Monday, February 9, 2009

What is a charism?

I remember last fall walking with my friend Greg down a Seattle street on a lovely evening. Even though we are not friends on Facebook, we are companions and so our discussion turned to charisms in the church. The context of the topic of charisms was our talking about the charism given by the Holy Spirit to Msgr. Luigi Giussani, which is known as Communion & Liberation, or CL. CL is the umbrella for the manifold dimensions of his charism; it includes GA- the Adult Group, GS- the high school students, CLU- the university students and, of course, Memores Domini- an order of men and women who live vowed lives of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but in the world, usually in Memores Domini houses. Finally, there is the Priestly Fraternity of the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo, a religious order of men. Giussani was also the co-founder of the Sisters of Charity of the Assumption. Part of the nature of the charism shared by members of the Fraternity of CL is to use words and terms that are familiar to people in these late modern times. For example, instead of using charism to describe what has been vouchsafed to us by the Holy Spirit through Msgr. Giussani, we often use the term method. We use method because the charism is about answering the question Is It Possible to Live This Way? in the affirmative; "this way" meaning in the Christian way, living intentional lives of discipleship which arises from our own personal encounter with the risen Lord. Living this way does not permit us to exclude any part of our experience. Hence, experience is the method we use to verify the Christian fact, which is nothing other than the Paschal Mystery of Christ's Incarnation through the Blessed Virgin Mary, his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Spirit. Living "this way" requires the recognition up-front that I cannot do it alone, even that I do not want to do it alone. So, I seek companionship along the road to destiny. CL is a companionship.

We talked about the fact that so few people know what a charism is, how they have operated in the church, and the relevancy of certain charisms in the church and for the world today. This represents no defect in any body's person, it is a matter of education, or lack of it. This is why I really like what Fred has posted over on la nouvelle théologie: What Do We Mean when We Refer to Charisms of Orders or Movements in the Church?, which consists of a few salient parts of a conversation that took place between the late Hans Urs Von Balthasar and Angelo Scola, who has since gone on to become the cardinal Patriarch of Venice. It is a good catechesis on charisms.

I would also draw your attention to another post by Fred on la nouvelle, in which he develops something I briefly alluded to in my homily last week, virtue and the role that habit plays in acquiring them: Habit of Awareness I.


  1. I really liked your homily.

    Re: charisms, Balthasar really stresses the way these charisms are freely distributed among the baptized by the Holy Spirit. Although the lay-ness of movements is more clearly seen in the last 60 years or so, the historical orders were often lay people who gathered together to live in community, but over time (and for some relatively good reasons), a certain clericalization has happened.

    This clericalization has taken its toll. Even today, folks in the parish think that nuns are ordained into religious life!

  2. I agree. I hope we see more of a recognition of this as time goes on.


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