Last week I wrote about the Energeia God gives us – His power acting in us, and how we might use it wisely. Today Saint Paul picks up the theme in the second reading:
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service, but the same Lord;
there are different workings [= Energeia], but the same God who produces all of them [= Energeia] in everyone.
To each individual manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit
[I Corinthians 12:4-7]
The question Paul invites is, What is the activity of God like in you? What is God empowering you to do? Paul lists some possibilities, but we shouldn’t restrict ourselves to those he mentions. Paul doesn’t, for example, mention anything exactly like Pope Francis’s infectious sense of God’s mercy and the welcome he extends to everybody – but it’s hard to imagine that that’s not God acting in Pope Francis. Paul doesn’t mention the skill and dedication of medical professionals who volunteer to work in war zones – but it’s hard to imagine that that’s not the power of God acting. So we shouldn’t limit ourselves to Paul’s list; he created his examples to address the particular needs of the community at Corinth to which he was writing. We should expect God to act in us to meet the needs of our community today.
What might be some examples of the Energeia given to disciples in our neighborhood? What about in parents who struggle to put food on the table and guide their children toward decent values? What about in elderly people who never fail to pray for their families and for the parish? What about in young people who “swim against the tide” to live moral lives and to deepen their knowledge of the faith? What about nurses and other healthcare workers who take shift after shift of overtime? What about people who give up days and evenings to volunteer in parish and community activities? What about people who right now are giving up years of their youth so they can become teachers, or doctors, or other sorts of professionals and hope to make a difference in others’ lives through the skills they’re working to acquire? You can, I’m sure, add your own examples…
It’s unfortunate that the word “spiritual” seems to shunt any idea to a special, cut-off part of our mind and disconnect it from daily living. The Energeia – activity of God within us – that Saint Paul is talking about here is not something that only works in the world of religion or spirituality; Paul is talking not about its area of application but about its origin.
That’s important, so let me say it again: “Spiritual” gifts are not meant to apply or be used only in some “spiritual” area of life; Spiritual gifts are activities we find ourselves able to do that have their origin in God. We apply them wherever they’re needed, most often in our outside-church lives.
Why is this important? Because if we understand that God is acting through us we can overcome our fears; we can do things we might never try if we thought we were on our own; We can resist social pressures that might lead us to abandon our values. (Interesting case in point this past December: The Governor of Indiana had, like many other governors, sought to end or suspend the settlement in his state of refugees from the violence in Syria; after hearing his concerns, Archbishop Joseph Tobin politely disagreed and instructed Catholic Charities to help settle the first refugees (a family of four); if the state denied assistance, he said Catholic Charities would provide it independently.)
So this is the challenge: To acknowledge, and then embrace, the power of God working within you for the common good. Give it some thought this week. Until next week, peace.