St. Paul was the first person to use the term charism in his writings. The word itself comes from the Greek charis, which means “gift,” and ma, which means “effect of.” Paul uses the term charisma 17 times in his letters and in various ways to describe the effects of the Holy Spirit in the life of the community and individual believer.
The Catherine of Siena Institute makes a distinction between the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit and charisms. In short, the seven gifts (wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord) and nine fruits (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) are given to us to keep. These help us to have an ongoing and deepening conversion and become more Christlike ourselves.
In contrast, the charisms of the Holy Spirit are given to us to give away to others. Some of the charisms listed in Scripture are prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, contribution, administration, mercy, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, discernment of spirits, tongues and interpretation of tongues (see Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11). While this list is not exhaustive, it reveals how charisms are directed outward for the good of others, instead of my own interior benefit.
But what is the difference then between a natural talent and a charism? We all have natural talents and lack thereof. Take, for example, hospitality. Being hospitable is a virtue that we are all called to exercise. For introverts, it can be painful. For extroverts, not so much. But there are some who have a gift for hospitality that transcends natural virtue. When hosting people, they feel invigorated and are inspired to direct their efforts to the well-being of others. When someone receives hospitality from someone living out a charism, there is a sense of an encounter with the love of God that is occurring at that moment.
The Holy Spirit gives to each member of the body the gifts needed for each particular time and place. The Vatican document “Iuvenescit Ecclesia” puts it this way:
“Because these charisms ‘are perfectly suited to and useful for the needs of the Church,’ through their diverse richness, the people of God are able fully to live their evangelical mission, discerning the signs of the times and interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. The charismatic gifts, in fact, enable the faithful to respond to the gift of salvation in complete freedom and in a way suited to the times. In this way, they themselves become a gift of love for others and authentic witnesses to the Gospel before all mankind.”
Notice how “becoming a gift of love” and an “authentic witness to the Gospel” are sure signs that you or someone else is living out a charism. St. Paul says that if we strive for all the spiritual gifts but have not love, we are nothing.
So pray to the Holy Spirit that the seven gifts and nine fruits may be renewed within you. And pray that God will bestow whatever charism(s) are necessary not for your own glory, but for the good of others and the proclamation of the kingdom.