_Fr. Thomas Au
WHAT ARE THE 7 GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT?
With confidence and from memory we say, "knowledge, wisdom, understanding, counsel, piety, fortitude and fear of the Lord." But what are they? "Knowledge helps us to know God," we reply. Wrong. Not that there is something wrong with the statement. It just doesn't say anything about what "knowing" means.
KNOWLEDGE This word, in Hebrew, means more than just reading about something. It means to experience. In Genesis 4:1 we read "Adam knew Eve and she conceived and bore Cain." Confucius said, "It is better to walk ten thousand miles than to read ten thousand books." Knowledge comes from living. Book knowledge is important but not complete. A person cannot read a cook book and calls himself a chef. Coming to know God then is not merely memorizing words from the Bible or a Catechism. It means to personally and intimately experience the justice and mercy of God. How often we admire a person that can cook without a recipe and a pinch is a pinch. It looks so simple. A dab here and a dab there. That is it. But one must cook to be a cook. To become a chef, one must cook often and try different recipes. And the recipes to know God are many. God gives us the Church as the custodian of His recipes: the Bible, the Sacraments, the doctrines, the lives of saints, etc. So, to know God is much more than receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, but to act on what we have read, learned and even memorized.
WISDOM The ability to apply what we have learned to distinguish what is right or wrong in a concrete situation. This practical judgement is part of the formation of right conscience. We make daily decisions and as Catholics we should always choose to obey and to love God. In the midst of the confusing values in our society, wisdom helps us to see and to act in goodness.
UNDERSTANDING The word itself gives us a clue to its meaning - to stand under. In every given situation, God helps us to look beyond the surface, (to look under the hood of a used car), so that we are not easily swayed by fancy words and advertisement. In our world of 30 second commercials, so much is unsaid.
Yet products are sold by gimmicks or false impressions. We must look beyond what meets the eye and see the truth or falsehood presented.
COUNSEL Here, the gift is more specific. That is, God does not leave us out in the cold. After giving us the gifts of knowledge, wisdom and understanding, when we are still in doubt, He guides us through the muddy waters. The Church, through the preaching, teaching and examples of the Holy Father, the bishops, the faithful priests, the competent theologians, the responsible parents and other spiritually mature members, helps and supports us in making the right decisions. This may be the least used gift for many adult Catholics, trusting in the teaching office of the Church. Too often, the wisdom of the Church is placed merely on an equal footing with that of the other so called “experts,” even in moral issues.
PIETY The Pieta, the sculpture by Michelangelo, may be the best image of piety. The Blessed Mother holding the body of Jesus at the foot of the Cross gives us a sense of sadness caused by sin. True piety is not wimpish. It comes from a profound understanding of sin and its consequences. Therefore, we never attribute anything good merely to ourselves but to God. Piety helps us to have a deep sense of reverence to God who makes all things possible, despite our sinful selves.
FORTITUDE Though we tremble in fear of what we are capable of doing in selfishness and godlessness, we live with confidence in the mercy of God, the power of His Grace to transform and renew the world. Fortitude gives us a sense of security in the face of overwhelming odds. For us, the force of the secular world, the peer pressures, could not deter us from doing what is right.
FEAR OF THE LORD Scripture tells us that fear is the the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 110:10). There are 2 types of fear: filial reverence of a loving Father and servile fear of just punishment. The gift in Confirmation is that of filial reverence, a sense of awe that attracts us to goodness. It enables us to desire what is good so as to please God because of who He is and a realization that what He wants is what we truly need. We acquire a taste for what is holy and true and a distaste for what is profane and evil.
IT IS IN GIVING THAT WE RECEIVE. Each of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is given, as St. Augustine puts it, “in embryo,” in Baptism. In Confirmation, these gifts are unfolded and strengthened so that the one confirmed will now be able to continue the saving mission of Jesus. These gifts are then to be used not so much for ourselves but to be used for others. We are to be holy so that the world could be made holy. Confirmation then, is a Sacrament of service. These gifts are given in anticipation of what we need. We are confirmed and are given the gifts of the Holy Spirit in anticipation of the confusion and the challenges we will face in our becoming and being responsible adults in the Church and the world throughout our lives. We meet great opposition in this task and only with the power of God will we have any chance of success. Yet at the same time, these gifts have effect only if we put them to use.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Look up these Bible passages:
Is. 11:2-3. Ps. 14, 94, 111.
Books of Proverbs and Wisdom esp. Prov. 1 and Wis 1 & 13.
Mt. 18:18-19; 28:16ff. Jn 14:12-16:16.
Acts 2:14-39; 1Cor. 1:18ff; Eph. 5:15ff.
Ask yourself these questions:
How have I been using these gifts in my life?
Do I see myself as a missionary to make e world holy, in my place of work, in my family and friends?
How do my answers make me feel?
In addition to explaining the gifts, I (Fr. Au) also teach them that the gifts are given in 2 ways: ability and opportunity
Ability: These gifts are given so that we can grow in them. All of us are given abilities. They have to be developed. In math,for example, we began learning the numbers, then addition and subtraction, multiplication and division. Later, we learn fractions and algebra. Some may even go on to Calculus. There is a gradual growing in depth and competence. But if one does not use them, one never excel and go as far as one is capable. What if Tiger Woods never played golf? What if St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas never became Christians? It wouldn't just be a lost to them, but also to the Church and the whole world.
Opportunity: Along with the ability, God gives us the opportunity to develop the abilities. We have so many opportunities, particularly in our age of information. There is so much available at our fingertips, or mouse clicks. There is no reason for us not to be able to find sources of the truth and beauty of God. The greatest sin these days, of the 7 deadly sins, I think, is sloth. Be aware. And in the course of our development, there comes more difficult challenges. Do not be afraid of difficulties. They are gifts to help us to grow no sports team wants to play only easy opponents. The victories will be meaningless. But tough losses are not losses at all. It gives glory to the victor that they have met true opponents. Sometimes, in sports or other arena of competition, we need to revel in the fact that when we lose, we have uplifted our opponents by insisting them to use all they have. So it is in spiritual growth. Challenges of the world make us stronger in faith and edify in the power and glory of God's grace.