Put Out into the Deep

The Gifts of the Spirit

Peace of The Holy Spirit: Pentecost is depicted in a painting by Stephen B. Whatley, an expressionist artist based in London.
Peace of The Holy Spirit: Pentecost is depicted in a painting by Stephen B. Whatley, an expressionist artist based in London.

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost and we recognize that the coming of the Holy Spirit did not just happen to the Church 2,000 years ago, but it is a present event, especially as we receive the Holy Spirit in all the sacraments. Because it is the Holy Spirit that makes our encounter with Jesus possible.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis has a series of catecheses on the gifts of the Holy Spirit beginning in April. It is not yet complete, but he has already covered five of the gifts of the Holy Spirit which I wish also to summarize for you. In my preaching for the Sacrament of Confirmation, I have developed a Confirmation Lectionary based on nine sets of readings which deal with a specific theme. One of them deals with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and I will supply the gifts not covered by the Holy Father.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. These gifts are enumerated for us in the sequence of the Holy Spirit that is frequently used on Pentecost Sunday to remind us of the coming of the Spirit.

The first gift of the Holy Spirit is wisdom. Not a wisdom in human terms, because it does not affect our human understanding or the intelligence quotient but rather wisdom, as the Holy Father said, “…is what the Holy Spirit works in us so as to enable us to see things with the eyes of God.” To see things from God’s perspective is true wisdom. The Holy Father gave two very practical examples of what wisdom is by showing where it is lacking. One was about a mother who scolds her children, not having patience with them. The other is two spouses who argue and don’t look at one another but just express their displeasure with one another. He reminds us that these are not examples of the wisdom of God or a gift of the Holy Spirit.

The second gift of the Holy Spirit is understanding, which, as the Pope says, “…. is the ability to go beyond the outward appearance of reality and to probe the depths of the thoughts of God and His plan of salvation.” It is the ability to look inwardly, which allows us to understand our faith and open our minds so that we can understand better the things of God in human situations, in fact all things.

The next gift of the Holy Spirit that was enumerated was the gift of counsel. As defined by the Holy Father Pope Francis, “….it enables us to understand the right way to speak and behave and the way to follow.” Counsel comes to us in various forms. This gift of the Holy Spirit allows us to understand the human counsel that comes to us in so many ways. Counsel constitutes a treasure for the whole Christian community because through the voice and the witness of others we come to understand better the path for our true salvation. The Holy Father, in his catechesis gave an interesting example of the gift of counsel. He was once hearing the confession of a very confused young man who was sent by his mother to the Shrine in Argentina of Our Lady of Luján. The Holy Father counseled the man but was told by him that it was his mother who sent him to Our Lady’s Shrine to seek good counsel. Truly, mothers know what others do not know. They especially can give counsel to their children as a gift of the Holy Spirit.

The gift of fortitude gives us true health and strength and frees us from so many obstacles. Life is full of difficulties and extreme circumstances that test our willingness to sacrifice, but fortitude gives us the strength we need to constantly follow the lead of the Spirit. As the Holy Father says, “The Holy Spirit, through the gift of fortitude, may lift our heart and communicate new strength and enthusiasm to our life and to our following of Jesus.”

Another gift of the Holy Spirit is the gift of knowledge. Different from understanding, knowledge “….leads us to grasp, through creation, the greatness and love of God and his profound relationship with every creature.”

We see our own place in the universe, in the Church, as our community of faith. We truly come to understand what real knowledge is about. The Holy Father says, “… the Spirit leads us to praise the Lord from the depths of our heart and to recognize, in all that we have and all that we are, an invaluable gift of God and a sign of His infinite love for us.” True knowledge leads us to be forever thankful and, at the same time, to be forgiving of others when we recognize God’s plan for us.

The Holy Father has not yet commented on the last two gifts of the Holy Spirit, piety and fear of the Lord. Piety, as I preach it in Confirmation homilies, reminds us that we have an obligation to reverence God. This obligation obviously consists of attending the weekly Eucharist, attention to our prayers, and finding ways to praise God every day, during the course of our lives.

Finally, the gift of fear of the Lord, does not mean that we are called to be afraid of God, but rather that we have a respect for God and recognize our own unworthiness and sinfulness before Him which give us the impetus to strive for holiness and union with God.

Reminding ourselves of the gifts of the Holy Spirit we received in our Confirmation can lead us to put out into the depths of our spiritual life. We are not alone in our quest for true union with God. The Spirit is the one who will assist us. In fact, the Scripture tells us that we cannot pray unless we are first inspired by the Spirit. Let us open our minds and hearts that through the Spirit on this Pentecost, we will receive a new understanding and knowledge of His gifts and recognize the part they play in our lives.

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