By Father Ed Dougherty, M.M.
In the days leading up to Pentecost, I’ve been reflecting upon the gifts of the Holy Spirit that Christ won for us through His death and Resurrection.
Sometimes these gifts seem to have been foreshadowed by the most unlikely people, such as the Good Thief, who asked of the criminal hurling insults at Christ, “Do you not fear God?”, a question that both reflects Judaic teaching and anticipates one of the most misunderstood gifts of the Holy Spirit that would be poured out at Pentecost 52 days later.
Fear of the Lord, which is the awe we are to have before God’s mercy and love, is not the only misunderstood gift of the Holy Spirit.
The reality is that each of the gifts poured out to the Apostles and followers of Christ at Pentecost is a treasure that can only be unlocked by those who are humble of heart.
Take, for instance, the gift of wisdom. A worldly interpretation of wisdom would have us believe it is all about our experiences and how much knowledge we’ve acquired.
But Christ commands us to be like children when He says, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4-5).
Socrates linked a similar concept to his interpretation of wisdom 400 years before the time of Christ when he said: “Wisest is he who knows that he does not know.” In other words, it is only through humility that we can truly be wise. By recognizing our smallness in relation to God and the wonders of His creation, we can begin to act with wisdom. As the words of Christ might be interpreted, it is only when we meet the world with the awe and wonder of a child that we are truly wise.
It is no wonder that both Socrates and Christ were put on trial by those governing the societies of their respective time periods. Socrates challenged worldly values, and Christ represented an entirely new way of seeing things, one in which, as He said, “The last will be first, and the first last.” It is through this lens that places God’s timeless values above worldly values that the gifts of the Holy Spirit can truly be understood, and we are able to see that the awe inspired by a fear of the Lord unlocks the wonder needed to appreciate the treasures of heaven.
Through this lens, understanding arises from seeing beyond superficial interpretations. Good counsel is less about achieving success for ourselves and more about serving others. Fortitude is devoid of hubris and instead a prayer of long-suffering united to Christ on the cross.
Knowledge is about discovering the truth of God written into His creation. And piety is the human inclination to reverence directed towards God lest it be turned to the things of this world.
Unlocking an understanding of the Holy Spirit’s gifts is the first step to integrating these gifts into our lives.
It takes thoughtfulness and intentionality to act upon the treasures God has bestowed upon us, but it is well worth the effort. As we see with the Apostles and followers of Christ in the aftermath of that first Pentecost, nothing would ever be the same.
In seeking renewal, we should strive for this same fervor, turning from worldly concerns so the fire of the Holy Spirit can be kindled within our hearts.
Father Ed Dougherty is on the board of directors of The Christophers and the former Superior General of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers.