by Jane Brock
Is there anyone who doesn’t like to receive presents? Whether Christmas, Easter, a birthday, or another important occasion, when someone we love gives us a gift, we delight in the expression of remembrance, fondness, and generosity. But the nicest gift is one that is unexpected, given for no reason at all but that we are loved, cherished, and appreciated by the giver. We have done nothing to deserve such kindness; it was chosen and given simply because the giver wants to express how he feels about us.
This is how our Heavenly Father works. He showers down on His creation the vast riches of His love, and human beings, created in His image, receive the benefits of this grace which comes via the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity. This wonderful bounty comes in the form of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Our Father doesn’t give these spiritual gifts because we merit them, but simply because He created us in His own image out of the abundance of His mercy and love. According to the Tradition of the Church extending back to the second century, these supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit are heroic character traits that are possessed in all their fullness only in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, since each of us are called to emulate Jesus and to become saints, we must aspire to receive and develop them in our own lives.
Each Christian receives the seven Gifts of the Spirit as a permanent bequest at the time of his or her Baptism, and they are sealed at the time of Confirmation by prayer and the laying on of hands. The purpose of the Gifts is to help us to be obedient to the Holy Spirit, which is how we grow in holiness. But just like any other present, we must decide to “open” the gifts God gives us and to develop and use them not only for our sanctification but to assist others in their own walk of faith. The Eucharist is the best gift of all and the Sevenfold Gifts enable us to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in truth and humility, gratitude, and love.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) lists the gifts of the Holy Spirit:
Wisdom is both the knowledge of and judgment about the things of God and the ability to judge and direct our human affairs according to divine truth.
Understanding is the ability to see into the very heart of revealed truth, especially those higher truths that are necessary for our eternal salvation.
Counsel allows one to be directed by God in matters necessary for salvation.
Fortitude signifies a constancy of mind in doing good and in avoiding evil, particularly when it is difficult or dangerous to do so, and confidence to overcome all stumbling blocks because our minds are set on living with God through eternity.
Knowledge gives us the ability to judge correctly about matters of faith and right action, so as never to stray from the true path of justice.
Piety is revering God with the affection of sons and daughters, giving worship and allegiance to God, paying due duty to all humans on account of their relationship to God, honoring the saints, and not contradicting Scripture.
Fear of the Lord is a holy fear whereby we honor and respect God and anchor our lives in following His will. The opposite is “servile fear” where we serve God because we fear punishment. (CCC 1831)
These gifts are mentioned in only one place in Sacred Scripture—Isaiah 11:1-3, one of several prophecies of the coming of Messiah:
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
These spiritual gifts from God help us to overcome our fallen natures and enable us to rise above our sinfulness to share in the very life of God. These wonderful, supernatural gifts are not meant to be called on only in the difficult moments of life, but to be cultivated and used each day for our good, the transformation of our world, and the establishment of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. They are practical and help us to order rightly all our relationships—family, work, leisure—and help us to perfect in our lives the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love (CCC1813), the cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude (CCC 1805), and the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23)
Pope St. Gregory the Great explains the dynamic way that the gifts are imparted to us and build upon one another:
Through the fear of the Lord, we rise to piety, from piety then to knowledge, from knowledge we derive strength, from strength counsel, with counsel we move towards understanding, and with intelligence towards wisdom and thus, by the sevenfold grace of the Spirit, there opens to us at the end of the ascent the entrance to the life of Heaven.
Pentecost commemorates that great initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples and is described in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2. Let us implore God to endow us ever more fully with these precious gifts, and the grace to develop and use them, and as Moses reminded the Israelites, “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” (Deuteronomy 11:19)
Jane Brock is an active laywoman at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Charlotte, NC. She teaches Bible studies and leads retreats in several dioceses.