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Lay charisms build up the Church

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 9 March 1994 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In the preceding catecheses we focused on the sacramental basis of the laity's ministries and roles in the Church: Baptism, Confirmation and, for many, the sacrament of Matrimony. It is an essential point in the theology of the lay state, linked to the Church's sacramental structure. However, now we must add that the Holy Spirit, the giver of every gift and the first principle of the Church's vitality, does not only work through the sacraments. According to St. Paul, he distributes to each his own gifts as he wills (cf. 1 Cor 12:11), pouring out into the People of God a great wealth of graces both for prayer and contemplation and for action. They are charisms. Lay people receive them too, especially in relation to their mission in the Church and society. The Second Vatican Council stated this in connection with St. Paul: "The Holy Spirit...distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church, according to the words of the Apostle: 'The manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit' (1 Cor 12:7)" (LG 12).

2. St Paul highlighted the multiplicity and variety of charisms in the early Church: some are extraordinary, such as healings, the gift of prophecy or that of tongues. Others are simpler, given for the ordinary fulfillment of the tasks assigned in the community (cf. 1 Cor 12:7-10).

As a result of Paul's text, charisms are often thought of as extraordinary gifts, which primarily marked the beginning of the Church's life. The Second Vatican Council called attention to charisms in their quality as gifts belonging to the ordinary life of the Church and not necessarily having an extraordinary or miraculous nature. The Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici also spoke of charisms as gifts that can be "exceptional and great or simple and ordinary" (n. 24). In addition, it should be kept in mind that the primary or principal aim of many charisms is not the personal sanctification of those who receive them, but the service of others and the Church's welfare. Certainly they also aim at and serve the growth of personal holiness, but in an essentially altruistic and communitarian perspective. This belongs to the Church's organic dimension in that it concerns the growth of Christ's Mystical Body.

3. As St Paul told us and the Council repeated, these charisms result from the free choice and gift of the Holy Spirit, in whose property as the first and substantial Gift within the trinitarian life they share. In a special way the Triune God shows his sovereign power in the gifts. This power is not subject to any antecedent rule, to any particular discipline or to a plan of interventions established once and for all. According to St. Paul, he distributes his gifts to each "as he wills" (1 Cor 12:11). It is an eternal will of love, whose freedom and gratuitousness is revealed in the action carried out by the Holy Spirit-Gift in the economy of salvation. Through this sovereign freedom and gratuitousness, charisms are also given to the laity, as the Church's history shows (cf. CL 24).

We cannot but admire the great wealth of gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit on lay people as members of the Church in our age as well. Each of them has the necessary ability to carry out the tasks to which he is called for the welfare of the Christian people and the world's salvation, if he is open, docile and faithful to the Holy Spirit's action.

4. However, we must also turn our attention to another aspect of St. Paul's teaching and that of the Church, an aspect that applies to every type of ministry and to charisms--their diversity and variety cannot harm unity. "There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries but the same Lord" (1 Cor 12:4-5). Paul asked that these differences be respected because not everyone can expect to carry out the same role contrary to God's plan and the Spirit's gift, and contrary to the most elementary laws of any social structure. However, the Apostle equally stressed the need for unity, which itself answers a sociological demand, but which in the Christian community should even more be a reflection of the divine unity. One Spirit, one Lord, thus, one Church!

5. At the beginning of the Christian era extraordinary things were accomplished under the influence of charisms, both the extraordinary ones and those which could be called little, humble, everyday charisms. This has always been the case in the Church and is so in our era as well, generally in a hidden way, but sometimes in a striking way, when God desires it for the good of his Church. In our day, as in the past, a great number of lay people have contributed to the Church's spiritual and pastoral growth. We can say that there are many people who, because of their charisms, work as good, genuine witnesses of faith and love.

It is to be hoped that all will reflect on this transcendent value of eternal life already present in their work, if it is carried out in fidelity to their vocation and with docility to the Holy Spirit who lives and acts in their hearts. This realization can only serve as a stimulus, support and comfort especially for those who, out of fidelity to a holy vocation, are involved in serving the common good, in establishing justice, in improving the living conditions of the poor and needy, in taking care of the disabled, in welcoming refugees and in achieving peace throughout the world.

6. In the Church's community life and pastoral practice, charisms must be recognized but also discerned, as the Synod Fathers recalled in 1987 (cf. CL 24). Certainly, the Spirit "blows where he wills"; one can never expect to impose rules and conditions on him. The Christian community, however, has the right to be informed by its pastors about the authenticity of charisms and the reliability of those who claim to have received them. The Council recalled the need for prudence in this area, especially when it is a question of extraordinary charisms (cf. LG 12).

The Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici stressed that "no charism dispenses a person from reference and submission to the Pastors of the Church" (CL 24). These norms of prudence are easily understandable and apply to all, both clerics and lay people.

