Most Catholics at some point or another are asked to memorize the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord. We talk about them especially as we approach the Sacrament of Confirmation. They are easily misunderstood or underappreciated. They are a sight to behold when they are truly received!
Let’s start by saying what these gifts are not. Language gets confusing. We are not talking about “charisms” such as speaking in tongues or prophecy or healing. Some Christian groups refer to these charisms as “spiritual gifts.” God indeed gives such gifts, but they are given for the building up of the Body of Christ in love. The person exercising them may or may not be personally holy – a point that Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 13. Charisms can be a great blessing for others, for the Church as a whole, but ultimately the divine gifts that endure into eternity are faith, hope and love. The others are imperfect and will pass away.
Likewise, we are not talking here of the “fruits” of the Holy Spirit that Paul enumerates in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Those are the good fruits that show themselves as an outward sign of the inward workings of the Holy Spirit. They are a great litmus test to help discern whether or not God is truly at work.
Rather, when Catholics speak of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, we are talking about seven dispositions in us, which have the potential to be activated in an astounding way. At any moment of God’s choosing, the Holy Spirit can rush in, possess us and work through us in one of those seven ways. In those moments, we are truly an instrument of God. The Holy Spirit is the primary agent; we are passive recipients. We become perfected in God’s love.
This “possession” by the Holy Spirit happens in full harmony with how God made us in the first place, i.e., as His free children. He never “makes” us do anything. Often, we are unwilling to leave behind certain behaviors that need to die, or are still uneasy about making a total surrender to God. Our self-protection and self-reliance tend to block these Gifts of the Holy Spirit from taking their full effect.
These Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit are all about learning to trust and receive and surrender. It should be so easy, but it proves to be so hard! Our own fantasies and fears tend to get in the way. Much of our “old self” needs to be put to death, and we need to acquire the Faith of a child. We see this childlike Faith modeled perfectly by the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her total receptivity and free cooperation allowed the Holy Spirit to take over in remarkable ways, opening the floodgates of divine grace and joy. May we follow her example!
Father Derek Sakowski
Pastor of St. Mary Parish in Altoona and St. Raymond of Penafort Parish in Fall Creek.
Published in the May/June 2019 issue