encounter or the Legion of Mary, or the Charismatic renewal of the international Focolare Movement.
Pope Francis in his recent exhortation spoke in a specific way of the contribution of groups like those to nurturing family life. He writes, “the main contribution of the pastoral care of families is offered by the parish, which is the family of families, where small communities, ecclesial movements and associations live in harmony” (Amoris Laetitia, 202). Here the Holy Father is speaking of the many diverse movements we find present in our parishes and who contribute to the life of the faith community by helping to support and nourish family life.
These ecclesial movements and groups bring much vitality to our parishes. Some have been part of parish life for a half-century or more, others are newer and perhaps unfamiliar to us and bring new manifestations of the Holy Spirit, for example the Neo-Catechumenal Way, whose members are priests and laity, and whose particular gift is for neighborhood-based evangelization.
A number of these movements and groups are also part of an archdiocesan entity called the Association of New Movements, which comes together in support of the evangelization initiatives of the archdiocese, such as the Adult Mass and Rally for Life, the annual Jubilarian Mass for married couples and our Light the City initiative. Together, they manifest the movement of the Holy Spirit calling the Church to extend its Gospel mission.
In a recent letter to bishops, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states, “The invitation to be a Church which ‘goes forth’ leads to a rereading of the whole Christian life in a missionary key. The work of evangelization touches every dimension of the Church: from ordinary pastoral ministry, to her proclamation to those who have abandoned the Christian faith and, in particular, to those who do not know Jesus Christ or have always rejected Him. In the essential work of new evangelization, it is now more than ever necessary to recognize and value the numerous charisms capable of reawakening and nourishing the life of faith of the People of God” (Iuvenescit Ecclesia, 1, citing Evangelii Gaudium, 20-24).
The presence and work of these groups with their particular charisms reminds us that rather than thinking of a charism as something exclusive to an individual or group, which separates the person or group from the rest of the community, charisms serve to build up the kingdom of God. Our prayer today is that God will continue to bless all the ecclesial movements so that all of us together, walking in the light of Christ and empowered by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, might support each other in that great pilgrimage of faith that leads us one day to our eternal home.