Called and gifted
Discovering your spiritual DNA
By Christina Gray
Lead writer, Catholic San Francisco
Learning about different kinds of spiritual gifts and discerning which of them she might possess has been a complete revelation – and a relief – to Cecile Sabater.
“My initial reaction was, ‘Oh, this is why I am this way,’” said Sabater, a single mother of two and member of both Holy Name of Jesus Parish in San Francisco and St. Robert Parish in San Bruno.
Sabater is one of a group of parishioners now in their second year of Called and Gifted, a three-part charism discernment program available to all parishioners in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Launched by the Catherine of Siena Institute in 1993 as the first charism discernment program specifically for Catholics, it was introduced to local pastors by the archdiocese’s Office of Stewardship in 2021.
Charisms, or spiritual gifts, are special abilities given to all Christians at baptism, empowering them in their own ways to be a channel of God’s goodness for the sake of other people. They are different than natural abilities and aptitudes that are genetic or cultivated and are not “learned.”
Sabater said she often felt self-conscious or somewhat ashamed of her inclinations. “When the world goes to the right side, I go to the left,” she said.
Discovering she had the charisms of Encouragement, Service and Teaching gave her a “huge feeling of relief” about herself and her life’s purpose.
“Called and Gifted is a program that has inspired me to continue to be who I am because the Holy Spirit has given me the gifts I am intended to have in my life,” she said.
Some charisms may seem “extraordinary” (such as prophecy or healing) and others quite “ordinary” (such as administration, service or hospitality), according to siena.org, but all charisms are a gift.
CALLED AND GIFTED: NOT JUST FOR SAINTS
A short video on the Called and Gifted program at siena.org emphasizes that spiritual gifts are “not just for saints,” but for ordinary people.
“All of us have been gifted by God for the sake of others. All of us have a contribution to make to the kingdom of God that is unique and irreplaceable and that really matters. Because somebody out there is waiting, waiting for what you’ve been given to give. And their life hangs in the balance.”
Over 170,000 lay, ordained and religious Catholics in more than 600 parishes, 195 dioceses and five continents, along with other Christians around the world, have been through the Called and Gifted program.
Florian Romero was tapped to lead the Office of Stewardship for the archdiocese in 2017. After going through the Called and Gifted inventory and process herself, she trained as a facilitator. She and more than a dozen other trained parish facilitators are ready to help Catholics in parishes across the archdiocese discern their own charisms.
Called and Gifted includes three parts; a workshop, an interview and in-depth discernment sessions with trained facilitators.
The workshop lays a foundation for discernment by sharing Church teaching on the nature of charisms and introducing the 23 most common ones. It concludes with a personal spiritual gifts inventory. The second phase is the interview, a one-on-one session with a trained peer-facilitator who helps identify patterns that evolve in the inventory that may indicate the presence of a charism. The final step is in-depth discernment, a guided small-group experience discussion led by trained facilitators.
“This is the most responsible way of doing a spiritual gifts inventory,” said Romero. Participants learn not just what their spiritual gifts are, but “we show you what you can do with them.”
Romero said every time she did a spiritual gifts inventory in the past, “the same six things showed up.” Like others, she said Called and Gifted put what she perceived (and she sometimes had been told) were “character flaws” in a whole new light.
She heard she was perhaps “too generous” and could be too welcoming.
“My home was always open” to others, she said. “When I realized hospitality was a spiritual gift, it gave me so much joy. When people realize what they have is a gift, they feel more free and able to share it.”
She said anyone from any parish in the archdiocese is invited to Called and Gifted. For practicality’s sake and for health reasons during the pandemic, some of the workshops and training sessions are done virtually.
For Lucy Kaloucava, a 20-year member of St. Robert Parish in San Bruno, gifts of the Holy Spirit were not a new idea.
“I’m a charismatic,” said the native of Fiji. “Before that, I thought everything I did was done by me, Lucy. I thought it was by my power alone. But no, I have no power without the Holy Spirit.”
When her pastor announced the availability of the Called and Gifted program, she didn’t hesitate.
It can be very hard to recognize spiritual gifts on your own, she said. “You have to be together in an environment like this one.”
Kaloucava has identified her gifts for Evangelization, Teaching, Hospitality and Intercessory Prayer.
The program is “good news,” she said, “because it is really needed in the Church today.”
“There is nothing like this anywhere else in the Catholic world,” said Maria “Riz” Marsella, a two-parish parishioner of St. Anselm Parish in Ross and Star of the Sea Parish in San Francisco. “It will enliven our parishes.”
Marsella discovered her charisms for Hospitality, Service and Administration.
“If there is an upcoming event or a task, I just say, ‘OK, let’s do it, let’s get to work,’” she said. She delegates, she organizes, she executes. “For me that’s easy,” she said.
“I did not realize that what I had was a gift,” she said. “I just thought it was a personality thing.”
She also learned that what is easy for one person is neither easy nor interesting to another. She used the example of the charism of intercessory prayer.
“If you ask me to pray for you, yes, I will pray for you,” she said. But she said she has friends who carry a little notebook with them to write the requests down. “A week later they will ask how is this person doing. They take it seriously; they take it into their hearts.”
Marsella has trained as a facilitator and is helping other people discern their charisms. The process is personal and painstaking, she said.
“It’s not ditch digging, but it’s a process that you have to slog through and be willing to let the Holy Spirit take over.”
A PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE
Father Michael Hall is a priest in the Diocese of Leeds, England. He said his “heart leapt” when he heard about Called and Gifted, and he wasted no time introducing it to his parishioners. The “fruits” are already emerging.
“The priest has a hierarchical and sacramental role in the life of a parish. There are things that we can do in a parish that no one else can do,” he said. But the work of God is “much wider than that.”
“The priest not only does not have the time to do it all, but he is probably not equipped to do it all either,” said Father Hall. Charisms often need “teasing out” in discernment.
Discerning charisms communally enables a parish to thrive on the gifts of all of its people, not just a select few generous and energetic people who can “burn out” or be traumatized trying to fill vacuums for which they are ill-equipped.
“Our natural talents can be used in God’s service, of course,” said Father Hall. But what happens when we are using our spiritual gifts goes beyond that. “Almost without our understanding why, people are drawn closer to God.”
Contact Florian Romero at (415) 614-5537 for more information on Called and Gifted.
What is a charism, or spiritual gift?
Charisms are special abilities given to Christians by the Holy Spirit that enable a person to be a channel of God’s goodness. According to Catholic teaching, charisms are bestowed at baptism.
How do charisms and natural talents differ?
Charisms enable us to have an effectiveness that surpasses our natural, human abilities. Natural abilities can be used for an evil purpose, or for our own enjoyment, but charisms are always for the benefit of others, rather than ourselves.
What’s the difference between the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and charisms?
The traditional “seven gifts” and the “fruits” of the Holy Spirit are given to us to keep. Charisms, on the other hand, are given to us to give away, and always benefit other people.
Why is it important to discern one’s charisms?
God calls us to a work of love that will fill your life with purpose and joy. Discerning your charisms can help you discover that call.
How can individual discernment of charisms improve parish life?
Parish communities have many organizational and pastoral needs too often met by a handful of people who can “burn out” trying to fill vacuums for which they are ill-equipped. Catholics emerge from the discernment process with a much stronger sense that they have something important to give to the parish and to the world.
Learn more about charisms at siena.org.
Photo credit: Parishioners from all three counties are pictured during a Called and Gifted charism workshop. (Photo by Dennis Callahan/Archdiocese of San Francisco)