Media CenterCarolyn Woo’s CNS Column - Using Our God-Given Gifts

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By Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
May 2014

May is the season of commencement ceremonies, and I have probably attended over a hundred of these. There are two questions that always guide my musings through these final moments with the students: (1) Does the footwear that the student has chosen (from flip flops, to sneakers to five-inch heels, but never bare feet) show how the person will engage life? And (2) How many will follow their passion and seek the balance between making a life and making a living? How many have gone beyond a job search for a mission search?

I did not engage in such reflections when I received my degrees. That came a bit later --17 years to be exact -- when I was at the proverbial "fork in the road" and had to make some decisions. At a three-week continuing education program, I set the task of determining a direction. At its end, I had no inspired answer. But the insight that came related to what I wanted for our two sons, 9 and 12 at the time. It was as clear as if it were chiseled on rock. Simply, I wanted them to (1) Know their blessings, (2) Develop their gifts, and (3) Use these to serve and build up, not tear down, others. I knew then that these were my own marching orders, and two weeks later, I made a choice about my career and the discernment was not hard.

When we know our blessings, we acknowledge not only the gift, but also the giver and ourselves, the gifted. The terms gifts and blessings acknowledge that these come from another source: free and from a generosity beyond comprehension. The giver is none other than God. The gift is not just our talents, special capabilities, good health, loving families, opportunities, but also God Himself, who marks us with His image. Whenever I marvel at human achievements, the beauty we produce, our ingenuity, our intelligence, and our goodness, I give praise that these gifts are God given. Why wouldn't they be marvelous? In the Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis reminds us that there are no mere mortals. We are no ho-hum creatures that can be rated and ranked. We are in a better place than Lake Wobegon, where every child is above average.

When we came into the world as infants, we were not finished products: tremendous growth followed. So it is with our gifts. They require cultivation and hard work. As we hone these gifts, we come into discoveries of not only our capabilities, but also God's magnificence. Our use of these gifts renders us co-authors of God's world. Our efforts recognize the potential and value inherent in our gifts. And what genuine joy they bring to us and those we touch! Letting the gift sit idle is wasteful and shameful disregard.

The gifts are for us, but not solely. They are meant to be used. The light cannot fulfill its purpose if it does not shine. Its reason for being is to illuminate the truth for others and to testify to the glory to God. These gifts are the hands and feet of Christ. With our gifts, we are the many parts of the ONE BODY which, if disconnected from each other, will have no function and no life. We are made to depend on and give to each other our God-given gifts so that we not only make it together on earth, but also seek Him in the here and now.

My wish is that this month’s graduates will get the message sooner than I did.

Dr. Woo is the president & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. This article is part of her ongoing monthly column, Our Global Family, written for Catholic News Service.

Read Dr. Woo’s previous columns