How to Make the Most of these Beautiful Spiritual Gifts
Just about anyone who received confirmation in the last few decades has had to memorize the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The whole list comes from Isaiah 11:1-3: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They were qualities used to describe the coming Messiah; by virtue of our baptism and incorporation into the Mystical Body of Christ, the same Spirit that bestowed those gifts on Jesus bestows them on us. They are “blessings given to our souls to enhance and refine the natural powers that our souls possess” (The Gifts of the Holy Spirit According to St. Thomas Aquinas, p. 6).
One of the pitfalls of Catholicism in general is that we can look at the sacraments like a coffee stand stamp card. The sacrament of confirmation is very susceptible to that mindset, and it reduces the gifts of the Holy Spirit to a simple checklist. Many Catholics today are in that boat. The gifts of the Holy Spirit were an exercise in memorization; confirmation was a Catholic rite of passage and little more. Memorizing the seven gifts is important, but we’re far better served by calling upon the Holy Spirit to transform our lives.
Truly, that’s the entire reason for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit filled the early Church with the very life of God. The same Spirit that rose Jesus from the dead ignited the apostles and filled the ears of all who came to the faith that day (Acts 2). The same Holy Spirit that impelled the apostles is the same Spirit that we received in the sacrament of confirmation. The same Spirit turned the heart of Paul, one of the greatest enemies of early Christianity, from a zealous Pharisee to a tireless preacher of the gospel of Christ.
The seven gifts are tools to shape souls; “the Holy Spirit is the Artist who unites in a kiss of love the Father and the transformed soul” (The Sanctifier, p. 49) Let us fervently pray that the Advocate allows each of these gifts to unfold within our souls! Here is some guidance in how to make the most of these beautiful spiritual gifts:
“O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy, who hast made all things by thy word, and by thy wisdom hast formed man, to have dominion over the creatures thou hast made, and rule the world in holiness and righteousness, and pronounce judgment in uprightness of soul, give me the wisdom that sits by thy throne, and do not reject me from among thy servants. For I am thy slave and the son of thy maidservant, a man who is weak and short-lived, with little understanding of judgment and laws; for even if one is perfect among the sons of men, yet without the wisdom that comes from thee he will be regarded as nothing.” (Wisdom 9:1-6)
When King Solomon was asked by God in a dream for a wish, Solomon chose wisdom above every other thing (1 Kings 3:1-15). This passage is a great lesson for us in detachment from the world. By immersing ourselves more in heavenly matters, we gain greater insight into the will of God for our lives. That’s easy to say, but how to we do that? Try unplugging from normal distractions: the internet, music, smart phone apps and games, and so on. Quieting down our lives is terribly difficult in our age, and is therefore of great importance!
“Teach me, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep Thy law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of thy commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to thy testimonies, and not to gain! Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; and give me life in thy ways.” (Psalm 119:33-37)
By this gift we grasp the truths of our faith. And when we talk about the truth, we’re not only talking about dogmas and doctrines. Every single teaching of the Church is a reflection of Christ’s love, and those teachings should never become a bludgeon. It’s common to have difficulties with matters of faith—however, we put our souls in peril if we willfully persist with a lackluster faith. Do you have difficulties with a teaching of the Catholic Church? Give God the chance to make His case to you. Read up on it in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, listen to Catholic podcasts, read a Catholic blog, or listen to Catholic radio. On top of that, there are books, pamphlets, online forums, and a plethora of other things that makes ignorance inexcusable. Most importantly, pray to the Holy Spirit to ask for an encounter with Jesus in that difficult teaching. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! (John 14:6)
God of wisdom and love,
you have sent your Son Jesus to be the light of the world,
and continue to send your Holy Spirit among us
to guide us into the way of truth.
Open our hearts to your word
and let us ponder your actions among us.
Give us your Spirit of wisdom and knowledge,
of understanding and counsel.
With Mary, may we rejoice in your gifts,
and walk in the way of truth and love.
With all your people on earth and in eternity,
we ask this prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ,
in the unity of your loving Spirit,
one holy God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Good counsel applies from the smallest decisions to life-altering situations. By giving us this gift, the Holy Spirit builds on the virtue of prudence. Counsel doesn’t remove the difficulties of life, or make tough decisions easy. Rather, the Holy Spirit serves to unite us more deeply to the will of the Father. In that there is tremendous peace, no matter the storm raging around us. One of the first steps in developing this gift is to run to Our Lady of Good Counsel. More than anyone that has ever lived, she was attuned to the will of God. Because of that, she both received and gave counsel at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). Her advice to the servers is the best piece of advice: “do whatever He [Jesus] tells you” (John 2:5).
