Whenever people—especially young people—celebrate their birthday, or approach Christmas, they wish for gifts, don’t they? Well, Pentecost is informally known as the birthday of the Church, whereby Christ fulfills his promise to remain with us as His body—the Church—by sending the Holy Spirit to enliven and embolden our faith.
So today, as we commemorate the Spirit’s descent upon the disciples at that first Pentecost, we anticipate the Spirit’s hovering over us as well, bringing His gifts to strengthen and embolden us as witnesses of the Church.
Let’s reflect, for a few moments, on the gifts that we are receiving on our birthday celebration today. Known as the gifts of the Holy Spirit, there are seven which bring us divine assistance from the heavenly throne and the eternal kingdom of God. They are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord (also known as “wonder and awe in God’s presence”).
- Wisdom is both the knowledge of and judgment about “divine things” and the ability to judge and direct human works according to divine truth.
- The gift of wisdom leads the soul of those who have it to see things from God’s perspective. Wisdom is fullness of knowledge through desire for closeness with God, as when a person comes to know Christ’s Passion through one’s own suffering.
- Understanding is penetrating insight into the very heart of things, especially those higher truths that are necessary for our eternal salvation.
- The gift of understanding gives to the mind of those who have it a charism for apprehending Christ’s public revelation easily and profoundly. More specifically, the gift of understanding helps those who have it penetrate to the heart of revealed truth even when they don’t fully understand its entire meaning. It gives great confidence in the revealed word of God and leads those who have it to reach true conclusions from revealed principles.
- Counsel allows a person to be directed by God in matters necessary for one’s salvation.
- The gift of counsel perfects in those who have it the virtue of prudence. It enables them to judge promptly and rightly, as by supernatural intuition, what should be done in difficult situations. It primarily enhances one’s own prudent conduct. The Holy Spirit speaks to the heart through the gift of counsel and shows those who have it what to do.
- Fortitude denotes a firmness of mind in doing good and in avoiding evil, particularly when it is difficult or dangerous to do so, with the confidence to overcome all obstacles, by virtue of the assurance of everlasting life.
- The virtue of fortitude, or courage, is firmness of spirit, steadiness of will in doing good despite obstacles in the performance of our daily duty. It suppresses inordinate fear and curbs recklessness.
- Knowledge is the ability to judge correctly about matters of faith and right action, so as to never wander from the straight path of justice.
- The gift of knowledge perfects the virtue of faith. It enables those who have it to judge the whole spectrum of creatures and objects from God’s viewpoint.
- Piety is, principally, revering God with childlike affection, paying worship and duty to God, and additionally, paying proper duty and attention to all others on account of their relationship to God.
- The gift of piety perfects the virtue of justice toward God. It infuses an instinctive love for God and devotion to those who are consecrated to God. Piety arises from the Holy Spirit’s personal giving, rather than from our own personal effort or acquired habit. The gift of piety enables those who have it to see God as a loving Father.
- Fear of God is, in this context, “simple childlike” or chaste fear whereby we revere God and avoid separating ourselves from him—as opposed to “servile” fear, whereby we fear punishment.
- The gift of fear of the Lord confirms in those who have it the virtue of hope and infuses profound respect for God’s glory and selfless love for God. It protects from sin through dread of offending God. Put simply, when we love God we seek never to offend Him. This is properly, “fear of the Lord”.
And so we have them: the gifts of the Holy Spirit. May these gifts— wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord—be shared abundantly with each one of us today, as we celebrate the birthday of the Church!
May they give us divine help in these days when we are called, and enliven us to proclaim God’s marvelous deeds! Fr. David