THE GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Celebrating the Confirmation of five of our fellow parishioners, last week’s article described this glorious sacrament in which we receive in fullness the gifts of the Holy Spirit and are commissioned as prophetic witnesses of the Gospel.  This celebration is also a good occasion to discuss what we mean by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.  This description of the gifts comes from Isaiah chapter 11, in which the prophet says that the future king will be filled with these gifts through the Spirit of the Lord.  These gifts were to be those of the Messiah; and at His baptism, Jesus in His human nature received this Spirit in fullness.  See Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22.  However, Jesus also promised a number of times to send the Spirit in fullness upon His disciples.  See, e.g., John 14:26, 15:26-27, 16:7, 13-15; Acts 1:8.  At Pentecost, that promise was fulfilled for the early Christians, and the Spirit guided them to proclaim the Gospel to many nations gathered in Jerusalem, and then to be witnesses of Christ and His Church throughout the world

That glory continues on to this day, for we receive these gifts of the Holy Spirit at baptism, and they are completed at Confirmation.  Paragraphs 1830 and 1831 of the Catechism describe them as completing and perfecting the virtues and making us open to the inspirations of the Spirit.  St. Thomas Aquinas compares their influence to effect of a strong, but benevolent wind upon the sails of a ship.  One can move a ship to a certain degree by rowing; but a ship will move more swiftly and easily by catching the wind in sails.  The gifts are like sails along this earthly journey.  They allow us to catch the inspirations of the Spirit and soar above even ordinary goodness to a level that is “heroic, indeed divine.”  See Summa Theologica Part II-I, question 68, article 1.  As Pope Leo XIII said in his 1897 encyclical on the Holy Spirit Divinum Illud Munus (That Divine Office), we “need those seven gifts which are properly attributed to the Holy Spirit.  . . . By means of these gifts the soul is excited and encouraged to attain the evangelical beatitudes which, like the flowers that come forth in the spring time are the signs and harbingers of eternal beatitude.”