The Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost
What are the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost? The Catechism names them: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. It is customary to associate each day of the Octave of Pentecost with one of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost:
Pentecost Sunday: Wisdom
Saturday: Fear of the Lord
The seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost are rooted in the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. The three theological virtues come directly from God and are ordered directly to union with God; they give us the capacity to live as children of the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Ghost, that is, in a state of grace. The Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost allow us to express the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity in daily life; they make us docile in following divine inspirations. The Gifts of the Holy Ghost flower in the faithful soul and mature into the Holy Ghost’s Twelve Fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, forbearance, gentleness, faith, courtesy, temperateness, and purity.
Pentecost Sunday: The Gift of Wisdom
The Gift of Wisdom gives a taste for the things that will make us truly happy. The wise person is one who consistently and habitually chooses the things that will make him happy, not with a fleeting, deceptive happiness, but with the happiness that comes from being in right relationship with God. Saint Paul, graced with wisdom, says, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). The Gift of Wisdom is that by which one “sets nothing before the love of Christ” (RB 4:21). One graced with wisdom knows what will make him happy because he has tasted it; he sings with the psalmist, “O taste and see that the Lord is sweet; blessed is the man who hopes in him” (Ps 33:8).
The Gift of Wisdom makes one take delight in the companionship of the saints, in the example of their lives, and in their writings. The saints are wisdom’s children. A proverb says, “Tell me with whom you keep company, and I will tell you who you are.” The wise Christian never tires of reading the lives of the saints; he prays before their images, kneels humbly before their relics, and, in their company, discovers wisdom’s secrets.
One who lacks wisdom makes foolish choices. There will be disorder in his priorities: an inability to put first things first. One who lacks wisdom will have little or no taste for the things of God, for things holy, heavenly, and divine. He will forever be looking elsewhere for happiness. The unwise person lacks stability. In his search for happiness he knocks at all the wrong doors, passing by the one door open to receive him: the pierced Heart of Christ.
Pentecost Monday: The Gift of Understanding
The Gift of Understanding opens the mind and heart to the splendour of the truth. One graced with understanding is at home in an adoring silence. One graced with understanding will be open to God, receptive to the truth and, for that reason, always full of wonderment and ready to adore.
The Gift of Understanding is the undoing of pride. The prideful person clings to his own perceptions and resists growth, saying, “I know what I know, and what I know is enough for me.” One lacking the gift of understanding is literally unintelligent, that is to say, he cannot read the deeper meaning of events and circumstances. He approaches the Word of God superficially and skims on the surface of the Sacred Liturgy instead of plunging into its depths.
The Gift of Understanding pushes one to one’s knees in the presence of God. The Gift of Understanding also makes one compassionate toward others. Understanding the ways of God is the beginning of understanding the human person created in His image and likeness. Understanding produces joy, the joy of discovering the glory of God “shining in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6), and the joy of perceiving that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of God, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).
Pentecost Tuesday: The Gift of Counsel
The Gift of Counsel enables one to make choices in harmony with the providence of the Father, the mind of Christ, and the leadings of the Holy Ghost. With the Gift of Counsel one walks securely and serenely, knowing that it is possible at every moment to consult the best of Counselors, “soul’s sweet Guest.” The Virgin Mary, associated with the Holy Ghost in all His works, is the Mother of Good Counsel. She is present to us in our perplexities, close to us when we stand at life’s crossroads. “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5) is the word of loving encouragement she addresses to the disciples of her Son.
One without the gift of counsel suffers an endless succession of false starts and goes from one spiritual calamity to another. He acts hastily, is easily manipulated, and makes decisions under the sway of emotions, especially fear. One graced with the Gift of Counsel, on the other hand, will be serene, calm, and full of trust that God’s kindly light will lead him one step at a time.
Pentecost Wednesday: The Gift of Fortitude
The Gift of Fortitude makes one distrust oneself and place all one’s trust in the strength that comes from the grace of Christ. “Separated from me, “ says Our Lord, “you have no power to do anything” (Jn 15:5). He does not say, “Separated from me you can do something,” or “you can do a little bit.” It is the grace of Christ that makes all the difference. The words of Our Lord to Saint Paul give the measure of the Gift of Fortitude: “My grace is enough for thee; my strength finds its full scope in thy weakness (2 Cor 12:9). Saint Paul, taking the word of the Lord to heart, declares: “Nothing is beyond my powers, thanks to the strength God gives me” (Ph 4:13).
It is in the martyrs that we see the most striking illustration of the Gift of Fortitude. Children give yet another illustration of the Gift of Fortitude, as striking as it is touching. I am thinking, in particular, of Saint Agnes, Saint Maria Goretti, the Blessed Children of Fatima, Francisco and Jacinta, the Servant of God Nennolina, and Ireland’s own Little Nellie Organ.
One graced with the Gift of Fortitude goes along steadily; he is not intimidated by the apparent force of evil. He faces challenges, weaknesses, temptations, trials, and setbacks with equanimity and courage, knowing that no matter what befalls him the power of Christ is stronger, and the power of Christ is his, communicated to the weak by the Holy Ghost, especially in the Most Holy Eucharist: the food and drink of the strong.
