“The Church is a network of people with different charisms.” – Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Engagement with God.
“You’re here. You’re real,” Father Joe said. He had let his coffee mug dip, and righted it before it spilled in the Church parking lot. The man he was looking at turned off the ignition and climbed out of the battered white cargo van that had come to a stop next to him.
As he got out, and the Father could see the clerical collar above the other man’s windbreaker. “Yes, this is no haunting,” he grinned. “I’m Mike, we spoke on the phone.”
“And I’m Joe,” they shook hands. Joe glanced back at the van, and Mike said “Its just me, the ‘Bureau’ name notwithstanding.”***
They went into the rectory and Joe made Mike a cup of coffee. After they sat down in his office, Joe looked at Mike over his desk from behind his mug, uncertain how to begin.
“Now that you’ve got me here, you aren’t quite sure what to do with me,” Mike started.
“Yes. To be clear, it was actually a few of my leading parishioners’ idea. We serve a college town, and have had a number of enthusiastic converts in recent years from among the faculty. The hard sciences as a matter of fact. They saw the ad in the back of the journal, and well, they approached me about contacting you. They want to bring a scientific method to some of the things in scripture.”
“I’m really in for it, aren’t I?” Mike laughed.
“Yes, but I don’t think you’ll find another parish in the region more willing to give your approach a try. Some are rather touchingly sincere about the whole thing.”
“Good. A childlike faith is best in these matters.”
“How did you get this started?” Joe asked, raising one hand on the “this.”
“I had some experience with the charismatic movement in the 80s while in college, and found much to like about it. However, the style and operation of the movement did not fit every personality type. Some people are shy, reserved, or just don’t feel exuberant worship modes belong in the Church. Some are held back from participation by self-doubt over the infirmities related to age or disabilities.”
“I know what you mean. We serve a science and engineering college. Measure twice, cut once.”
“But the Holy Spirit is not just for the outgoing. While in the seminary, I decided I wanted to develop a method to bring the gifts of the Spirit to everyone else. My academic background in statistics makes me sympathetic to a structured approach, something more orderly. The Church has been supportive, though I think they still view this as a probationary period.”
“How would you start with my parish?”
“The first steps are simple: A parish orientation about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I explain that we are all born with one or more, in varying abundance. This is not something that can be taught, there is no ladder of ascent. Baptism and confirmation activate the gifts, and as long as one is in a state of grace, they may be fully utilized. I conclude with group prayer asking that the Holy Spirit provide the parish with the gift of discernment.
Next, I distribute a confidential survey asking the parishioners to identify what gifts they think the other members might have. Last, a questionnaire asking parishioners to identify what gifts they think have. Its confidential too, and only I read both.”
“Do the survey and questionnaire results match up very much?”
“Its hit and miss. But I find that there are more matches than you might think. Its funny, sometimes the survey is more accurate than the personal questionnaire. We are often completely blind about personal traits that are obvious to the most casual of our acquaintances.”
“And after that?” Joe asked.
“Then the inquisition begins.” he smiled.
“For those we think might have the gift of wisdom, I will ask them to read some scripture, meditate on it, and write down their interpretation. For those who might have the gift of exhortation, I try them out as readers at Mass. Knowledge, we ask them to try running a Sunday school class. Much of it is common sense.”
**** And this is where this one stops. I did a little more research, and learned someone had this same idea over two decades ago, and made it happen in a very fruitful way:
They really do charism experiments. Sometimes truth is stranger and more wonderful than fiction.
I thought about junking this, but its a good reminder we are never as clever or imaginative as we like to think we are. So up it goes.