Raniero Cantalamessa in his book, ‘Life In The Lordship Of Christ’ writes, ” It is easy, therefore, to understand how humility protects charisms. But how do charisms protect humility? Don’t they rather put humility in danger because of the lustre and power they confer? Nothing ennobles man so much as contact with God; the most important positions and the greatest honour are nothing compared with what directly concerns God and his Spirit. Yet these very things that might seem like a danger to the humility and soberness of the believer can help him to be humble. In other words, charisms give us another and very strong reason for being humble. Let us see how this happens. St Paul said that ‘we all have different gifts’ and he listed some of these; the text of Roman 12 gives us one of the many lists of charisms. The fact that we have different gifts means that we don’t possess of all the gifts, that we are not all apostles or prophets and so on. The direct consequence is that each of us is not the whole but, always and fundamentally, only a part of the whole.
The doctrine on charisms is a formidable even present reason for humility. It is, in fact, in practising a ministry or in holding an office that we realize that without others, that is, without the rest of the body, we would be nothing. In the text from Roman 12 the Apostle briefly mentioned this but he more amply developed the comparison in his first Letter to the Corinthians. (1 Cor 12: 12-17) The body, he explains, has many members and each member has it own function and each one depends on the other. The eye, for example, is a noble and very precious member of the body but it cannot say to the hand: ‘I do not need you!’ What would happen if the whole body were an eye? It would simply be grotesque. The eye,therefore, is nothing in itself and on its own. It needs the other members to support it and make it worthwhile. It needs a face to exist in, and eyelid to protect it and a brain to control it…It needs the other members not only to be useful to the body but to be itself. The same is true of the hand, the foot and even the heart. In the spiritual sphere, each one of us is a small cell that would immediately perish is separated from the rest of the body.
What a wonderful invention of God’s wisdom! God, in giving man his gifts, at the same time gave his something extra ti help him reach truth and soberness. We could say hat charisms begin with building humility and then, together, they build the Church. It is therefore when exercising a charism or practising a ministry that we realize how thoroughly we depend on others and how, without them, we would be suspended on nothing. Thus we are reminded of the basic truth at every moment: that God alone is all and that only the Church is “the fullness”(Eph 1:23) of the Spirit, whereas each one of us is just a small part. We can only draw near to the fullness through others. Our self-sufficiency is thus struck at the roots. A charism, St. Paul says, is “a particular manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”(1 Cor 12:7); it is like a detail in a an immense picture. In the Church there are those competent in Canon Law, others in theology, in government, in administratiion, in culture and still others in works of mercy… With the passing of time is is easy to become sort of hypnotized by one’s own sphere of competence, ending up seeing it as the only really important thing in the Church and nothing else matters.
How useful it would be, at times, to widen one’s horizon and see one’s work and charism in the light of the whole: the whole of today, the whole of centuries! One would immediately get back a sense of proportion and feel very very small. It’s like boarding on a an aeroplane; before the take-off, the building of the airport seem huge; then as the plane takes off into the sky, the buildings seem smaller and smaller until they disappear altogether. So, those in authority would be encouraged to acknowledge that authority is not everything; there is also doctrine, prophecy, preaching, contemplation, works of mercy. Those with the gifts of doctrine would be encouraged to acknowledge that doctrine is not everything even when it is sublime: there is also authority, prophecy, charity, and so on. Charisms tend toward the Church with the same dynamism that the part tends towards the whole and drops of water tend to join other drops of water to make a stream.
St. Augustine, commenting on this doctrine point of St. Paul’s, makes an illuminating reflection. On hearing all these charisms mentioned, he says, somebody might think that he doesn’t even possess one of them and feel sad and excluded. “But, take heed-he adds-if you love, you possess no little thing. In, in fact, you love unity, everything that is possessed by someone else is also possessed by you! Get rid of envy and what is mine will be yours, and if I get rid of envy what you possess will be mine. Envy separates, love unites. The eye is the only member of the body that can see; but does the eye see only for itself? No, the eye sees for the hand, for the foot and for all the other members. In fact, if the foot is about the bang into something, the eye certainly doesn’t turn elsewhere omitting to warn it. Only the hand acts in the body, but does it act only for itself? No, it acts also for the eye. If, in fact, a blow of some sort is aimed at the face, does the hand say: I shall not move because the blow isn’t aimed at me? In this way, the foot, walking, serves all other members. In this way, the tongue talks for all the other members which are silent. We have, therefore, the Holy Spirit if we love the Church and we love the Church if we keep ourselves withing the unity and love of the Church. Indeed, after stating that men have been given different gifts just as the members of the body have been assigned different tasks, the same Apostle continued to say: I will show you a still more excellent way (1 Cor 13:1) and he goes on to talk about charity.”(St. Augustine, InIoh. 32, 8 ; CCl 36. 304f.).
Thus the secret of charity is revealed, which is also the secret of humility, that which makes it “a more excellent way.” It makes me love unity-that is, in reality, the church or the community in which I live-and in this unity all the charisms present and not just a few of them are mine. In fact, better still, if you love this unity more tan I do, the charism that I possess is more yours than mine. Let us suppose that I have the charism of evangelist, that is, the charism to proclaim the Gospel; I could be pleased with myself and boastful but I would then be “a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1). I gain nothing from my charism,the Apostle warms me, while you, listening to me, continue to gain form it in spite of my sins. Through humility-charity, what is so dangerously mine, is yours without any risk. Humility-charity multiplies charisms; it makes the charism of one become the charism of all. But for this to happen it is necessary, as Augustine said, ‘to get rid of envy’ that is, to die to our individualistic and egoistic ‘self’ which seeks it own glory, and to take on the wonderful and great ‘self’ of Christ and his Church. It is necessary to live ‘for the Lord’ and not ‘for oneself.’
The first teaching on humility ended with psalm 131 which is about the peace of the humble and gives the image of the child at its mother’s breast. let us end this second teaching with other peaceful and tranquil words: Learn from me for I am meek and humble of hearts-says the Lord-and you will find rest for your souls.