1. The New
Testament testifies to the presence of charisms and ministries
inspired by the Holy Spirit in the various Christian communities.
The Acts of the Apostles, for example, describe the Christian
community of Antioch in this way: “in the church at Antioch there
were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Symeon who was called Niger,
Lucius of Cyre'ne, Man'a-en a member of the court of Herod the
tetrarch, and Saul” (Acts 13:1).
The community of Antioch appears as a living reality in which two
distinct roles emerge: that of prophets, who discern and announce
God’s ways, and that of doctors, that is teachers, who properly
examine and expound the faith. In the former, one might recongize a
more charismatic aspect, in the latter a more institutional tone,
but in both cases the same obedience to God’s Spirit. Moreover, this
interweaving of the charismatic and institutional elements can be
perceived at the very origins of the Antioch community — which came
into being after the death of Stephen and following the dispersion
of the Christians — where several brothers had even preached the
Good News to pagans, bringing about many conversions. Hearing of
this event, the mother community of Jerusalem had delegated Barnabus
to pay a visit to the new community. Furthermore, says Luke, when he
saw the grace of the Lord, “he was glad; and he exhorted them all to
remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose; for he was a
good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:23-24).
In this episode clearly emerges the twofold method with which the
Spirit of God governs the Church: on the one hand, he directly
encourages the activity of believers by revealing new and
unprecedented ways to proclaim the Gospel, on the other, he provides
an authentication of their work through the official intervention of
the Church, represented here by the work of Barnabus, who was sent
bythe mother community of Jerusalem.
2. St Paul, in particular, reflects deeply on charisms and
ministries. He does so especially in chapters 12-14 of his First
Letter to the Corinthians. On the basis of this text, one can gather
certain elements in order to set out a correct theology of charisms.
Primarily the fundamental criterion of discernment is established by
Paul, a criterion which could be described as “Christological”: a
charism is not genuine unless it leads to proclaiming that Jesus
Christ is Lord (cf. 12:1-3).
Paul then goes on immediately to stress the variety of charisms, and
the unity of their origin: “There are varieties of gifts, but the
same Spirit” (12:4). The gifts of the Spirit, which he distributes
“as he wills” (12:11), can be numerous, and Paul provides a list of
them (cf. 12:8-10), which obviously does not claim to be complete.
The Apostle then teaches that the diversity of charisms must not
create divisions, and for this reason compares them to the various
members of the one body (cf. 12:12-27). The Church’s unity is
dynamic and organic, and all the gifts of the Spirit are important
for the vitality of the Body as a whole.
3. Paul teaches, on the other hand, that God has established a
hierarchy in the Church (cf. 12:28): first come the “apostles”, then
the “prophets”, then the “teachers”. These three positions are
fundamental and are listed in order of importance.
The Apostle then warns that the distribution of gifts is
diversified: not everyone has this or that charism (cf. 12:29-30);
each has his own (cf. 7:7) and must accept it with gratitude,
generously putting it at the service of the community. This search
for communion is dictated by love which continues to be the “best
way” and the greatest gift (cf. 13:13), without which charisms lose
all their value (cf. 13:1-3).
4. Charisms are therefore graces bestowed by the Holy Spirit on
certain members of the faithful to prepare them to contribute to the
common good of the Church.
The variety of charisms corresponds to the variety of services,
which can be temporary or permanent, private or public. The ordained
ministries of Bishops, priests and deacons, are permanent and
publicly recognized services. The lay ministries, founded on Baptism
and Confirmation, can receive from the Church, through the Bishop,
official or only de facto recognition.
Among the lay ministries we recall those instituted with a
liturgical rite: the offices of lector and acolyte. Then there are
the extraordinary ministers of Eucharistic Communion and those
responsible for ecclesial activities, starting with the catechists,
but we should also remember the “leaders of prayer, song and
liturgy; leaders of basic ecclesial communities and Bible study
groups; those in charge of charitable works; administrators of
Church resources; leaders in the various forms of the apostolate;
religion teachers in schools” (Encyclical Redemptoris missio, n.
5. In accordance with the message of Paul and of the New Testament,
often recalled and illustrated by the Second Vatican Council (cf.
Lumen gentium, n. 12), there is no such thing as one Church
according to a “charismatic model” and another according to an
“institutional model”. As I have had the opportunity to stress on
other occasions, opposition between charism and institution is
“extremely harmful” (cf. Address to participants in the Second
International Conference of Ecclesial Movements, 2 March 1987,
L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 16 March 1987, p. 12).
It is the task of Pastors to discern the authenticity of charisms
and to regulate their exercise in an attitude of humble obedience to
the Spirit, of disinterested love for the Church’s good and of
docile fidelity to the supreme law of the salvation of souls.
To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I extend a special welcome to the many pilgrims present with the
Maltese Union for the Transport of the Sick to Lourdes. Upon all the
English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Japan,
Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malta and the United States of America, I invoke
the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
After greeting the faithful in various languages, the Holy Father
expressed his grief at the assassination of a priest in Haiti on
Monday, 3 August.
Lastly, with deep sorrow I would like to recall that another priest
was assassinated last Monday: Fr Jean Pierre Louis, from the
Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince in Haiti. In view of this new,
deprecable episode of violence, I invite you to pray that the Lord
receive this brother of ours in his kingdom and that he support the
beloved nation of Haiti and all humanity in the commitment to
respect every human life.
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