Pentecost Thursday: The Gift of Knowledge
“How deep is the mine of God’s wisdom, of his knowledge; how inscrutable are his judgments, how undiscoverable his ways! Who has ever understood the Lord’s thoughts, or been his counsellor?” (Rom 11:33-34). The Gift of Knowledge is a way of seeing to the core of things. It is insight into situations and persons. It is a light projected onto the Word of God or, again, a light projected from the Word of God into the heart. It is that occasional pulling back of the corner of the veil that gives one just a fleeting glance into the inscrutable mysteries of God.
The Gift of Knowledge produces a quiet joy in the soul, a delight in the truth, a desire for union with the Beloved. In this way, the Gift of Knowledge is directly related to the development of the twelfth fruit of the Holy Ghost: chastity.
The Gift of Knowledge allows one to sort things out in the light of God; it obliges one to a closer conformity with His designs. With knowledge comes responsibility. With knowledge also comes a deeper capacity for compassion. The Gift of Knowledge does not make one an arrogant know-it-all. It makes one meek and lowly of heart. Above all it fills the soul with admiration, making one sing, Quam magnificata sunt opera tua, Domine! “How great are thy works, O Lord! Thou hast made all things in wisdom” (Ps 103:24). The more one uses the Gift of Knowledge, the lower one descends into adoration.
Friday: The Gift of Piety
Pietas is a word wonderfully rich in meaning and full of nuances. It is notoriously difficult to translate. In the end one settles for “piety,” and then tries to unpack some of the meaning of the word. Piety has to do with the relations between a father and his child, and between a child and his father. People will sometimes say of a certain man, “He is utterly devoted to his children”; this is paternal piety. People will sometimes say of a son, “He is utterly devoted to his father”; this is filial piety.
Before we can begin to understand anything of the filial piety we owe God, we have to reflect on the paternal piety of God toward us. God relates to us not as a master to his slave, but as the most tender of fathers to his child. “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 1:11–13). God is utterly devoted to each of His children by adoption.
We in turn are bound to offer God the dutiful obedience of loving children: piety is the expression in daily life of filial devotedness to the Heavenly Father. The Gift of Piety strengthens the virtue of religion, making us zealous for the worship of God and eager to put all that we are and do into the hands of Christ the Priest to be offered to the Father in His Sacrifice. Piety is the gift by which everything in life is ordered ad Patrem, toward the Father. One might say that the Gift of Piety unites the soul to the inner dispositions of Christ revealed throughout the Fourth Gospel: “He who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him” (Jn 8:29). To my mind, the Church’s Doctor Pietatis ought to be Ireland’s best known Benedictine, Blessed Columba Marmion.
The Gift of Piety delivers one from that oppressive sense of obligation that makes all things burdensome and tedious. One lacking the Gift of Piety has no zeal for prayer. Both private and liturgical prayer are carried out in a perfunctory manner, often with one eye on the clock. One contents oneself with doing the bare minimum. One short on piety asks, “How little can I get away with doing and still fulfill the letter of the law?” One graced with the Gift of Piety asks: “How much can do to show my Father that I love him, that I am attached to him, and that all my joy is in the service of His majesty.”
Saturday: The Gift of Fear of the Lord
The Gift of Fear of the Lord is the antidote to pride and the beginning of the humility by which the soul arrives at union with God. In Chapter Seven of the Holy Rule Saint Benedict says: “The first degree of humility then, is that a man always have the fear of God before his eyes, shunning all forgetfulness, and that he be ever mindful of all that God hath commanded.” The Gift of Holy Fear fills one with the utmost reverence for God and for all that pertains to his service. It makes one recoil from occasions of sin and desire a burning purity of heart for the worship of God “in the beauty of holiness” (Ps 95:9).
One deficient in fear of the Lord is careless in His service, easily flirts with temptation, and takes stupid risks, walking a tight rope over the abyss of sin. One lacking fear of God approaches holy things casually and treats lightly of what is sacred. Contemporary Western culture has come to foster a casual approach to all things, including the worship of the Divine Majesty. The past forty years have witnessed an incremental loss of reverence in our churches.
The Gift of the Fear of the Lord causes us to shun carelessness in His service. Fear of the Lord is far removed from anything resembling a morbid and self-centred scrupulosity; it is marked by joy in the Holy Ghost and fosters a holy boldness in the presence of the Father. One graced with Fear of the Lord knows that, hidden in the secret of the Face of Christ and assumed into His filial and priestly prayer to the Father, there is nothing to fear.
Fear of the Lord colours the way we carry out the Sacred Liturgy; it inspires a loving attention even to the smallest details. It constitutes a kind of enclosure around the Holy of Holies lest we fall into an attitude of casual familiarity and into the soulless routine that is the death of true devotion. Fear of the Lord imbues us with a holy awe and with that quality of “Eucharistic amazement” which Saint John Paul II sought to reawaken in the Church during his Year of the Eucharist. Finally, the Gift of Fear of the Lord associates us with the angels who, with veiled faces, tremble and ceaselessly cry out: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Is 6:3).