A few years ago, I was standing in the kitchen of my friend, Catherine, when she casually asked me what I thought my spiritual gifts are. Equal parts caught off guard and insecure, I stammered and stuttered before finally saying, “I don’t really know.”
Honestly, at the time, I don’t think I really did know. In fact, I kind of wondered if I might be the least gifted person on earth, spiritually and otherwise. I was floundering through grad school, working as a nanny and a shop girl to pay my bills. I was single and lonely and feeling like I was failing at my twenties. After years of questioning my faith, I was only just beginning to come back to Mass on a regular basis, still uncertain if the Catholic Church was really my home.
It wasn’t until a few months ago when I read a Scripture passage that I knew (as well as any of us can really know) how the Holy Spirit had gifted little old me to bring the good news to life.
“Pursue love, but strive eagerly for the spiritual gifts, above all that you may prophesy,” reads 1 Corinthians 14:1-4. “One who prophesies (speaks to others) for their building up, encouragement, and solace… whoever prophesies builds up the Church.”
Looking around the Church lately, there’s a lot of building up to do. The body of Christ is bleeding and broken and in desperate need of building up, encouragement, and solace. We could spend hours lamenting the culture and its misalignment with God’s plan for the world, but lament won’t move us forward. Lament won’t heal the wounded, bring solace to the heart-sick, encourage the lost.
When Catherine asked me what I thought my spiritual gifts were, prophecy was the first word that came to mind, but I was afraid to say it out loud. The cultural definition of prophet is pretty misleading and uninspiring. At first blush, you might as well just replace “prophet” with psychic, cult leader, or fortune-teller. If that’s not what comes to mind, maybe the image of a burlap-wearing, bug-eating, not-quite-right-in-the-head social outcast circa sometime B.C. is more your speed.
Call me crazy, but “prophet” isn’t something I want to list on my résumé or Instagram bio. Of all the spiritual gifts, prophecy seems to me to be one of the most misunderstood, even though right there in his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul tells us that it’s the gift we should all be striving for.
Simply put, to prophesy is to speak of God. To prophesy is to see God in someone else and choose to recognize Him when silence is more comfortable. To prophesy is to boldly live a Eucharistic life of breaking and giving, right here in this blood-and-guts world. To prophesy is to witness.
I’ve heard it said by several wise priests that our faith should be attractive, our joy contagious. Attractive faith and contagious joy are two of our best tools for evangelization, better than free pizza at a Bible study, better than pamphlets, and definitely better than those folks who stand on milk crates in the center of college campuses and threaten fire and brimstone.
People are generally good at sniffing out a sales pitch, and Jesus isn’t for sale. Jesus never asked us to knock on doors to tell them all about Him as our Lord and Savior. He knows that what He’s got is priceless — it is nothing more or less than eternal life through a relationship with Him.
I think we make speaking of God harder than it needs to be. I know I do. More often than not, I stumble and stammer over my words and make everything incredibly awkward. That’s how I know I’m trying too hard. That’s how I know that I’m working with an agenda instead of just being real and curious. Can you imagine how many people would have never been healed, how many stories would have had different endings if Jesus was about a platform instead of being about people?
Speaking of God has little to do with how much we know. We don’t need to wait until we’re Catholic enough. If that was the case, I wouldn’t be writing this article.
Choosing to speak of God is risky. It means saying “I don’t know” a whole lot more often, leaving the comfort of certainty behind in favor of curiosity and connection. It means living honestly and fully in our flawed humanity, knowing some people will feel encouraged by our imperfection while others may mock us for it.
Even though embracing the gift of prophecy is risky, it leads to a richness of life beyond words. They say God doesn’t call the qualified — He qualifies the called. I hope that’s true. I need it to be true because more often than not, I feel completely unqualified to make Him known, and that’s okay. Paul doesn’t tell those folks in Corinth that it’s easy or convenient. He doesn’t lay out instructions for influencing people or leading a seminar on effective evangelization. He gives us an invitation and sends us out.
You’ve been invited; you’ve been called. Now go, encourage, build up, bring solace.