By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Charism of Encouragement

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (RSV) Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

1 Corinthians 14:3 (ESV) On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.

We see from the above verses (emphases added) the command of St. Paul to encourage and thus to build up one another. We also see encouragement as an aspect of the excellent charism of prophecy.

A charism is a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit that builds up the Church. Certainly, encouragement falls into that category. Why is this particular charism so important today?

1. We, in the United States and in other developed nations, put a great focus on material and career success. It is a great burden on many who mistakenly believe that their self-worth is really based on these external achievements. In contrast, the Christian message is that our self-worth is based on the free love of Jesus for each of us. We do not need to earn it. We couldn't earn it anyway. That angst for external socially approved success within so many in our hypercompetitive society can be cured by the charism of encouragement that affirms the worth of each person even without such external markers of social success.

2. Yet, at the same time, we also have a tendency, so to speak, to "shoot too low" in our plans and goals. Encouragement tells the other that he or she should aim high, even if there is a higher risk of failure, because by aiming high we end up landing higher up regardless of what happens. With encouragement, we can lose our vain fear of failure and see what God can really do with us. I recall a saying from Josemaria Escriva to the effect that, whenever we draw up the equation full of all the relevant variables and constraints for any task before us, we must never forget to add God to the equation. God is the constant that makes all the difference in the equation.

Too often, religious people end up criticizing or nit-picking too much, rather than encouraging enough. Pray that the Holy Spirit will release in you the charism of encouragement. It is sorely needed today as many settle for too little that does little justice to their abilities, dignity, and worth. Any Christian community should be swirling with mutual encouragement. It is funny that in our society many people, even Christians, find encouragement suspect as if it were some sort of false or manipulative flattery. Some even get nervous when they are encouraged or praised, as if it is something they do not really deserve. Yet, it is not so much a matter of deserving encouragement or praise by looking backward as it is a matter of being open to responding to it in our future actions.

The fear of encouragement and praise is related to the other common fear of being the recipient of generous giving. We strongly resist the idea of becoming supposedly "indebted" to someone else because it may restrict our freedom. Yet, a gift is not a matter of creating a debt--otherwise, it would not be gratuitous. We have to become more open to the law of gratuitousness that the Pope speaks about in his recent social encyclical. That openness requires humility and putting pride on the shelf. To accept the gratuitous is to acknowledge that the force that defines reality is love with no strings attached, not pay back, and that all things belong to God anyway. In the same way, viewing encouragement as a charism can change the suspicious point of view which cheats all of us of one of the great delights of life and friendship that can propel our growth and flourishing.