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The Religion Teacher | Catholic Religious Education
The 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit Lesson Plan & Worksheet
04/19/2012 By Jared Dees
If you sat down to think about it, you could probably come up with a long list of things that God gives us to make us better people. There are a whole host of gifts that allow us to reach our dreams and conquer our greatest challenges, but based on the Scriptures (Isaiah 11:2-3) and the Church’s teaching we know that there are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel (right judgment), fortitude (courage) , piety (reverence), and fear of the Lord (wonder and awe).
This lesson plan about the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit will help students recognize and appreciate the gifts that God considers to be most important and understand how they can turn to the Holy Spirit for an increase in God’s gifts especially through the sacrament of Confirmation .
Gifts of the Holy Spirit Lesson Objectives
- SWBAT list the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
- SWBAT recognize the gifts they have already been given the most.
- SWBAT make connections between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and their personal lives (particularly their goals and dreams).
Gifts of the Holy Spirit Lesson Assessment
- Journal Assignment
Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit Activities
1. Bell Work
List all of the skills, talents, gifts, etc. that you have been given by God and provide one example of how you have used that gift.
(Note: Provide an example from your personal life such as: “For example, I have been given the ability to sing well and I use that gift to sing loudly in Church on Sundays.”)
2. Presentation: 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit Video & Worksheet
Watch “The 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit” video .
Use The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit Worksheet graphic organizer to help them take notes on the video. You can download it here:
Have students create flashcards with each of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit labeled on one side and synonyms and definitions on the other side. Once they have finished making the cards, give them time to memorize the gifts and their meanings with a friend.
While each of us receives the gifts of the Spirit in special ways at Confirmation, we have all been given a portion of these gifts by the grace of the Sacrament of Baptism and our daily prayer. Have students choose a few or all of the gifts and write how they have used each gift in a positive way in their lives lately.
( Members: Use one of the worksheets in The Religion Teacher’s Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit Worksheets to help students reflect on the gifts they have or need the most in their lives right now.)
5. Class Activity
Label different parts of the room with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. If you are crafty, create labels ahead of time that resemble balls of flames (or tongues of fire).
Have students write one gift that they would like to receive from God the most on one side of a piece of paper and how they will use that gift to become a better person on the other side. Again, use papers shaped in tongues of fire or create them as a class project.
6. A Prayer for the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Lord Jesus Christ, send down your Spirit upon me. When I am uncertain, grant me wisdom. When I am confused, grant me understanding. When I am ignorant, grant me knowledge. When I am wandering, grant me counsel. When I am afraid, grant me fortitude. When I am separated from you, grant me piety. When I am selfish, grant me the fear of the Lord. I ask for an outpouring of your Spirit with all of these gifts in your name. Amen.
On a blank note card (“ exit cards “) have students list the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit from memory without looking at the board, their notes, or the walls of the room.
Additional Holy Spirit Resources
There are many Holy Spirit resources available to premium members of The Religion Teacher including videos on the symbols and effects of Confirmation .
As a member, you can also download the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit video to your computer so you don’t have to be connected to the Internet and YouTube.
Plus, there are many worksheets to help teach about the Holy Spirit, including two worksheets about Pentecost ( here and here ), The Religion Teacher’s Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit Worksheets , and others about how the Spirit is working in our lives .
Sign in or click here to join today .
About Jared Dees
Jared Dees is the creator of The Religion Teacher and the author of 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator , To Heal, Proclaim, and Teach , Beatitales , and Christ in the Classroom .
Free ebook on lesson planning.
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08/07/2012 at 7:55 pm
Nice plans. Looks like the same plans used by Teach for America
08/08/2012 at 7:41 am
I’m not familiar with TFA plans, but I’ll take that as a compliment!
09/06/2012 at 11:02 pm
Thanks for all the great ideas. I will be trying them out with my 8th graders preparing for confirmation. Let me know if you are aware of anymore resources, especially videos. They love videos.
