When a situation is unjust, I cannot keep my mouth shut. I have always been this way and it has gotten me in trouble on more occasions than I can count. After all, in an alcoholic home, no one should challenge “the way things are.” In a patriarchal church, women should do the menial work and let men lead. In a religion classroom, no on should bring up the wealth gap, war and violence or gender inequality. It took me a long time to believe that my “big mouth” was actually a gift from God but it is and I am expected by God to use it. Today’s passage from 1 Corinthians is part of the reason I can believe this. And I believe you also have gifts God expects you to use and so does each person God created.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul addresses the connections between our life in community and our relationship with God. This is my favorite New Testament letter because the issues it explores are relevant in day-today life. Also, Paul has a great way of cutting to the heart of the matter, which of course resonates with my prophetic big mouth. In chapters 12-14, Paul takes on our human tendency to compete with one another and the prestige we give to the winners. The resulting pecking orders breed in us arrogance, envy, greed, rudeness, a lack of generosity and a blindness to what is of value in each individual. Paul is absolutely clear: this is destructive to the community and to our individual ability to connect with God. Each one of us must stop creating pecking orders.
How? This is where today’s passage starts and in it Paul stresses two facts. First, we must remember that our abilities are gifts from the Holy Spirit. We have not created them ourselves. Although we may have worked hard to develop them, the opportunity to develop them itself was a gift from God. Focusing on the inherent giftedness of all that is good is a challenge in our pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps culture. The reality is none of us are self-sufficient. God produces each one of our gifts in each one of us. We must stand humbly before God and our community. Humility is foundational to being like Christ, who has the perfect relationship with God.
Paul’s second fact is the variety of gifts within the community. The Corinthians had built their pecking order around who could speak in tongues and who could not. Paul places this gift rather far down in his list to show that there are many other things people can do that are equally lovely and necessary. The Corinthians must recognize the variety of gifts and value each one. It reminds me of Jesus telling the disciples, “You know how it is with the Gentiles, who like to lord their power over one another. It cannot be that way with you.” (Mk 10:42-43)
These two facts are as urgent to the survival of today’s Catholic Church as they were nearly 2,000 years ago to the Corinthian Church. We have focused too long on saying that celibacy and the priesthood are the most important gifts and the rest of us are here just to “pray, pay, and obey.” Each baptized member of the Church has unique gifts to share that the Holy Spirit has given “for some benefit.” We know this is true because we experience a thrill when we use these gifts in service. Our souls are longing to do that for which they were created. Let’s be inspired by Paul’s urgency to make opportunities for each person to use their God-given gifts. We must get moving on this now! When the Church says, “Well, the only thing we may need you for is helping at the spaghetti supper, but only if the people who have been doing it for twenty years will let you help,” people find some place else to go. They long to reach their innate potential, and if the Church will not let them, they will go some place that will. What’s more, imagine what the Church could accomplish if we let everyone use their gifts!
What should you do if your parish does not offer a way for you to use your gifts? Pray for the door to open and get creative. Rethink your daily job: how can I use the gifts I have been given to be a better mail carrier or teacher or banker? How can I be a better team player? Rethink how you function in the communities you are in: how can I love my family more authentically? How can I reach beyond my comfort zone to help those I may not think deserve it but who are in need? The great thing about having our abilities be gifts from the Spirit is that the Spirit is waiting for us to ask these questions. They signal the Spirit that we are ready to partner with her. Then, look out! The Spirit has amazing plans. God will do good through the Church one way or another. And we will find ourselves transformed from plain old water into marvelous wine.
- What pecking order do you value: wealth, looks, intelligence, peace, wisdom? How does this pecking order impact your relationship with others? With God?
- Think about a particular gift you have. (If you do not think you have any special gift, ask someone who loves you.) How do you use it in service? How is God calling you to lean into it even more?