How To Pray For the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. – CCC 1830
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord…They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations. – CCC 1831
The Third Person of the Holy Trinity can often be neglected, because He is so often hidden and subtle and evasive. The Holy Spirit dwells in the deepest recesses of every baptized human soul, yet we forget about this Divine Indwelling. Sometimes He stirs. Sometimes He taps on our hearts. Sometimes He moves fluidly, sometimes rapidly. Still other times, He sleeps.
As we reflect in this time following Pentecost, it’s fitting to ponder our relationship with the Holy Spirit and ask ourselves how we can solidify it. It is the Holy Spirit who “melts the frozen and warms the chill,” as we hear in the Pentecost Sunday Sequence. He grants us His gifts gratuitously and unbidden. Each one is unlike an acquired skill or talent; it must be granted to us based on our need and the needs of those in our lives.
Most of us do not know what gifts the Holy Spirit has given us. Some believe they have none, which is false. Each gift can ebb and flow in our lives, based on the desires of the Holy Spirit. Only He knows what is best for us and what is most needed in specific seasons of our lives. Theologically, Fear of the Lord is considered the base of the tier of gifts, in other words, the most rudimentary and upon which other gifts are built. Wisdom, then, is deemed the highest gift.
This does not mean that, if you have been given the Gift of Wisdom and I have been granted the Gift of Fear of the Lord, that you are somehow superior to me or that I am not as worthy as you are. It simply means, in God’s vast and infinite existence, He gives each of us precisely what will assist us in our path to holiness.
Here are ways we can pray with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit:
“The Gift of Wisdom helps us to think less of worldly things and more of God and our spiritual life.” – Fr. Paul O’Sullivan, The Holy Ghost Our Greatest Friend, 22
I once was asked whether wisdom or insight was the greater gift. Wisdom is always the greater gift, because it is the greatest of all. Thomistic theologians believe that all virtues can either be infused or acquired, sometimes both. This may be the case with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, but it seems as if God chooses to entrust particular gifts at particular times.
When we pray for wisdom, let’s begin by removing the secular obstacles that vie for our time and attention – all the things that distract us, the things that we are attached to. Attachment to things equals detachment from God, and vice versa. This is no small feat. We can ask the Holy Spirit to grant us the desire for Him and to help us detach from all worldly things.
Praying for Understanding
“The Gift of Understanding helps us to grasp and realize heavenly truths.” – Ibid, 23
Some mistake Understanding for Knowledge, in that understanding a spiritual truth means that we know it well. While this is partially accurate, the Gift of Understanding is actually based on how we know something. For instance, St. Bernadette Soubirous was not well educated or catechized, based on her ill health. Yet she knew the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception; this was the Gift of Understanding.
There will be moments in your life when you are in conversation with someone or reflecting on a tenet of the Faith, and you receive some sort of enlightenment – a new insight. This is the Gift of Understanding.
When we are confused about some aspect of our faith, when we don’t have the “right” words to defend the Catholic Church to another, when we are struggling with accepting a specific teaching, we can pray for the Gift of Understanding.
“The Gift of Counsel is what we may call a divine prudence, which enables us to choose what is pleasing to God and good for ourselves.” – Ibid
We think of counsel when we seek solid, sound spiritual advice, maybe from a trained spiritual director or trusted priest. The Gift of Counsel is for all of us, however, whether laity or religious or consecrated. Counsel draws upon what is right – Truth – in difficult scenarios, ones that do not present clear solutions or direction.
Praying for this gift might involve asking the Holy Spirit to guide our decisions. It is one way we can begin the process of discernment when we are torn about what to do – how to speak a hard truth to someone we love, which job to take, how to be a good steward of our money, where to send our kids to school, and so on.
Growing in Fortitude
“The Gift of Fortitude gives us strength to do our duties well.” – Ibid
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that this gift involves what he called “sub-virtues” that include perseverance (persisting in the good), longanimity (the ability to wait for the good), magnanimity (seeking excellence in all things), patience (suffering evils in the face of good), magnificence (doing good with our money), and mortification (the willingness to suffer).