09/07/2012 at 8:56 am
Thanks Ed, I’ll be adding more videos throughout the year. Thanks for the feedback.
02/10/2014 at 7:44 pm
Ed & Jared, Father Barron (The Word on Fire) has a clip on ‘The Sacrement of Confirmation’. Go to YouTube and search for it. FR Barron provides a great explaination of each of the Gifts. I used his video as a supplement for my Confirmation class when we were learning about the gifts. I also wove in the Apollo 8, Christmas Eve message with Earth as a backdrop for Wonder & Awe. Then had the clip with the 911 tape for the Georgia school secretary who talked the gunman into giving up to illustrate courage.
11/06/2012 at 10:57 pm
Thank Jared. I’ll use the video and lesson plan for teaching and learning activity.
02/16/2013 at 7:25 pm
WOW!!! What a gift from God to have found your website. I am a new homeschooling mom trying to prepare my daughter for receiving the sacrament of confirmation & this is such a HUGE help!!! Having had such poor catechesis growing up, I, too, am learning alongside my daughter… May God bless you abundantly for sharing your GIFTS with us!!!
04/08/2013 at 10:31 pm
thanks for sharing with us your great ideas about teaching religion. may your tribe increase! more power…
04/26/2013 at 11:26 am
I’m so grateful that I found your website because another ideas and methodology in teaching I learn although I graduated a Two Year formation as a Catechist but I accept that my two year in studying Catechism it is not enough I need to Read, to explore more … I wanted to buy those books you suggested to be read but I do know if those books is available in my homeland…i do so,. thank you so much “Kuya” ( Big Bro)..May Our Almighty Father in Heaven Bless you and your family and staff always…”Christ mission is our Call”
06/04/2014 at 10:06 pm
WOW just what I was looking for. Came here by searching for confirmation
11/05/2015 at 12:57 pm
Jared, Thank you very much for sharing this wonderful video on seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. May God continue to bless you!
01/13/2016 at 11:39 am
What are the answers to the question How do the gifts of the Holy Spirit affect our lives?
01/21/2016 at 5:35 am
Skip to the end of the video and you will see the answers in the bottom left corner.
05/13/2016 at 10:17 pm
Kindly send me free copies of all materials available. Warm regards and as Catechists all these will be useful sharing them with grade schoolers i’m handling in three public schools here in Sta. Rosa Laguna Philippines. I’ll be very grateful for your positive response to my request. God Bless always Sir Jared.
05/18/2016 at 1:51 am
Thank you and God bless you for using your wonderful gifts of the Holy Spirit so faithfully and expertly. I am a Catechist in Western Australia – a most rewarding work that I started in 1993. It is so good to see that there is such excellent support for all Catechists.
About the Founder, Jared Dees
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Gifts of the Holy Spirit
In the Book of Isaiah 11:2-3, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are described. In the passage the gifts are considered ones that the Messiah would have possessed. Through Jesus, we also receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Wisdom helps us recognize the importance of others and the importance of keeping God central in our lives.
Understanding is the ability to comprehend the meaning of God's message.
Knowledge is the ability to think about and explore God's revelation, and also to recognize there are mysteries of faith beyond us.
Counsel is the ability to see the best way to follow God's plan when we have choices that relate to him.
Fortitude is the courage to do what one knows is right.
Piety helps us pray to God in true devotion.
Fear of the Lord is the feeling of amazement before God, who is all-present, and whose friendship we do not want to lose.
Courage, a Gift of the Holy Spirit
The dictionary defines courage as the ability to confront fear in the face of pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. Christians identify courage as the virtue of fortitude, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1808) says “enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions.”
When Archbishop Óscar Romero spoke out for the poor of El Salvador, he knew he was putting his own life in danger, and he was strengthened by the courage that is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
When Mrs. Augusta Gervay and Father Emilian Novak ran a workshop that produced baptismal certificates used to save the lives of Jews during the Holocaust, they were endangering their own lives and were strengthened by the courage that is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit Memory
The Holy Spirit reminds us; he reminds us of all that Jesus said. He is the living memory of the Church, and when he reminds us, he helps us understand the words of the Lord.
