As a post-Vatican II cradle Catholic, initially catechized by 1980’s parish CCD, I didn’t grow up memorizing the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In fact, during Confirmation prep, I remember wondering how I would suddenly receive these gifts when the bishop anointed my forehead… as if the Sacred Chrism Oil were some magical Gummi Berry Juice.
I didn’t get it. I surely didn’t get how Sacramental grace worked. Nor did I get how wisdom differed from understanding, which somehow differed from knowledge. Amid my solid grounding in the abundant love and mercy of God, I especially lacked a healthy understanding of what was meant by “fear of the Lord.”
As a teacher of adolescents and adults, I’ve spent some time making sense of this beautiful concept.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are identified in Isaiah 11:2-3, which was in Tuesday’s daily Mass reading and will be proclaimed again in the First Reading on the Second Sunday of Advent.
The gift of God’s love poured into human hearts through the Holy Spirit provides us with wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.
Explaining Each Gift
To better understand each of the gifts, we turn to St. Thomas Aquinas.
- Knowledge as a gift of the Holy Spirit refers to knowing divine truth in a way that guides one’s moral life in both theory and practice; it is a knowledge of justice, balance, proportion, and judgment.
- Wisdom extends from the perspective gained from combining theoretical knowledge with practical experience in order to make wise judgments aligned with goodness.
- Understanding offers penetrating, intuitive insight into the very heart of things; the ability to “see” God and “to see as God sees.”
- Counsel moves us beyond the human power of self-reflective deliberation, allowing us to be guided by the Holy Spirit in discerning God’s Will
- Fortitude is the firmness of mind to do good and avoid evil, particularly when doing good is difficult or dangerous; beyond the cardinal virtue, this gift of the Holy Spirit allows us to confidently endure evil, fortifying us with the strength of God.
- Piety is the gift that enables us to show the proper reverence, respect, honor, devotion, and worship for God
- Fear of God is a fear only in the sense that we deeply fear losing those whom we deeply love; being in such “awe” of the relationship, rooted in such deep love, that one fears losing that relationship.
The Gift of Grace
The gifts of the Holy Spirit work as all gifts of God’s grace. Grace is the word we use to describe God’s freely given gift of God’s very self. Think of grace like divine assistance. This assistance only works if we cooperate with it.
It’s like this: imagine Jesus throws you a football of grace. You either catch and run with it or it falls flat. Without your cooperation, nothing happens. The grace–and gifts of the Holy Spirit—lay dormant at your feet, waiting for you to do something with them. God deeply respects our freedom and dignity. God will not force the gift of Grace upon us.
Another beautiful image places the the gifts of the Holy Spirit as deeply planted roots from which the fruits of the Holy Spirit grow.
If we cultivate and grow the internal gifts that we have been given, by life lived in the Spirit, those gifts will bear fruit.
Are you cultivating those gifts or is the Football of Grace lying dormant at your feet?