7. That having been said, we would like to repeat with the Council and the exhortation cited above that "Charisms should be received in gratitude both on the part of the one who receives them, and also on the part of the entire Church" (CL 24). From these charisms there arises "for each believer the right and duty to use them in the Church and in the world for the good of men and the building up of the Church" (AA 3). This right is based on the Spirit's gift and the Church's validation. It is a duty stemming from the very fact of the gift received, which creates a responsibility and demands a commitment.

The history of the Church shows that whenever charisms are real, sooner or later they are recognized and can carry out their constructive, unifying role. It is a role, let us recall once again, that the majority of the Church's members, clerical and lay, effectively fulfill each day for the good of us all."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers frères et sœurs,

Aux personnes de langue française présentes ici ce matin, j’adresse un salut très cordial. J’invite tous les jeunes étudiants et étudiantes venus de divers établissements de France à profiter de leur séjour à Rome pour renouveler leur intention de suivre le Christ, lumière du monde, afin d’être ses témoins auprès de ceux qui, dans notre société, cherchent à donner un sens à leur vie.

A tous, jeunes et adultes, je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di espressione inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to the priests from the United States taking part in a programme of theological renewal at the Pontifical North American College. My greeting goes also to the pilgrimage group from the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially from England, Canada and the United States, I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ad alcuni pellegrini giapponesi

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!
Dilettissimi pellegrini, studentesse e Membri del “Mushakoji-Senke”.

La finalità di un pellegrinaggio e della cerimonia del tè hanno un uguale significato. Occorre raccogliere il frutto di questa finalità nella vita di ogni giorno, altrimenti perderebbe il suo vero senso. Desiderando vivamente che voi portiate questi frutti nella vostra vita, vi benedico di cuore.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai fedeli di espressione tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grübe ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Grub gilt den Absolventen des Aufbaustudienganges ”Lizentiat im kanonischen Recht“ an der Universität Münster, den orthodoxen Studenten des Ostkirchlichen Istituts in Regensburg, den Pilgern der von der Volkshochschule Coesfeld organisierten Romreise sowie der Pfarrei St. Andreas Ochsenfurt. Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen zu Hause sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española. En particular, al grupo de la Arquidiócesis de Puebla de los Ángeles (México) y a las alumnas del Colegio de la Consolación, de Castellón (España).

A todas las personas, familias y grupos procedentes de los diversos países de América Latina y de España imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Saúdo com afecto os peregrinos de língua portuguesa aqui presentes. Convido todos a deixarem-se conduzir, até à Páscoa da Ressurreição, pela luz do Espírito Santo, através da reconciliação e da penitência, autêntica fonte de concórdia e de amor fraternos. A todos, graça, paz e alegria em Cristo, numa feliz Páscoa!

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Pozdrawiam młodzież oazową z Krakowa i Niepołomic, z Wrocławia - parafię św. Augustyna, z Sycowa - grupę nauczycieli oraz pielgrzymów z parafii św. Piotra i Pawła w diecezji kaliskiej, grupę pracowników “ Mostostalu ” ze Szwajcarii, z Frankfurtu nad Menem - Polska Misja Katolicka, prócz tego grupy turystyczne z Krakowa, Opola i Gdańska - z Gdańska Radio Plus - oraz inni uczestnicy tej audiencji, pochodzący bądź z kraju, bądź z emigracji.

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana

Mi è gradito porgere ora un cordiale benvenuto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana. Sono lieto, in particolare, di rivolgere il mio affettuoso saluto ai Diaconi dell’arcidiocesi di Milano, qui convenuti assieme ai loro educatori. Carissimi, auspico che la visita alle Tombe degli Apostoli rimanga nel vostro cuore come una forte esperienza spirituale che vi aiuti a ben prepararvi all’importante ed ormai prossima tappa dell’Ordinazione sacerdotale.

Il mio pensiero va poi alle rappresentanti dell’“International Inner Wheel Club” di Roma sud-ovest, che con questa visita hanno voluto ricordare la “Giornata della Donna”, celebratasi ieri. A voi tutte esprimo il mio incoraggiamento per il vostro impegno cristiano e vi esorto a proseguire generosamente nel promuovere, con la vostra testimonianza, i valori morali e spirituali.

Un particolare saluto desidero rivolgere ai numerosi giovani, quasi mille, provenienti dal Liceo scientifico di San Benedetto del Tronto, accompagnati dal loro Vescovo e che, con la loro massiccia presenza, desiderano esprimere il loro speciale attaccamento alla Chiesa e portano al Papa la loro gioia autentica.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Ed ora, saluto voi, giovani, ammalati e sposi novelli presenti a questa Udienza.

Oggi facciamo memoria di Santa Francesca Romana, donna mirabile per l’amore alla famiglia ed ai poveri, nel solco di san Benedetto. Seppe unire la preghiera costante al servizio generoso dei fratelli e le sue Oblate di Tor de’ Specchi conservano viva la proposta di un’esistenza spesa per il Signore e per i fratelli.

Santa Francesca Romana accompagni e benedica le famiglie, specialmente quelle da poco formate, i giovani ed i malati, moltiplicando in tutti lo sforzo di vita spirituale e di cristiana solidarietà.

Vi accompagni la mia Benedizione.

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