This remembrance in the Spirit and by virtue of the Spirit . . . is an essential aspect of Christ’s presence within us and within his Church. The Spirit of truth and charity reminds us of all that Christ said and helps us enter ever more fully into the meaning of his words. We all have this experience: one moment, in any situation, there is an idea and then another connects with a passage from Scripture. . . . It is the Spirit who leads us to take this path: the path of the living memory of the Church. And he asks us for a response: the more generous our response, the more Jesus’ words become life within us, becoming attitudes, choices, actions, testimony. In essence the Spirit reminds us of the commandment of love and calls us to live it.
A Christian without memory is not a true Christian but only halfway there: a man or woman, a prisoner of the moment, who doesn’t know how to treasure his or her history, doesn’t know how to read it and live it as salvation history. With the help of the Holy Spirit, however, we are able to interpret interior inspirations and life events in light of Jesus’ words. And thus within us grows the knowledge of memory, knowledge of the heart, which is a gift of the Spirit. May the Holy Spirit rekindle the Christian memory within all of us! And there, that day with the apostles, was Our Lady of Memory, who from the beginning meditated on all those things in her heart. Mary, our Mother, was there. May she help us on this path of memory.
—Excerpted from Walking with Jesus: A Way Forward for the Church by Pope Francis
The spirit of truth, a brief look at st. paul’s life and teachings, may crowning, pope john paul ii and his message of forgiveness, about the ten commandments.
Gifts of the Holy Spirit Flashcards
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This is an easy to use flashcard set! This is formatted for double sided printing so that you can print, cut, and laminate easily. There are 7 cards in total. This is perfect for preparing your students for confirmation, reviewing, or simply playing a basic Catholic trivia game! Page 3 contains helpful printing instructions. See my page for a test/worksheet that goes along with a lesson on Gifts of the Holy Spirit for less than $1!
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Gifts of the Holy Spirit
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- FR. WILLIAM SAUNDERS
I recently received the Sacrament of Confirmation as an adult. Although I know that I received the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and know their names, I do not really know what they are. Could you please explain them in one of your columns?
The faithful are reminded of the bestowal of these gifts in the liturgy. In the Mass of Pentecost, when the faithful remember the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, the faithful pray the Sequence, saying, "On the faithful, who adore and confess you evermore in your sevenfold gift descend."
In the administration of the Sacrament of Confirmation, the bishop prays, extending his hands over the confirmandi, "All powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, by water and the Holy Spirit you freed your sons and daughters from sin and gave them new life. Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their helper and guide. Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen." Then, the bishop confirms each candidate, making the sign of the cross with holy chrism on his forehead, and saying, "Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Given this basis, traditionally the seven gifts are listed as fear of the Lord, piety, knowledge, understanding, counsel, wisdom and fortitude. (Note that while the Hebrew text of Isaiah lists only six gifts with fear of the Lord being mentioned twice, the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate translations list seven, adding "piety" and eliminating the repetition of "fear of the Lord." Moreover, in the Old Testament, seven is the number of perfection, plentitude and covenant.)
First, the term "gift" needs to be clarified. They are properly termed "gifts of the Holy Spirit" because the Holy Spirit bestows them. Therefore, they are supernatural gifts operating in a supernatural mode or manner. These are not gifts one simply invokes in times of emergency; rather, these gifts are present to the person as long as he remains in a state of sanctifying grace. As such, these gifts help a person attain sanctification and bring to perfection virtues, both the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity) and the infused virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance). The idea here is that these gifts help a person to share in the very life and nature of God, now in this life and for eternal life. In this sense, as St. Thomas Aquinas asserted, they are in the fullest sense "habits," from the Latin habitus, signifying their indwelling presence and operation. The Catechism underscores this point: "The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.... They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations" (No. 1830-31).
