The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2)
In this series of sermons we have reflected on the infused theological and moral virtues. Today I want to speak to you about the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit which are given to us at our Baptism along with sanctifying grace. Surely you have heard them mentioned at some time in a catechism class, in your reading, or in a sermon.
You probably have never heard a complete sermon on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. I will not try to explain each one in detail today – it would take too long. Rather, I will explain what they are as a group, what they do for us, and their importance in our life of faith to help us save our souls and reach Heaven.
The Gifts are supernatural principles or permanent dispositions given by God to our spiritual faculties of intellect and will or appetite. The virtues are principles of operation, like faith, hope, and charity. They are active. The Gifts are more passive and enable us to receive help from the Holy Spirit to practice virtue and lead a good Christian life; they make it possible for us to recognize and follow inspirations from the Holy Spirit.
Saint Thomas compares the Gifts to the sails of a boat and the virtues to the oars of a boat. Let us imagine a couple sailing in a small boat that also has oars. If there is no wind and they want to return to the port, they have to row with the oars; the virtues are like that. If the wind fills the sails, then they return to port easily without having to row; Saint Thomas likens the sails to the Gifts – just as the sails catch the wind and move the boat, so the Gifts catch or receive impulses from the Holy Spirit which perfect the acts of virtue and help us to grow in love of God and holiness of life. In this regard Saint Thomas says: “The gifts are perfections of man, whereby he is disposed so as to be amenable to the promptings of God.”
Baptism is like a new birth in which we become “a new creature” according to Saint Paul. Our new spiritual organism is composed of divine grace, the theological and moral virtues, and the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. You might say that it is a “complete package.” As we grow to maturity physically, we also grow, or should grow, spiritually. So as we increase in grace and the love of God, by a Christian life of prayer and the Sacraments, we also grow in all the virtues and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. The person who tragically falls into mortal sin loses all of that, with the exception of faith and hope, which are not lost unless one sins directly against them by apostasy or despair.
In the Bible, and especially in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is called “the Gift of God.” Saint Peter said in his Pentecost sermon (acts 2:14-42): “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (v. 38)
The Holy Spirit with his Gifts is given to us to help us grow in the knowledge and love of God. The Gifts help us to resist temptation, avoid mortal sin, and practice virtue. In one of his articles, Saint Thomas asks whether or not the Gifts will remain with us in Heaven. He says that they will remain with us and will be perfectly operative because we will be totally open to receiving God’s influence on us.
The Gifts modify or influence or dispose or perfect our higher faculties of intellect and will/appetite. The first four – wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel – pertain to knowledge, so they influence our thinking and judging about what is right and what is wrong in daily living. The last three – fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord – pertain to seeking the good and so they influence our will, especially in controlling anger, overindulgence in food or drink, and regulating the sexual drive so that we lead a chaste life.
Here I would like to say just a brief word about each of the Seven Gifts:
- The Gift of Wisdom helps us to judge rightly concerning God and divine things through their ultimate and highest causes.
- The Gift of Understanding helps the human mind to penetrate into the deeper meaning of revealed truths, such as the Trinity and Incarnation.
- The Gift of Knowledge helps the human intellect to judge rightly concerning created things and how they are related to eternal life and Christian perfection.
- The Gift of Counsel helps the human mind to judge rightly in particular events what ought to be done in view of the supernatural ultimate end of human life.
- The Gift of Fortitude strengthens the will for the practice of virtue, with invincible confidence of overcoming any dangers or difficulties that may arise.
- The Gift of Piety arouses in the will a filial love for God as Father, and a sentiment of love for all as our brothers and sisters and children of the same heavenly Father.
- The gift of Fear of the Lord perfects the virtue of hope by motivating the individual to avoid sin out of reverential fear of God. It also assists the virtue of temperance by helping to moderate emotions of anger, gluttony, and lust.
Because of sin, concupiscence, and human weakness, we need all the help we can get in order to save our souls and to finally reach Heaven. Faith, hope, and charity; grace, prayer, and the sacraments are essential to remain faithful to Christ and live a good, Christian life. God’s help is always available; the Holy Spirit has been given to us in Baptism, as I said above. By his Gifts, he illumines our mind and inspires our will so we can think, judge, and act correctly and morally.
As we grow in virtue, grace, and the love of God, the Gifts grow silently in us and gradually make us more attentive and attuned to hear the Word of God and to be led by the Holy Spirit to the final Kingdom of God for which God made us and to which he is calling us. Now that you know something about the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, today you should thank him for them, and ask for the grace always to respond favorably to his illuminations and inspirations so that you may grow in the knowledge and love of God, since that is the ultimate purpose of your life and the reason why God created you in the first place.