Isaiah 11:2-3a
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.
I want to talk this weekend about the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. There are a lot of different readings from Scripture that focus our attention on the Holy Spirit, and we read some of them today. But this reading from Isaiah is read at some Confirmations and during Advent, not for Pentecost.
It is an odd thing that, while it may seem that he is the least known of all the persons of the Blessed Trinity, he is the one we interact with the most because he has been given to us in the sacraments, especially Baptism and Confirmation.
Always the Holy Spirit seems to want to stay in the background. He seems to constantly be pointing to the Father and to the Son. But there are works of the Holy Spirit in our lives that need to be highlighted with greater clarity.
St. Thomas Aquinas points out that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are “habits” or “instincts” that are given to us as supernatural helps to grow toward perfect holiness.
The following are summaries of how St. Thomas looked at these seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. And to be honest, the core of these summaries are from the website run by Catholic Answers. They give the citations in Saint Thomas’s writing. (
• Wisdom is both the knowledge of and judgment about “divine things” and the ability to judge and direct human affairs according to divine truth.
• Understanding is having the insight into the very heart of things, especially those things that are necessary for our eternal salvation – it is, in effect, the ability to perceive and believe in God.
• Counsel enables us to be directed by God, to understand what he wants of us, to have an open ear to the spirit of the Lord in matters necessary for our salvation.
• Fortitude denotes a firmness of mind in doing good and in avoiding evil, particularly when it is difficult or dangerous to do so, and the confidence to overcome all obstacles, even deadly ones, by virtue of the assurance of everlasting life.
• Knowledge is not the same as wisdom – it is the ability to judge correctly about matters of faith and morals, so as to never wander from the straight path of justice. Whereas wisdom is… (repeat above)
• Piety is not mentioned in Isaiah, but is principally, revering God with the love a child has for its parents, paying worship and duty to God – but it does not stop there; it is paying due respect to everyone because of their relationship to God, and honoring the saints; it is not contradicting Scripture, or the clear lessons that God has given us through the tradition and the church. The Latin word “pietas” denotes the reverence that we give to our natural father and mother – and to our country; so, since God is the Father of all, the worship of God is also called piety.
• Fear of the Lord I would describe in a different way than St. Thomas did. It is not being afraid of God (and St. Thomas did not say it was being afraid). It is rather a response in awe and amazement that God would choose to do what he has done for the sake of our salvation. It is a response of love for God, but it is more than just love. In my opinion, it is in some ways a combination or summary of all the other gifts of the Holy Spirit.
These gifts of the Holy Spirit are not something that we memorize before Confirmation and then forget about. They form the very basis of living in holiness. None of them are indispensable, but the last of them – the Fear of the Lord – summarizes the intent of all of them and in that sense contains all of them. Furthermore, I think Piety and the Fear of the Lord overlap in meaning, and that is why piety is not mentioned in the reading from Isaiah. Plus, seven is a better number than six. ???? Because on the seventh day, God rested.
If we pursue the Fear of the Lord as I have described it earlier, namely a response in awe and amazement and love of a God who has done so much for us, our pursuit of this gift of the Holy Spirit will lead us into a deeper relationship of love – the love of a son or daughter – that will take us deeper into a relationship of holiness that God wants everyone of his children to have.
Children imitate their parents in all kinds of ways. They do so out of love and awe. Have you ever seen a child putting on mom or dad’s shoes and walking around the house in shoes that they are in no way prepared to wear? It is this same imitation of God that we are called to do. The gifts of the Holy Spirit enable us to begin that process. And just as a child is not able to imitate the parent as clearly as how the parent lives, so we fail to imitate God perfectly.
But, just as a parent smiles at a little child trying to imitate what that child sees, so God smiles at us when we try to imitate his holiness through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
On this Feast day of Pentecost, we need to remember the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the call to holiness that they give us. We need to remember the last line of Isaiah’s reading that I quoted: “and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.”
The only source of genuine delight that we will ever find here on this earth is to pursue the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the fear of the Lord. All other happiness is only an illusion of happiness.
I think that these “habits of holiness”, these “instincts of inspiration”, these gifts of the Holy Spirit are things that have been ignored for… too many reasons in our modern spiritual lives. But they are very common and necessary for us to pursue a life of grace that is pleasing to our Heavenly Father.
How many can you say that you have pursued? I repeat again our verse from Isaiah: “The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.”
And I asked one final question: what is the delight of your heart?
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. And kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you will renew the face of the earth. Amen.