With the foundation from last week regarding the nature of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we can proceed to each gift. The basic definitions which follow are quoted from Father Aumann's classic work, Spiritual Theology . Moreover, the order followed was composed by Pope St. Gregory the Great, who tried to capture the spiritual dynamic which the Holy Spirit imparts to the soul through these gifts: "Through the fear of the Lord, we rise to piety, from piety then to knowledge, from knowledge we derive strength, from strength counsel, with counsel we move towards understanding, and with intelligence towards wisdom and thus, by the sevenfold grace of the Spirit, there opens to us at the end of the ascent the entrance to the life of Heaven" ( Homiliae in Hiezechihelem Prophetam , II 7,7).
The Gift of Fear of the Lord enables the person "to avoid sin and attachment to created things out of reverence and love of God." Primarily, this gift entails a profound respect for the majesty of God who is the Supreme Being. Here, a person realizes his "creatureliness" and dependency upon God, and never would want to be separated from this loving God. This gift of fear arouses in the soul a vibrant sense of adoration and reverence for the majesty of God and a sense of horror and sorrow for sin.
This gift is sometimes misunderstood because of the word fear. The fear referred to here is not a servile fear whereby a person serves God simply because he fears punishment, whether some sort of temporal punishment in this life or the eternal punishment of Hell. A genuine relationship with God is based on love, not fear. Therefore, this "fear of the Lord" is a filial or reverential fear which moves a person to do God's will and avoid sin because of love for God, who is all good and deserving of all of our love. In a similar way, a child should not be motivated to obey a parent's moral guidance or commands simply because of fear of punishment, but because of love and respect. One should fear hurting a loved one and violating that person's trust, more than one should fear punishment. (Nevertheless, one should have a healthy sense of fear for the punishment due to sin, even though this should not be the motivating factor for loving God.)
The Gift of Fear brings to perfection primarily the virtue of hope: a person respects God as God, trusting in His will and anchoring his life on Him. Moreover, he wants to be joined with God forever in Heaven. This gift is also the launch pad for the other gifts: As Sacred Scripture attests, "Happy the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commands" (Psalm 112:1) and "The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord" (Sirach 1:12).
Secondly, this gift also perfects the virtue of temperance, which seeks to use all things wisely, and in moderation, not to the excess, especially those sensible pleasures. With reason enlightened by faith, temperance controls the passions. Temperance is related to the Gift of Fear because one's awareness and respect for the sanctity of God motivates a person as a creature to give glory to God by being temperate in actions and desires. For example, chastity is a virtue of temperance which respects the goodness of one's own sexuality, the sanctity of marriage, and the sanctity of marital love; a person moved by the Gift of Fear strives to live a chaste life because God is the creator of those goods and such a life gives glory and praise to Him.
With the Gift of Fear, the person rises to the Gift of Piety: "to give filial worship to God precisely as our Father and to relate with all people as children of the same Father." Here a person shows reverence for God as a loving Father, and respects others as children of God precisely because that is what they are. As such, the Gift of Piety perfects the virtue of justice, enabling the individual to fulfill his obligations to God and neighbor; the person is not only motivated by the requirements of strict justice but also by the loving relationship he shares with his neighbor. For example, we fulfill the commandments not simply because they are commandments but because of our love for the Heavenly Father and for our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Knowledge is the gift that enables a person "to judge rightly concerning the truths of faith in accordance with their proper causes and the principles of revealed truth." Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the human intellect makes correct judgments regarding earthly things and how they are related to eternal life and Christian perfection. As such, this gift is a special illumination, which enables the person to realize the emptiness of created things in themselves so that they do not become roadblocks to union with God. At the same time, it enables the person to see through created things to the God who created them. Therefore, instead of seeing created things as obstacles to union with God, the soul views them as instruments for union with God. As such, a person sees how to use created things rightly and even in a holy way. Moreover, the gift gives to the person a sense of faith, sensus fidei , meaning that the person has a divine instinct about whether or not something, like a devotion, is in accord with the faith even though he may never have had a formal theological education. This gift produces several effects which have great value for sanctification of the soul: introspection, enabling the person to see the state of his soul; detachment from material things; and repentance for the misuse of material things or when they have been allowed to become obstacles to God. St. Thomas taught that the Gift of Knowledge brings to perfection the virtue of faith, but is linked also to the perfection of prudence, justice and temperance.
