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Consecrated Life: What is a Charism?

Friday, May 15, 2015

I guess we all have come across charismatic people in our lives. It might have been in a personal encounter, it might have been through the media. What is it that makes them charismatic? What makes them so compellingly attractive? What is it that, when they enter a room, the atmosphere really changes?

In a way, you can ask the same questions about religious orders, congregations and movements. What is it that makes them tick? Why are some people positively attracted to say the Dominicans and others to the Franciscans, Focolare or the community of Chemin Neuf?

This attraction, this unique vocation in the world, is what we call a "charism". A charism is not just the work of the founder of a religious movement at some historic moment, but is the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is what started the movement, what makes it grow, and enables it to continue throughout time.

 Because charisms are the gift of the Holy Spirit, one can not say that one is better than the other. Despite the differences, each movement is committed to the unity of the Church and spreading the gospel by being present in society.

A charism encapsulates in a few short words the essence of a religious movement. For instance: Attentive Listening (Benedictines), Poverty (Franciscans), Truth (Dominicans), Unity (Focolare/Chemin Neuf). These words are not exhaustive, nor are they goals in themselves. But they help to distinguish the various charisms a bit. 

By the way, even when you have a general understanding of the charism of a movement or order, that does not mean that you can safely predict what each member is doing. Especially the Dominican order is known for the saying "If you have met one Dominican, then you have met one Dominican".

 There is an extraordinary richness to our charism that is hard to get, even when, like us, you're in the midst of it. But should you like to at least get a good introduction to our charism, then I can recommend a book by Lucette Verboven, The Dominican Way, London: Continuum (2011)

Br Richard Steenvoorde O.P.

Br Richard Steenvoorde O.P.


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