God gives charism to each person to share, unique as DNA

Published: May 4, 2017

By Sister Joan Pytlik, DC
Minister for Religious

All is a gift. We all know that God is always giving us gifts like the beautiful spring flowers, the people who love us, himself in the Eucharist.

But have you thought about the unique gift that makes you, you? On the physical level, our DNA is not replicated. The life of our unique spirit also takes a particular shape.

We call this gift charism. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines charism as “an extraordinary power (as of healing) given a Christian by the Holy Spirit for the good of the Church.” It comes from the Greek "charisma." Did you ever think of yourself as having charisma? Well, we all do. In fact, the major religious orders were formed around these charisms.

The dictionary defines charism as “an extraordinary power (as of healing) given a Christian by the Holy Spirit for the good of the Church.” It comes from the Greek "charisma."

The Benedictines came together as a community whose charism was work and prayer. The Dominicans formed to preach the Gospel. Some experienced a gift of contemplation and became the Carmelites. Those drawn to simplicity of life and care for the earth became Franciscans.

Apostolic orders were established to serve those in poverty, oppression and sickness like the Religious Sisters of Mercy and the Daughters of Charity. Each of these groups modeled themselves on saintly leaders such as St. Benedict, St. Dominic, the prophet Elijah, St. Francis of Assisi and St. Vincent De Paul.

These religious orders have been around for centuries, but their gift or charism is living and always forming new communities or orders. Many are confused by the thousands of religious communities, but they more or less could be grouped into the above charisms.

The charisms are not just for religious. The laity can identify their spiritual tendencies toward the same charisms. In fact, most religious orders have lay groups (e.g. third orders, oblates, associates, etc.) that seek direction and support in living out their charism at home. Even those who don’t join a lay group can identify their charism through reading and reflection, and live it out in the marketplace.

I am a Daughter of Charity, founded by St. Vincent De Paul. I am most familiar with the Vincentian charism. The Vincentian family includes multiple groups that have that particular charism.

We are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the charism present in the Church in a formal way. In 1617 France, Vincent was given a parish. The first week people came to tell him an entire family was sick and couldn’t help themselves. He preached on it, and after Mass the whole parish was going back and forth taking what was needed to the family.

Vincent organized the women into the Ladies of Charity, still found all over the world today and in Little Rock. In 1625 other priests joined him in giving missions and instructing priests in seminaries, and the Congregation of the Mission or Vincentian priests and brothers were formed. In 1633, along with St. Louise deMarillac, he accepted young peasant girls who wanted to give their life in service of the poor, and the Daughters of Charity began.

Since then many organizations have grown around the Vincentian charism. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton formed the American Sisters of Charity. There are Vincentian youth groups and in Arkansas the Missioneras Vincentinos, lay people who pray and serve together.

I encourage you to seek for your unique gift from God, and use it for the good of the Church and the world.

Understanding Our Church