Come Holy Spirit: Cultivating the Seven Gifts of the Spirit
After the feast of Pentacost, the Church reenters Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time should not be viewed as an uneventful, unfruitful period in the liturgical calendar. Instead, having just celebrated the “birthday” of the Church with the endowment of the Advocate, the faithful should be on fire with the Spirit and seeking to nourish the gifts that He grants. The Holy Spirit offers abundant grace and spiritual gifts, but there are seven gifts that are traditionally recognized as being specifically named in scripture.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of piety , and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2-3)
This verse in Isaiah is the scriptural source for what are known as the “Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit,” listed as: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude (“strength”), knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. In this post, we will look a little more deeply into the meaning and significance of each of these and consider how they can be nurtured in our spiritual lives.
St. Bernard calls Wisdom the “supernatural Gift of the Holy Spirit which enables us to know God and to rejoice in perfect love.” It is considered the highest Gift of the Holy Spirit. It not only enlightens the mind, but also directs the heart to a purer, deeper love for God. Wisdom rightly forms our desires so that we take greater delight in the Divine and grow in longing for heavenly treasure. Wisdom helps to sever our more worldly attachments. The Old Testament book of Wisdom beautifully illustrates this and instructs us to pray sincerely for Wisdom:
I pleaded and the spirit of Wisdom came to me I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a bit of sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire. Beyond health and beauty I loved her, and I chose to have her rather than the light, because her radiance never ceases. Yet all good things together came to me with her, and countless riches at her hands; (Wisdom 7:7-11)
The Gift of Understanding enables us to know and comprehend the mysteries and doctrines of our holy Catholic faith more clearly. God desires to sanctify our souls an draw us closer to Himself; so, he grants the interior light of Understanding to deepen our insight into the Divine mysteries and animate us to serve Him more perfectly. Through Understanding we are more able us to grasp the meaning of revealed truths and, through them, to be stirred into a more active faith life. In this way, our faith ceases to be sterile, but inspires a mode of life that bears testimony to the faith that is in us.
The Gift of Counsel moves the soul to choose what will most glorify God and lead to its own salvation. Through this Gift, we learn how we can best please God. Following the inspirations of the Holy Spirit grants us true interior peace and spiritual consolation. Counsel is especially necessary for those whose are in positions of leadership, since at such levels of responsibility, natural prudence sometimes does not suffice. We need Counsel in our roles as parents, teachers, political leaders, and even simply as citizens. Counsel endows the Soul with Supernatural Prudence, empowering it to judge promptly and rightly what must be done in challenging circumstances.
This Gift of the Holy Spirit destroys all natural fear, timidity and human respect. It strengthens souls to despise sin and to practice virtue. Fortitude enables souls to prefer contempt, temporal loss, persecution and even death over the denial of Christ by word or deed. It empowers us to oppose and overcome the enemies of our salvation and to live according to the will of God even in spite of temptation, difficulties and persecutions. It prepares to face great sacrifices for our salvation with courage.
Through the gift of knowledge the soul is more able to evaluate created things at their true worth in relation to God. Knowledge reveals the emptiness of creatures outside of their relationship with the Creator and their purpose as instruments in the service of God. It also shows us the loving providential care of God even in adversity, and directs us to glorify Him without reference to our circumstances. Guided by the light of knowledge, we put first-things-first, and value our relationship with God beyond all else.
The Gift of Piety (or godliness) infuses reverence for God and Divine things into our souls and gives us joy in prayer. Through Piety, the Holy Spirit inclines us to love God as our perfect and loving Father, to love more deeply His dearly beloved Son and Our Blessed Mother. Piety moves us not only to love of the Saints and the Angels, but also to love our fellow men, as the images and children of God. It causes us to feel the sweetest pleasure in conversing with God, in listening to spiritual reading and in hearing the Divine word. The pious soul delights to do the will of the Father and constantly has at heart all that tends to the honor and glory of God.
Fear of the Lord
There are two kinds of fear: the fear of a servant and the fear of a child. Of the two, childlike fear of God is the more noble and beautiful. It urges the soul to avoid even the least sin in order not to displease God, our loving and caring Father. Fear of the Lord is that childlike fear which causes us to dread no misfortune so much as that of displeasing God, making us flee from sin as the greatest evil. The Saints were animated by childlike fear and love for the Heavenly Father and were ready to die rather than break His holy law by willful sin.
Cultivating the Gifts of the Spirit
We receive these Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Baptism as free offerings through which the Heavenly Father enriches and honors His adopted children at this moment of their regeneration. These Gifts are placed in the soul as seeds, and the faithful must develop them through fervent prayer and the practice of virtue, through the worthy reception of Holy Communion and the sacraments, in order that they may produce fruit. St. Alphonsus Liguori composed this beautiful prayer for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Let us always seek to cultivate these gifts as we pray:
Prayer for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit, divine Consoler, I adore You as my true God, with God the Father and God the Son.
I adore You and unite myself to the adoration You receive from the angels and saints.
I give You my heart and I offer my ardent thanksgiving for all the grace which You never cease to bestow on me.
O Giver of all supernatural gifts, who filled the soul of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with such immense favors, I beg You to visit me with Your grace and Your love and to grant me the gift of holy fear, so that it may act on me as a check to prevent me from falling back into my past sins, for which I beg pardon.
Grant me the gift of piety, so that I may serve You for the future with increased fervor, follow with more promptness Your holy inspirations, and observe your divine precepts with greater fidelity.
Grant me the gift of knowledge, so that I may know the things of God and, enlightened by Your holy teaching, may walk, without deviation, in the path of eternal salvation.
Grant me the gift of fortitude, so that I may overcome courageously all the assaults of the devil, and all the dangers of this world which threaten the salvation of my soul.
Grant me the gift of counsel, so that I may choose what is more conducive to my spiritual advancement and may discover the wiles and snares of the tempter.
Grant me the gift of understanding, so that I may apprehend the divine mysteries and by contemplation of heavenly things detach my thoughts and affections from the vain things of this miserable world.
Grant me the gift of wisdom, so that I may rightly direct all my actions, referring them to God as my last end; so that, having loved Him and served Him in this life, I may have the happiness of possessing Him eternally in the next. Amen.