With the Gift of Fortitude, a person is able "to overcome difficulties or to endure pain and suffering with the strength and power infused by God." As with the other gifts, fortitude operates under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, and gives strength to the person to resist evil and persevere to everlasting life. This gift brings the virtue of fortitude to perfection, charging it with energy, perseverance and promptness. Moreover, it brings a confidence of success to the virtue. For example, St. Maximilian Kolbe not only had great fortitude to offer promptly his life in exchange for another and to endure a horrible death, but also had the confidence of success that he would overcome the powers of evil and gain everlasting life. Lastly, the Gift of Fortitude enables the individual to live the other virtues heroically, to suffer with patience and joy, to overcome all lukewarmness in the service of God.
The Gift of Counsel is "to render the individual docile and receptive to the counsel of God regarding one's actions in view of sanctification and salvation." Primarily, this gift enables a person to judge individual acts as good and ought to be done, or as evil and ought to be avoided. The counsel is made in view of one's own personal sanctification and one's ultimate supernatural end. Therefore, this gift prompts the person to ask himself, "Will this act lead to holiness? Will this act lead to Heaven?"
Clearly, this gift is linked with the virtue of prudence; however, while the virtue of prudence operates in accord with reason as enlightened by faith, the Gift of Counsel operates under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, the counsel given may be that which reason would not be able to give an explanation. For example, using the example of St. Maximilian Kolbe, such an act of self-sacrifice for another is the right thing to do but does not necessarily follow the normal, reasonable course of self-preservation.
Also, counsel can deal with the immediacy of the situation. For example, through the Gift of Counsel, the Holy Spirit helps a person in a dilemma reconcile the necessity of guarding a secret with the obligation of speaking the truth. Counsel aids the virtue of prudence, and brings it to perfection. This gift also has great effects: preserving a good conscience, providing solutions to difficult and unexpected situations, and helping to give counsel to others, especially in matters of personal sanctification and salvation.
Understanding is a gift "to give a deeper insight and penetration of divine truths held by faith, not as a transitory enlightenment but as a permanent intuition." Illuminating the mind to truth, The Holy Spirit aids a person to grasp truths of faith easily and intimately, and to penetrate the depths of those truths. This gift not only assists in penetrating revealed truths, but also natural truths in so far as they are related to the supernatural end. The essential quality of this gift is a "penetrating intuition" - in a sense, the moving beyond the surface. This gift, penetrating the truths of faith, operates in several ways: disclosing the hidden meaning of Sacred Scripture; revealing the significance of symbols and figures (like St. Paul seeing Christ as fulfillment of the rock of the Exodus account that poured forth water to quench the thirst of the Israelites (1 Cor 10:4); showing the hand of God at work in a person's life, even in the most mysterious or troublesome events (like suffering); and revealing the spiritual realities that underlie sensible appearances (like penetrating the mystery of the Lord's sacrifice in the ritual of the Mass). This gift brings the virtue of faith to perfection. Accordingly, St. Thomas said, "In this very life, when the eye of the spirit is purified by the gift of understanding, one can in a certain way see God" ( Summa theologiae II-II, q. 69, a. 2, ad. 3).
The last of the seven gifts is that of Wisdom: "to judge and order all things in accordance with divine norms and with a connaturality that flows from loving union with God." The Holy Spirit aids the contemplation of divine things, enabling the person to grow in union with God. With this gift, even an "uneducated soul" can possess the most profound knowledge of the divine. For example, St. Therese of Lisieux had no formal education in theology, and yet was wise to the ways of the Lord; for this reason, she has been declared a Doctor of the Church.
