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This Pentecost Sunday, the readings celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, which the Catechism sums up as the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The gifts can be baffling, all sounding like different ways of saying the same thing. After asking everybody I knew for years what they thought the seven gifts were, I came across Blessed Columba Marmion’s explanation of them. So now, inspired by his explanation, I explain them this way …
1. Wisdom: The gift of relishing what is right.
To have the gift of wisdom isn’t simply to appreciate the truth; it is to have a “taste” and hunger for the things of God, a kind of heavenly instinct that makes us sense and appreciate holiness
. “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink,” says Jesus in the Pentecost Vigil Gospel. “As Scripture says: Rivers of living water will flow from within him who believes in me.” That’s wisdom.
The Rosary is a great way to develop wisdom. In praying the Rosary, we ponder the things of God and develop a taste for them.
2. Understanding: Those flashes of holy insight we receive.
There are moments, often, when reading Scripture, that we suddenly “get” something we couldn’t see before. The meaning of a passage, or even a word we hadn’t noticed before, jumps off the page.
In one of the Gospel options for the day Jesus says: “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” He does through “understanding.”
We can encourage this gift by meditation — daily scheduled mental prayer.
3. Counsel: Knowing what God really wants.
This gift of the Holy Spirit helps us parse the inspirations we feel in our hearts. Some of these are presumption: We feel more capable than we really are. Others sell ourselves short: We tell ourselves that we cannot do something that we can. The Holy Spirit helps us sort out the good from the bad in ourselves and others.
In the Gospel, he gives the Apostles counsel in a major way: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Regular examination of conscience and confession are a good way to encourage this gift of the Holy Spirit. Remember to consider not just what you did wrong, but where you did well, to have full self-knowledge.
4. Fortitude: Knowing God is with you.
The Holy Spirit does not give us fortitude in or for ourselves; he gives us the courage to do his will. He tells us what God told Moses facing Pharaoh: “I will be with you.” Trust in God’s strength is ultimately the only sure courage we can have.
In today’s Gospel, fortitude turns the Apostles from fearful men hiding in shame because they know Jesus to delighted men shouting from the rooftops that they know Jesus.
A good way to encourage fortitude is to mortify our appetites for food or entertainment. This helps us stop building our foundation on our own strength (which we will quickly find to be weak), but on God’s.
5. Knowledge: Seeing what God sees.
You can stand in front of a giant waterfall and see only the power of nature — or you can see it in context and appreciate the beauty and order of the Creator. You can also look at yourself and see either Ms. Wonderful or Mr. Worthless —or you can see yourself in context: a weak creature given great potential by God. The Holy Spirit’s knowledge helps you see what God sees in both cases.
“When he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth,” says Jesus in the alternate Gospel for today. “He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears.”
Spiritual reading is a great way to encourage this gift of the Holy Spirit. Reading the books of saints or about saints helps train our knowledge to be attuned to God’s.
6. Piety: God’s spiritual consolations.
Discouragement is a major threat against leading a holy life. It is easy to see what is asked of us, see our own unworthiness, and give up. The Holy Spirit — “the Consoler” — helps reverse that by giving us the gift of piety — the comforting spiritual reassurance of God.
As the Pentecost Psalm puts it, “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” He doesn’t change the earth, he changes our experience of it to one that is refreshing.
Do a good deed for someone to develop this gift properly: First, because doing this is a great way to invite God the Consoler to your side; and second, because it avoids the trap of simply seeking happy holy feelings for your own sake.
7. Fear of the Lord: Awed respect for God.
If discouragement is a major spiritual threat, so is complacency. When you think you are coasting in a happy place in the spiritual life, you are in the most danger: Spiritual pride cometh before a spiritual fall. The fear of the Lord helps keep us free from self-righteousness.
“The Spirit,” says Paul in the Vigil Epistle, “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.”
Daily Mass and/or Eucharistic adoration in front of the tabernacle or monstrance is a great way to grow in our sense of reverence and respect for God.