According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Holy Spirit is “the principle of every vital and truly saving action in each part of the Body.” He works in many ways to build up the whole Body in charity: by God’s Word “which is able to build you up”; by Baptism, through which he forms Christ’s Body; by the sacraments, which give growth and healing to Christ’s members; by “the grace of the apostles, which holds first place among his gifts”; by the virtues, which make us act according to what is good; finally, by the many special graces (called “charisms”), by which he makes the faithful “fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church.” (798)

“Charism” is the Greek word used in the New Testament for “favor” or “gratuitous gift.” Charisms, or spiritual gifts, are special abilities given to all Christians by the Holy Spirit to give them power both to represent Christ and to be a channel of God’s goodness for people. Whether extraordinary or ordinary, all charisms ought to be exercised in the service of God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2003).

In Acts 2: 1-4, we read, “When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”

Just as it was at Pentecost, the source of all charisms come from the one and the same Holy Spirit. As we are all unique individuals, we receive different charisms from God as a free gift, and at differing circumstances of our lives, are called to express or to exercise these charisms in service of God and for the building of the Kingdom of God. The Work of God that each person receives will be the work that only each of us can fulfil in relation to the larger and unified working of the whole body of Christ, his Church. The end goal, being not to exult the self, but to bring about the unity of the Holy Spirit in the Church. As St Paul says, “And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ…” (Ephesians 4: 11-13)

A Charism is also defined as what makes up the identity, the essence, and the spirit of a community. As it was at the Pentecost, this charism of the community is the driving wind, the energy behind what makes a community a community. As the Holy Spirit is behind this, individuals are placed together not by chance or by accident, but obedient to the Holy Spirit, they may exercise their individual charisms effectively, which in turn builds up the charism of the community. This charism of the community then defines the work and the ministry of the community, and helps in the articulation of the why and how a community does the work it does. (Sr. Annie Klapheke, SC) This can be seen clearly in how religious congregations are founded and built upon the charisms which have come to allow us to know each congregation in a special way. For example, a Lasallian congregation is a teaching order, and they are defined by their charism of education, teaching, and founding schools. Via the providence of God, these congregational charisms help the community respond to the signs of the times.

While Catholics have had much success in discerning individual charisms, such as through the Called and Gifted programme offered by the Catherine of Siena Institute, in general, Catholics are pretty lousy when it comes to group or community discernment. There is a lack of true discernment on a community-level, and Catholics find it difficult when it comes to identifying those in the community who have the unique spiritual gifts ordered to the various ministries of service in the Church. This leads to people joining ministries or communities, not after a process of discernment, but for superficial reasons – oh my spouse is here in this ministry and so I would like to be with her. These reasons in themselves may not be bad, and I use the terms ministry and community interchangeably here, as there are interwoven together, as one cannot exist without the other. Nonetheless, as the person has not spent time in discerning his or her gifts, charisms, strengths, and weaknesses, after joining a ministry or community, may actually be drained by it, and find themselves wondering why they joined it to begin with as it has proven to be a fit that was not the right fit for them.

There is also a lack of spending time and getting to know the community. While there are superficial gatherings of the people when the time comes for them to function as the Liturgy functions, say the lectors meet every week on a Sunday Mass, and carry out their ministry dutifully, the ministries are simply that – functional. There is no attempt to build bonds or to get to know each other on a deeper level, and the sharings, if any, stop short on the surface. We rarely know the hobbies of a another person in ministry, their struggles, and their achievements, what drives them, what energises them… the ministry or community has not yet attained to a level of honesty or vulnerability that may allow them to be candid about their struggles say with sin, or their emotions about certain situations and circumstances.

Last, Catholics also have a tendency to be every where and at every time. They are stretched thin, and serving in multiple ministries, can barely give their focus and be at their optimum and maximum potential of service to that particular ministerial work. This lack of focus is dangerous, as this may lead to burn out. The religious congregations tend to fair better and for example have a certain level of clarity when it comes to charisms, for example the charism of the Benedictines and the Cistercians is founded on the Rule of St. Benedict, with an emphasis on Work and Prayer. While they may found schools and teach, it is not something that they would do, as that is a charism that is reserved for a different religious congregation. In that way, a charism may be seen as a specialism – a celebration of something the community is really good at, an exercise of the good stewardship of that gift and charism, and a multiplying of the gifts needed to exercise this charism effectively. Catholic Church employees ironically bear the brunt of this flawed and generalist approach. For example, a worker is hired as someone who tends to the pastoral and spiritual growth of the congregation, as a pastoral coordinator, but instead spends his or her time doing things which are not his or her strengths or giftings, or job description at all. For example, with website development, general administration, maintenance of the church compounds, accounts, rather than the actual work that he or she is hired for. In comparison, our Protestant brethren appear to be celebrating more successfully the unique fit of each individual. The specialism and training of a person are celebrated. For example, the sound technician is hired simply for that, as the sound technician, and he or she is not doing the million and one things that are not part of his or her job scope. Unfortunately, many Catholic Churches still tend to a one-size fits all approach, and Catholic offices and institutions are by and large severely understaffed or manned by a one-man-show.

This works to our own detriment. We see in Acts 6: 1-4, ‘At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”’ The early Church recognised that it was not sustainable for some things to work out, if they did not have the right deployment of Human Resources, and hence started the discernment process to anoint deacons who could do the set task well.

As we come together as a community of faith and prayer, there is truly a need to discern together as a community, the charism of the community. When the different parts of the Body do their part faithfully as they were ordained to do, in the context of a community, this creates an environment where they parts of the Body can function at their optimum best, which in turn over-all harmony and well-being of the community. (Especkerman) The community is then able to minister effectively to others by exercising their community’s unique charism.

By the Grace of God,

Brian Bartholomew Tan


  1. Especkerman, Genevieve Ruth. “Gifts and Charisms in Community”.  Office for Young People.
  2. Sr. Annie Klapheke, SC, “What is Charism?”. Catholic Cincinnati
  3. Mickens, Robert. “The Church must learn to discern Charisms for service”. La Croix International
  4. Catherine of Siena Institute
  5. Catechism of the Catholic Church 798, 2003