While this gift contemplates the divine, it is also a practical wisdom. It applies God's ideas to judge both created and divine matter. Consequently, it also directs human acts according to the divine.
This gift has great effects: With this gift a person will see and evaluate all things - both joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, success or failure - from God's point of view, and accept them with equanimity. With Wisdom, all things, even the worst, are seen as having a supernatural value. For example, the Gift of Wisdom gives value to martyrdom. Here a person arises above the wisdom of this world, and lives in the love of God. For this reason, the Gift of Wisdom brings to perfection charity.
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are without question great gifts essential for our sanctification and salvation. Each baptized and confirmed Christian should implore the Holy Spirit to inflame in his soul these gifts. Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II said, "With gifts and qualities such as these, we are equal to any task and capable of overcoming any difficulties."
- Author: Fr. William Saunders
Saunders, Rev. William. "Gifts of the Holy Spirit" Arlington Catholic Herald .
This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald .
- Publisher: Arlington Catholic Herald
- Alternate: http://catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0451.html
1 Corinthians 12 New Life Version
The gifts of the holy spirit.
12 Christian brothers, I want you to know about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. You need to understand the truth about this. 2 You know that before you were Christians you were led to worship false gods. None of these gods could speak. 3 So I tell you that no one speaking by the help of the Holy Spirit can say that he hates Jesus. No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the help of the Holy Spirit.
The Kinds of Gifts
4 There are different kinds of gifts. But it is the same Holy Spirit Who gives them. 5 There are different kinds of work to be done for Him. But the work is for the same Lord. 6 There are different ways of doing His work. But it is the same God who uses all these ways in all people. 7 The Holy Spirit works in each person in one way or another for the good of all. 8 One person is given the gift of teaching words of wisdom. Another person is given the gift of teaching what he has learned and knows. These gifts are by the same Holy Spirit. 9 One person receives the gift of faith. Another person receives the gifts of healing. These gifts are given by the same Holy Spirit. 10 One person is given the gift of doing powerful works. Another person is given the gift of speaking God’s Word. Another person is given the gift of telling the difference between the Holy Spirit and false spirits. Another person is given the gift of speaking in special sounds. Another person is given the gift of telling what these special sounds mean. 11 But it is the same Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, Who does all these things. He gives to each person as He wants to give.
Our Body Is Like the Body of Christ
12 Our own body has many parts. When all these many parts are put together, they are only one body. The body of Christ is like this. 13 It is the same way with us. Jews or those who are not Jews, men who are owned by someone or men who are free to do what they want to do, have all been baptized into the one body by the same Holy Spirit. We have all received the one Spirit.
14 The body is not one part, but many parts. 15 If the foot should say, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that would not stop it from being a part of the body. 16 If the ear should say, “I am not a part of the body because I am not an eye,” that would not stop it from being a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye how would it hear? If the whole body were an ear, how would it smell? 18 But God has put all the parts into the body just as He wants to have them. 19 If all the parts were the same, it could not be a body. 20 But now there are many parts, but one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you.” Or the head cannot say to the feet, “I do not need you.” 22 Some of the parts we think are weak and not important are very important. 23 We take good care of and cover with clothes the parts of the body that look less important. The parts which do not look beautiful have an important work to do. 24 The parts that can be seen do not need as much care. God has made the body so more care is given to the parts that need it most. 25 This is so the body will not be divided into parts. All the parts care for each other. 26 If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it. If one part is given special care, the other parts are happy.
The Body of Christ
27 You are all a part of the body of Christ. 28 God has chosen different ones in the church to do His work. First, there are missionaries. Second, there are preachers or those who speak for God. And third, there are teachers. He has also chosen those who do powerful works and those who have the gifts of healing. And He has chosen those who help others who are in need and those who are able to lead others in work and those who speak in special sounds. 29 Are they all missionaries? No. Are they all preachers or those who speak for God? No. Do they all do powerful works? No. 30 Do they all have the gifts of healing? No. Do they all speak in special sounds? No. Are they all able to tell what the special sounds mean? No. 31 But from your heart you should want the best gifts. Now I will show you even a better way.
