This Sunday: The Drama of the Spirit’s Seven Gifts
The revised Roman Missal provides a Pentecost option I have never seen exercised: The Extended Pentecost Vigil. It is like the Easter Vigil only not as long: Four Old Testament readings, one Epistle and the Gospel.
It is also unlike the Easter Vigil in that every one of its readings is filled with high drama: The destruction of the tower of Babel, the rattling of Ezekiel’s dry bones, the thundering voice of God on Mount Sinai, and the wide scale prophesying promised the Church.
But each reading has its purpose — and the readings match nicely with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Wisdom is the first gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Tower of Babel is the first reading. The story tells us how haughty humanity looks to technology for salvation, but ultimately cannot communicate without Divine intervention. Without the Holy Spirit, we may be intellectually advanced, but we are in Babel, as helpless as Laplander trying to talk to Eskimos.
This is humanity without wisdom. With wisdom, as we discover in the Acts reading on Pentecost day, we can communicate despite our language barrier. We find a “highest common denominator” in God’s truth.
Understanding is another gift of the Holy Spirit. It refers to the insight we get from God, when he suddenly gives live to our spirit.
That’s just like the Ezekiel “dry bones” Vigil reading. The prophet sees dry dead bones rejoining and being covered with sinews, flesh and skin, but they have no spirit. We, too, are like Ezekiel’s lifeless bones until we learn his prayer: “From the four winds come, O Spirit, and breathe into these slain that they may come to life.” Ultimately, the highest understanding is a gift that gives our dead minds new life.
Knowledge is another gift of the Holy Spirit. It means seeing the same things everybody else does — but seeing them from God’s point of view, not just man’s. Everyone sees refracted light in a sunset — those in the know see the grandeur of God.
The reading from the Prophet Joel describes this gift. Joel sees the future dispensation of the Spirit in a dramatic scene: “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” The Spirit gives extraordinary gifts to ordinary people.
Counsel is another gift of the Holy Spirit. It means knowing God’s will — knowing what he wants in a particular situation — and sharing it.
As St. Paul says in the epistle of the Extended Vigil readings, the Spirit gives this; he “comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.”
Fortitude is the gift of the Holy Spirit where we are given courage not from our own self-confidence — but from confidence in God.
The source of fortitude is given in the reading about the Jews in the desert. “You have seen for yourselves how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagle wings and brought you here to myself. Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine. You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.”
God says the same thing to us today.
Speaking of Moses, another gift of the Holy Spirit is Fear of the Lord, which means reverencing God with true awe at his might.
When the Lord came to Mount Sinai to converse with Moses, “The smoke rose from it as though from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.” When the Holy Spirit speaks, he sounds like thunder.
The last gift is piety. This is the consolation and joy we feel in prayer.
In the Gospel on the Vigil, Christ himself expresses the longing for the spirit. “On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, ‘Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink … Rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in me.’”
To read the Pentecost Extended Vigil readings in their entirety, click here.
Photo: Moses on Mount Sinai, Jean-Léon Gérôme (1895-1900) [Wikimedia commons]