For all of us who took a Religion class during school or attended Sunday School now and then, we all remember the last-minute scramble to get the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit memorized. I remember almost failing that quiz because I forgot to study. Anyway, few of us actually took the time to understand what the gifts were, rather than cramming it into our heads just to barf it back up on a quiz. It’s a shame, really. These are some of the coolest things you receive from God, and few people actually know what they mean.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the Gifts “complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.” *
In short, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit make it easier for you to be Holy. You are more able to receive the will of God and act on it. You get these gifts every time you are in the state of Sanctifying Grace, like when you receive the Holy Eucharist worthily. Every time you do that, you are infused with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. And without further ado, the Gifts.
Wisdom is inseparable from charity. In a way, it is also closely linked to faith. As Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., notes in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, “Where faith is a simple knowledge of the articles of Christian belief, wisdom goes on to a certain divine penetration of the truths themselves.” Wisdom is the ability to correctly judge things of a supernatural nature, such as the existence of God.
Understanding is very often confused with Wisdom and Knowledge. After all, their meanings in our language are often very similar. Understanding is the ability to comprehend the meaning of the teachings of the Church. Without Understanding, you could have memorized a term and its appropriate definition, but you would never realize what it actually means. This might have been a little confusing, but it takes some time to fully understand this gift (no pun intended).
While Wisdom was the perfection of faith, Counsel is the perfection of prudence. Prudence can be practiced by anyone, but counsel can only be gained as a free gift from God. Like the cardinal virtue of prudence, counsel helps us to judge what to do in any given situation. What separates it from prudence; however, is that counsel can make the decision quickly and without a second thought. Think of it as your Holy Instincts.
Probably the most well-known, Fortitude is the courage to stand up for what is right. It’s not rashness, but always reasonable. Fortitude would help you to stand up for your Faith in conversation, or as the martyrs did, even die for it.
Knowledge is, as the Archdiocese of Washington puts it, “a supernatural habit infused by God through which the human intellect, under the illuminating action of the Holy Spirit, judges rightly concerning created things as ordained to the supernatural end.” Like the other gifts, it builds on human nature. Knowledge helps us to judge things in perspective to the ultimate goal of someday reaching heaven.
Piety is the perfection of justice towards God. CatholicCulture.org says that piety “produces an instinctive filial affection for God and devotion toward those who are specially consecrated to God“. Piety would help you to be perfectly contrite of your sins (being sorry because you offended God, not because you are afraid of eternal punishment) and to love others because you can see God in them.
7. Fear of the Lord
Most of you reading probably already know this, but for of those who don’t, it’s not being scared of God. Rather, it is the perfection of hope. It is a profound respect for God, and a strong desire not to offend him. Not like a slave fearing his overlord’s punishment, but a child wishing not to offend his parents. It is also a firm belief in his mercy and confidence in His power. Again, fear of the lord is not dread, but a filial respect.
These Gifts are so amazing in the fact that they don’t have to be earned. That’s why they’re called Gifts of the Holy Spirit.