A Little Primer on Charisms as seen in an animated video

"Taisten-Tabernakelbildstock 04"  by Wolfgang Sauber - Own work.  Licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Taisten-Tabernakelbildstock 04” by Wolfgang Sauber – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The video below illustrates a charism gone wrong. More on the video in a moment, but first, let us consider what a charism is and why it is important to properly understand it.

Charisms are a type of grace which God gives to individuals for ministry, for service.  As such, they are not so much given to the individual for the individual’s sake, but for the sake of others. St. Thomas calls the charisms  gratia gratis data. (grace freely given). These graces given “freely” in the sense that they are not given to the individual on account of some merit, or as some personal reward that God bestows. Rather, God bestows these gifts “freely” on certain individuals, for the sake of the wider community, and for that benefit, rather than because the individual receiving the grace particularly deserves it.

Therefore, some receive the gift to preach, some to teach, some receive great musical or artistic skills. Still others have a kind of genius of some technical expertise, some are magnificent problem solvers, others are great counselors, and so forth. Individuals receive gifts such as these for the sake of the Church, and even the wider community. And again,  it is fundamentally for the sake of others that God bestows these gifts on individuals.

It is certainly true, that if an individual uses their charisms, their gifts, well and generously, they can be the path to holiness. But frankly, not everyone with charisms does this well. And God does not necessarily remove the gift on account of that. This is because, as we have emphasized, he gives it primarily for the sake of others.

Most of us have had the experience of perhaps being greatly blessed by the gifts that someone had, only to discover later that they were real scoundrels! This does not deny the fact that they had the gift. Only they did not apparently benefit them personally. Just because someone sings well does not mean they are a saint. The same is true for preaching, teaching etc.

Those who have charisms, and we all have them, must be careful not to become egotistical, and arrogant about them. They are given by God freely, not because we are particularly deserving, or somehow better than others. If anything, the presence of a charism should be a source of humility for us. And it should make us realize that we have the gift for the sake of others, not for our own glory.

And realizing this, we must accept the implication of generously using our gifts for the sake of the others, for whom they are ultimately intended. In so doing, we respect the fact that the gift does not belong to us, but ultimately to God. And thus we must use the gift as God intended, namely for others, not for our own glory.

The charisms are distinct from sanctifying grace (gratia gratum faciens) which is given to us for own sake. Sanctifying Grace is the grace that God gives us to make us pleasing to him, to make us holy. But as we have already seen, the charisms  and have a rather different intention and purpose.

And now to the video. As a video opens we see a violinist, in the town square. He seems a bit down on his luck, and begins to play, hoping to get a few coins.

Frankly, his talent is only average, but it is a talent, it is a charism. It is not utterly wrong for those with charisms to in some way benefit financially from them. Scripture says elsewhere, the laborer deserves his wage (1 Tim 5:18). And in that passage, St. Paul with speaking of preachers, and preaching is certainly a charism. So our violinist is using his gift, hoping perhaps for a little extra money.

Things get dark very quickly however. A sinister figure, quite clearly the devil, enters the scene and tempts the man to gravely misunderstand his charism.

In effect, the devil, tempts the man’s vanity (vainglory), tempts the violinist to think that his gift is really only for his glory, for his self aggrandizement. He tempts the violinist to think that his charism exists only for himself, and his own glory, rather than for the good and building up of others.

He offers our average violinist a potion that will make him a great virtuoso, and he will have fame and glory all for his own sake rather than for others. Yes, his charism will become all about him, and him alone.

The violinist eagerly takes the potion and drinks it down. In so doing, he has failed to read the warning on the bottle that says of indulging his fantasy and his egocentric dream: “You will have to pay for it later.”

And as he drinks, suddenly his dream is realized. He is on a stage, all by himself, and he is a virtuoso. His brief playing brings a thunderous applause.

It is interesting, he’s an absolute soloist. He is not even part of a larger Symphony Orchestra with a solo part, he is all alone on stage.  His glory is shared with no one. It really is all about him.

Quickly, his sample dream is over, and he is presented again by the devil with a chance for more personal glory. He eagerly grasps the potion, once again ignoring the warning that he will have to pay for it, and eagerly drinks it.

The video ends with the man all alone in the desert with his violin. He can play all he wants, but there is no one to hear him. He’s quite alone, no one will applaud.

And thus the full payment is exacted when we live only for ourselves, and care only for our own glory. And what is the payment? We end up quite alone When we live only for ourselves, we ultimately get what we want, only ourselves. We end up in a lonely, isolated hell. The payment, is to get exactly what we want. And getting what we want, rather than what God wants is hell.

God gives us charisms for the sake of others. If we understand them properly, we will give him the glory, and use them to relate to others, to bless others, to live for and with others also enjoying their charisms. And if we do this, our charisms, given to us not for our sake, can interact with the sanctifying grace that is given to us for our own sake. But if we do not use them this way, they can lead to our downfall.

