Help parishioners discover their gifts

Everyone contributes to the mission—even if they don’t know it

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By Bobby Vidal

Not long ago, I was conducting a discernment interview with a 65-year-old woman. In a discernment interview, a trained interviewer helps a person look objectively at the ways God has used them. The interviewer assists the person by pointing out different patterns in their lived experience that exhibit a charism or gift.

During the interview, the woman was adamant that she was not gifted. Try as I might, I couldn’t draw her out to explore her gifts. Then I asked, “What do you like to do?”

“Well I like to serve the homeless,” she answered.

“And how much time do you give to that service?” I asked.

“Oh, about 40 to 60 hours a week. And sometimes I live with them to help restore their dignity.”

I was astonished. “Is there anything else?” I asked.

“Why, yes. I write to inmates in prison and visit them. I write about 300 letters a month.”

Supernatural gifts
What this woman was doing was not normal! It was supernatural! She had the charism of mercy. Through her practical deeds of compassion, God’s love was relieving the distress of those who suffered.

What was so astonishing to me wasn’t the amount of things she was accomplishing and the huge amount of time she was committing to service. When we use our charisms, we are filled with energy. We can accomplish a lot of things without undue stress and with an enormous amount of success. What was astonishing to me was she didn’t think what she was doing was part of the mission of church.

Discerning charisms helps us to understand our personal significance within the mission of the church. By assisting others in discerning charisms, we are doing more than helping parishioners learn and understand their talents and skills. We are supporting them in developing and uncovering their apostolic identity in Christ.

Any parish leader or volunteer serving for a number of years may find several themes that constantly are the source of conversation in pastoral planning. The general concerns are usually focused on questions such as: How do we…

  • motivate parishioners to participate and give?
  • ignite a fire and passion for ministry?
  • address the shortage of vocations?
  • make adult formation the central focus of the parish?
  • instill in others that formation is lifelong and beyond merely sacramental preparation?
  • provide others with an encounter with Christ?
  • get the parish community to look beyond itself and serve the secular world?

If we take a deep look into each of these concerns, we find the heart of the matter is really a question of mission.

As parish leaders, we need to awaken within all the baptized the ability to consciously see, think, feel, and live out the mission of the church. But how? The discernment of charisms is a vital solution to our concerns!

Clues to our mission
As we discover our charisms, we are given clues to our personal vocation and unique mission. When God calls us to a work of love, God also equips us supernaturally to carry out the call.

That was made clear to us in one of our discernment groups as the discovery of one woman’s vocation unfolded right before our eyes. The woman told us about an elderly man who lived on her street. He had been abandoned by his family and ostracized by all of his neighbors. She had taken it upon herself to visit this man an hour or two a week.

When asked what she did when she visited him, she answered that all she did was sit next to him and listen and every now and then tell him how special he was. Someone in the group then asked her how long she had been visiting the man. Her answer fell like a spiritual bomb on the group: 25 years! For 25 years she was the ears and heart of Christ and didn’t even realize it.

She had a charism of encouragement. God’s love was reaching this man through her presence and words of comfort, encouragement, and counsel. This realization was a helpful clue for discerning her vocation because she was standing at a critical stage in her life. Should she continue in a teaching career that was burning her out or pursue a career in counseling? How has God empowered you to transform the world?

What is a charism?
Given to us all at baptism and confirmation, charisms empower us to be effective channels of God’s redemptive and transformative action in the world. Charisms are spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit to build up and further the work of the church. (See 1 Cor 12, Eph 4, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 799.) Translated from a Greek word meaning “a favor” or “gratuitous grace,” charisms are gifts that are focused outward.

When we use a charism, the inner experience is one of joyful satisfaction. We feel we are in our place. The experience is prayerful and contemplative for us; when we engage in its use, we feel that it is an energizing way for us to express our relationship with God. Whether extraordinary or ordinary, charisms have a supernatural effect that is far beyond our natural abilities, talents, and acquired skills.

The discernment of charisms has a powerful effect on the life of an individual and the parish.

Bobby Vidal

Bobby Vidal is the director of evangelization and lay formation at Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Church in Santa Clarita, California. Contact him at