A line of Scripture that should give every believer a moment’s pause is found in today’s second reading for the Solemnity of Pentecost. In his first letter to the church at Corinth, St. Paul writes challengingly: “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” Sometimes the Spirit’s gifts are quite evident. St. Charles de Foucauld’s love of prayerful desert solitude is fairly easy to discern. Mother Katherine Drexel’s eagerness to improve the lot of Black and Native Americans is part of history. Bishop Fulton Sheen’s eloquence is undeniable. St. Maria Goretti’s respect for bodily chastity is indeed praiseworthy. Still many believers will no doubt scratch their own head while pondering the exact nature of their own particular spiritual endowment. What about the average man in the pew every Sunday or the typical mother in the cry room with her newborn? Or what about the parish priest at the altar every day or the religious sister giving comfort measures to the dying? St. Paul clearly means that each believer has a charism, a talent, a spiritual knack if you will, that helps build up the Christian community.
Some believers have been canonized for exercising their “manifestation of the Spirit.” Many faithful persons will themselves only learn of their God-given talent on the last day when the hearts of all are laid bare. The prayers they offered, the advice they shared, the example they set, the capabilities they exercised, and the sins they repented all served to make this world a better place to live and a better reflection of the goodness of God. St. Paul, however, prefers not to leave the development of one’s charism to chance. Yes, perhaps there are people who feel productive and fulfilled by a prayerful daily visit to church or a tender concern for the unfortunate. How privileged they are to be able to recognize and to cultivate the presence of the Spirit in their lives! Other believers, in fact, most believers will no doubt require a bit of self-examination to discern the exact nature of their divinely bestowed destiny which will impact, even gently, on Christian life.
In this Sunday’s first reading from Acts, the eleven apostles, a number of disciples, several women, and a band of other believers have been gathered for many days in the familiar Upper Room to discern God’s Will for them in the post-Ascension Christian era. Christ’s instructions had been very clear: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,” recalled St. Matthew. “Be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” remembered St. Luke. “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,” remarked St. John. “Proclaim the gospel to every creature,” reflected St. Mark. Yes! Convert the world! The message is clear! But where does one begin?
The conversion of the world begins with prayer. The Apostolic band had wisely gathered in the Upper Room to pray, ponder, and determine God’s Will through reflection and discernment. Their prayerful environment allowed them to recognize the Spirit when he chose to descent on them. Prayer opened their hearts and their minds to the Spirit, allowing them to appreciate his presence and his message when he arrived. St. John in his Gospel account has Jesus himself offer a similar message on Easter Sunday night in that same upper room. Jesus greets his disciples with the reassuring words, “Peace be with you!!” To acknowledge the Spirit, to know God’s Will, to discern one’s gift, it is necessary to be at peace with God, to enjoy His presence, to be open to his impulses. This means setting aside time for both personal and community prayer.
“Prayer is the raising of our minds and hearts to God,” our childhood catechisms wisely taught. Actually effective prayer reverses that order. First our hearts must be focused on God; he deserves our undivided attention. Prayer is first of all an act of the will, an act of love, an act of placing oneself in the holy Presence of God. Once attuned to God, the mind is free to introduce its needs, its thoughts, its inclinations. It is in this loving and thoughtful mode that the believer will gradually discern his or her own charism. God’s particular providence for each believer is the assured result of God’s Fatherhood. He calls each of his children by name. There is nothing generic about the love of God for his progeny. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you,” God announced through his prophet Isaiah, “I have called you by name: you are mine (43:1).” Convinced of the personal love of God for the individual believer, the prayerful Christian will be led to appreciate God’s personal providence for each man and woman. The believer’s unique destiny in the mind of God will be ever more deeply appreciated. And God’s gifts will happily bear fruit!