My Lord Jesus, who gives us all good things,
bestow upon us the gift of fortitude.
You know how weak we can be, and how enticed we are by evil.
Help us to pick up our cross to follow You,
and to fight the good fight of faith.
Bring us one day into the joyful embrace of Your kingdom. Amen.
Secular culture focuses heavily on feelings and appetites (of all kinds), often at the expense of consequences, morals, and common sense. In these times, we need the gift of fortitude to stand up for our faith as well as to stand up to our feelings and appetites. “St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that fortitude (also called courage) is that kind of firmness of mind and spirit that we need for both doing good and enduring evil” (The Gifts of the Holy Spirit According to St. Thomas Aquinas, p. 20). Whether it is in small matters or large matters, we need this gift to act uprightly.
The ultimate expression of the gift is martyrdom. Many martyrs suffered tremendously, from ancient times down to our own. The story of St. Margaret Clitherow (d. 1586) is a wonderful example of superhuman fortitude. All the martyrs are still with us—for additional fortitude, read their stories and ask for their intercession. This gift also gives us confidence in God, who is the source of fortitude. By ourselves we cannot fight and win against evil; but when God is on our side, does it matter who lines up against us? (cf. Rom 8:31) Pray the words of St. Paul, another martyr: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).
Absolute and all knowing God,
Nothing is hidden from Your sight.
In the prescience since the beginning,
All knowledge existed within You.
Kindly share Your knowledge with me,
Making me aware of what is meant to be,
Permitting my soul to understand it,
And wisdom to agree with its outcome.
Provide me with the gift of discretion,
To prudently apply received knowledge,
To ensure the fulfillment of Your Will.
Your knowledge shines forth forever! Amen.
Knowledge is different than understanding and wisdom. Understanding seeks to comprehend truth, and wisdom applies both knowledge and understanding. True knowledge sees the physical and spiritual world for what they are: the former is beautiful but transitory, and the latter is hidden but eternal. Both sides are needed to keep a balanced view. An example of keeping things in perspective is a since-removed part of the papal coronation ceremony (used from 1409-1963). The master of ceremonies burned a piece of cloth and repeated three times: “Pater Sancte, sic transit gloria mundi!” (Holy Father, so passes worldly glory!)
For greater knowledge, contemplate poverty and the saints who practiced it. Whether or not you are called to the celibate religious life, all of us can still live simply. In addition to helping us live a simpler life, this gift allows us to see suffering for what it truly is: a participation in Christ’s sufferings (cf. Col 1:24). Saints like Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, and Anthony of Padua all did things that seemed like utter madness to their contemporaries. Patiently endure suffering, and the Holy Spirit will deepen your knowledge of God!
O my God! I offer Thee all my actions of this day for the intentions and for the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I desire to sanctify every beat of my heart, my every thought, my simplest works, by uniting them to Its infinite merits; and I wish to make reparation for my sins by casting them into the furnace of Its Merciful Love.
O my God! I ask of Thee for myself and for those whom I hold dear, the grace to fulfill perfectly Thy Holy Will, to accept for love of Thee the joys and sorrows of this passing life, so that we may one day be united together in heaven for all Eternity. Amen.
This gift is propelled by the flooding grace of God. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are,” and also “the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” (1 John 3:1 and Rom 8:16-17) God’s divine adoption of the human race, His willingness to share His life with us, and that He sent His Son—it all adds up to the incomprehensible gift of salvation, which is God’s tremendous act of love.
Piety is something that can turn into just an exterior exercise, and many aspects of popular Catholic piety have disappeared over the decades since the 1960s. There are many possibilities: the rosary or another devotion to Our Lady, Eucharistic adoration, acts of penance, and many more. Grace will find its own way through the intricacies of our hearts, if we only let it.
Fear of the Lord
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created. And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.
Let us pray. O God, Who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant us in the same Spirit to be truly wise, and ever to rejoice in His consolation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
This gift “conditions us to show proper reverence to God and to be completely devoted to Him” (The Gifts of the Holy Spirit According to St. Thomas Aquinas, p. 9). Complete devotion is impossible while sin is in our lives. Archbishop Martinez set out three stages: first, the soul gains a horror for sin. Second, the further away from sin the soul gets, the more it voluntarily clings to God. The third and final step is total detachment from this world (The Sanctifier, pp. 152-53).
For a practical step, develop a habit of regular, monthly confession and daily examinations of conscience. Pair that practicality with a solid perseverance. Sometimes it takes years to gain a horror of a particular sin—don’t be discouraged.
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are exemplified by Our Lord and Our Lady. Let us ask the special intercession of Our Lady, to pray that her spouse, the Holy Spirit, might work wonders in our hearts.