Earlier this year while volunteering at a Frassati Fellowship dinner, I chatted with one of the Franciscan Friars. Almost immediately after meeting me, he plainly said, “You enjoy writing, don’t you?” As my roommate later explained, Brother Gabriel occasionally gets “words of knowledge,” a charism (also known as prophecy) in which the Holy Spirit speaks through a person.
At the time, I hadn’t heard of charisms, but I had definitely come in contact with them. I thought of the words of knowledge at a healing Mass, my spiritual director’s incredible gift of counsel and Antonti Gaudi’s gift of craftsmanship at the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Spain.
It should be noted that charisms differ from the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Isaiah 11 and Galatians 5, which are meant to be kept and used as a part of our spiritual toolkit. Even though the act of using charisms can be energizing and joyful, they serve others. We’re all given at least one charism by the Holy Spirit through baptism and confirmation, and the individual is more of a vessel for the Holy Spirit’s supernatural gift. Charisms are freely given, meaning they don’t need to be earned in any way.
My roommate thought Brother Gabriel saw my potential charism of writing, which she also believed I had. This comment shocked me as I had not shown her any of my personal essays, journaling or professional writing. But again, she saw it on my heart: “I’ve seen you write things out, and it seems to come easy to you, flowing.”
She planned to start a small group discerning our charisms, but unfortunately life got in the way. I traveled for work, which was subsequently shut down due to the pandemic. I moved out of our apartment and temporarily back in with my family in Texas to quarantine. I was feeling emotionally and physically stagnant, though, and felt a calling to dive into discerning my charisms on my own.
I pored through resources. I took a charism quiz/inventory, went on a long walk thinking about my previous experiences with writing and charisms, started a journal solely dedicated to charisms, and spent two hours weekly working on this discernment process.
I expected discernment to be like a book club. I would read the book, chat with my friends about what gift I have, and immediately begin using it like a magical gift from God. Instead, it worked as a different type of gift. For me, the discerning process was a slow, winding road of growing closer to myself and God.
During this time, I uncovered deeply buried fears and anxieties — the fear that I needed to earn my gift or that I was unworthy of it, a reemerging struggle with depression, the fear that I’m not discerning or using my charism correctly, etc.
I think the strongest thing we can do to live our faith amid desolation is to continue returning to prayer and to God even when we’re not feeling it, and that’s what I did. Honesty has been my biggest tool in growing closer to God. If I’m letting outside voices in too much, and I don’t feel like I can honestly say “I trust you” to God, I instead say “I want to trust you fully.”
At times, this process has felt like I’m taking one step forward and two steps back. For a while, I had to take a step back altogether and focus on self-care, prayer and gratitude. But this process has also made me grow in confidence that this is what God is calling me to do, that I’m exactly where I should be. God met me where I was to provide me with the resources at the perfect times — talks that I’ve stumbled upon that speak directly to my heart, reminding me to be aware of movements and counter movements in my life, and recognizing the power of charisms in others. In order to use my potential gift of writing for others, I need to be on a path of healing, resting, and trusting in God on my own as well.
For those interested in learning more about discerning their charisms, check out the Catherine of Siena Institute and see if they have a Called and Gifted Workshop near you.