Quite a little video actually one the powerfully illustrates it in the end, Hell is to get what we want, rather than what God wants. And one path to Hell is to live only for our own glory, and what want we will get. But the only problem is, we will go to a place filled with a lot of other egocentric people. And the “kingdom” we inherit, will be an awfully tiny kingdom, the kingdom of one, the kingdom of our own sorry, selfish self.

The video ends in hell, and this sort of hell is very lonely place.

14 Replies to “A Little Primer on Charisms as seen in an animated video”

  1. I was under the impression that charisms were distinct from talents, the former being supernatural and the latter being natural. So prophecy would be a charism, but math ability would be a talent. Of course, either can be misused, but I doubt the Devil could give a real charism, any more than he could give any other grace. A natural talent, on the other hand, would probably be doable for him.

    1. On the other hand. St Paul lists adminstration etc among the charisms. I would personally avoid over-technical distinctions and allow the concept to be a little more open-ended. For example, one who sings in Church, is this mere talent, or are they also interpreting the word for us, and perhaps moving us to lay hold more deeply of what the Lord is saying, are they also then in some sense in the role of prophet etc. Hence there is overlap in talent and charisms etc.

  2. “Take what you want . . . and pay for it.”–Spanish proverb. A lot of good people end up alone in this world. Neat how you connected charisms with sanctifying Grace.

  3. Msg, this is a very negative article on charisms which the Catechism #799 describes as “graces of the Holy Spirit”.

    You also state that “The charisms are distinct from sanctifying grace” while the Catechism #2003 states that “charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace” and hence should not be dismissed lightly.

    At this time leading up to Pentecost it would perhaps have been better to place your emphasis on the charisms as gifts of the Holy Spirit to help build up the church, rather than on the fact that people who receive these gifts are not perfect.

    Alan Shreck, in his book Your Life in the Holy Spirit, writes:

    In his treatise On Baptism, Tertullian, a church father of the third century, instructs the neophytes (the newly baptized):

    When you come up from the most sacred bath of the new birth, when you spread out your hands for the first time in your mother’s house with your brethren, ask your Father, ask your Lord, for the special gift of his inheritance, the distributed charisms, which form an additional, underlying feature (of baptism). Ask, he says, and you shall receive.

    Alleluia, we should all pray to receive the charisms!

    1. I am not sure why you see the article as negative. Neither do I see that you and I have disagreement. Perhaps my question is why you are “negative” in your assessment of the article. Regarding “distinct,” I very clearly state the orientation of the charisms to Sanctifying grace in the article, but there is no necessary conflict between the word distinct and oriented. Perhaps English is not your first language? Further, who is lightly dismissing the Charisms?

      IOW I really do not see your objections at all.

      1. We actually had a workshop on knowing your charisms and how to use them. You article here is a great follow-up to what I learned from the workshop. Thank you, Msgr. Pope for this and I will surely share this with my friends and fellow attendees. One of the best take-home message for me is how to be humble in the knowledge that God gave us these charisms not for ourselves but for others.

        Permit me to say, though, that it does take a certain level of maturity in the faith to accept that there is a cosequence to not aligning ourselves to God’s will and plan. We need to be reminded always on the reality of hell. And, yes, it is a good reminder for the anticipation of Pentecost.

  4. Charisma is the gift of GOD and so is talent. Both when offered for the Glory of GOD become Grace par exellence which build the Body of CHRIST, for in HIM we live and move and have our being. I use to stutter and really nervous speaking to few people even just to another person. Now I can speak in church full of people sharing them of the story of my life, how GOD took hold of me and my family away from sin. I now am a suffering servant of GOD and I offer my infirmities for HIS Glory and for salvation of disintegrating families. Pax et Bonum.

  5. “And getting what we want, rather than what God wants his hell.”


  6. I agree with what you have written here Msgr. Pope. If we are not well grounded in humility and trying to be deeply honest about ourselves and our motives, we too can end up in a desert, playing to no one. Pride is a terrible and insidious component of our psyches. As Christians, we must always be vigilant and aware of our deepest thoughts. The charisms are precious gifts, designed to edify and change lives for the better. Others lives. We are but tools, empty vessels eagerly awaiting the filling of the light of Christ. If God has graced me with charisms, it is through NO merit of my own. We would do well to remember this. It is never about us anyway.

  7. I just want to say: thank you Monsignor! and on this holy week before Pentecost and this day before Our Lady of Fatima…. I pray that the Holy Spirit show me (and all others who believe in Jesus Christ their Savior and Mary His Mother)…show me, show us our mission, our job, our humble contribution to the salvation of souls, the consolation of Jesus and the glory of God….come Holy Spirit, renew us and SHOW US, PIERCE OUR HEARTS WITH YOUR TRUTH!!! I am so grateful for everything! Sincerely, Diane Wyder

  8. We should pray for those entering the desert, whether of their own volition, or not, consecrated, or not.

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