Fortitude extends beyond one of its synonyms – strength. It requires a desire to engage in what is arduous and difficult. Most of us struggle with fortitude; we are weak in seeking bodily comforts and the temptation to acquire a great deal of wealth. God tends to present us with opportunities to grow in fortitude. We do not necessarily need to seek them out. The key is how we pray through our suffering.
If you are undergoing a serious trial or a terrible suffering, ask the Holy Spirit to help you grow in fortitude. This is one of those gifts that is also a virtue, so you can receive it – “supernatural strength” or the “peace that surpasses all understanding” – but you can also strive to become better at accepting and embracing your crosses.
“The Gift of Knowledge helps us to see and avoid dangers to our soul and our spiritual welfare.” – Ibid
For those of us who have been caught in perilous circumstances, the gift of knowledge is truly a form of spiritual protection. In my experience, it is closely related to foresight, or having the ability to foresee how a situation might not be good for us – “avoiding the near occasion of sin,” in other words.
We can pray for knowledge if we find ourselves struggling with a vice that we cannot seem to overcome, especially if we have confessed it and are still discovering ourselves engaging it in. This is often true for most addictions. It’s not merely a matter of willpower, either. Interiorly, we can ask the Holy Spirit to grant us the ability to see how our choices can lead to bad outcomes or good consequences.
Living a Pious Life
“The Gift of Piety helps us to love God more tenderly, with more confidence, and to do everything lovingly for Him.” – Ibid
Piety is often viewed as unattainable sanctimony, the way many of us view some of the saints who never seemed to falter and were always praying and offering sacrifices to God. This gift, however, helps soften our hearts and render them entirely dependent on God for everything. When we have been psychologically or spiritually injured, it’s often impossible for us to open up our hearts to love.
But if we ask the Holy Spirit to grant us the gift of piety, we might find ourselves more receptive to receiving His love and, in turn, sharing ourselves more vulnerably with both God and the people closest to us. Meekness is the beatitude that most closely resembles piety, in that meekness helps us listen more closely to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and long to draw closer to God.
Humility and Fear of the Lord
“The Gift of the Fear of the Lord inspires us with reverence and respect for God and all things relating to Him and inspires us with a filial fear of giving Him offense.” – Ibid
Fear of the Lord does not mean we are terrified of God. There is a holy and an unholy fear. The unholy fear clearly comes from the enemy and involves a paralyzing sense of dread and terror. Holy fear is rooted in humility, the sense that I am small and weak but God is great and powerful. There is love at play here, too, because we do not see our nothingness through the lens of disgust or disdain. Instead, we acknowledge that our finiteness and helplessness is an opportunity and invitation to rely upon God for everything.
This is actually quite powerful, because it means that we throw ourselves into God’s love and care with the trust of a child, much like the theology of St. Therese of Lisieux – the “little way.” When we pray to the Holy Spirit for this gift, we can ask Him to help us avoid sin out of love and to treat our relationship with God in a profoundly reverent manner.
PRAYER TO THE HOLY SPIRIT
(Adapted from 'The Holy Ghost Our Greatest Friend' by Fr. Paul O’Sullivan)
O Lord Jesus Christ, Who before ascending into Heaven did promise to send the Holy Spirit to finish Your work in the souls of Your Apostles and Disciples, deign to grant the same Holy Spirit to me, that He may perfect in my soul the work of Your grace and Your love.
Grant me the Spirit of Wisdom, that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after the things that are eternal; the Spirit of Understanding, to enlighten my mind with the light of Your divine truth; the Spirit of Counsel, that I may ever choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining Heaven; the Spirit of Fortitude, that I may bear my cross with You and that I may overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation; the Spirit of Knowledge, that I may know God and know myself and grow perfect in the science of the Saints; the Spirit of Piety, that I may find the service of God sweet and amiable; the Spirit of Fear, that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God and may dread in any way to displease Him.
Mark me, Dear Lord, with the sign of Thy true disciples, and animate me in all things with Your Spirit. Amen.