Copyright © 1969, 2003 by Barbour Publishing, Inc.
The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
What are the seven gifts of the holy spirit, and why do they matter, what are the seven gifts of the holy spirit.
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are, according to Catholic Tradition, wisdom , understanding , counsel , fortitude , knowledge , piety , and fear of God . The standard interpretation has been the one that St. Thomas Aquinas worked out in the thirteenth century in his Summa Theologiae :
- Wisdom is both the knowledge of and judgment about “divine things” and the ability to judge and direct human affairs according to divine truth (I/I.1.6; I/II.69.3; II/II.8.6; II/II.45.1–5).
- Understanding is penetrating insight into the very heart of things, especially those higher truths that are necessary for our eternal salvation—in effect, the ability to “see” God (I/I.12.5; I/II.69.2; II/II.8.1–3).
- Counsel allows a man to be directed by God in matters necessary for his salvation (II/II.52.1).
- 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 (I/II.61.3; II/II.123.2; II/II.139.1).
- Knowledge is the ability to judge correctly about matters of faith and right action, so as to never wander from the straight path of justice (II/II.9.3).
- Piety is, principally, revering God with filial affection, paying worship and duty to God, paying due duty to all men on account of their relationship to God, and honoring the saints and not contradicting Scripture. The Latin word pietas denotes the reverence that we give to our father and to our country; since God is the Father of all, the worship of God is also called piety (I/II.68.4; II/II.121.1).
- Fear of God is, in this context, “filial” or chaste fear whereby we revere God and avoid separating ourselves from him—as opposed to “servile” fear, whereby we fear punishment (I/II.67.4; II/II.19.9).
These are heroic character traits that Jesus Christ alone possesses in their plenitude but that he freely shares with the members of his mystical body (i.e., his Church). These traits are infused into every Christian as a permanent endowment at his baptism, nurtured by the practice of the seven virtues, and sealed in the sacrament of confirmation. They are also known as the sanctifying gifts of the Spirit, because they serve the purpose of rendering their recipients docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in their lives, helping them to grow in holiness and making them fit for heaven.
Because “grace builds upon nature” (ST I/I.2.3), the seven gifts work synergistically with the seven virtues and also with the twelve fruits of the Spirit and the eight beatitudes. The emergence of the gifts is fostered by the practice of the virtues, which in turn are perfected by the exercise of the gifts. The proper exercise of the gifts, in turn, produce the fruits of the Spirit in the life of the Christian: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, modesty, self-control, and chastity (Gal. 5:22–23). The goal of this cooperation among virtues, gifts, and fruits is the attainment of the eight-fold state of beatitude described by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3–10).
Unfortunately, it is difficult to name another Catholic doctrine of as hallowed antiquity as the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that is subject to as much benign neglect. Like most Catholics born around 1950, I learned their names by rote: “ wis -dom, un -derstanding, coun -sel, fort -itude, know -ledge, pie -ety, and fear of the Lord!” Sadly, though, it was all my classmates and I ever learned, at least formally, about these mysterious powers that were to descend upon us at our confirmation. Once Confirmation Day had come and gone, we were chagrined to find that we had not become the all-wise, all-knowing, unconquerable milites Christi (soldiers of Christ) that our pre-Vatican II catechesis had promised.
Ironically, post-Vatican II catechesis has proven even less capable of instilling in young Catholics a lively sense of what the seven gifts are all about. At least the previous approach had the advantage of conjuring up the lurid prospect of a martyr’s bloody death at the hands of godless atheists. But, alas, such militant pedagogy went out the window in the aftermath of the Council. But a stream of reports in recent decades on declining interest in the faith among new confirmandi suggests that the changes are not having their desired effect. Not that there were no bugs in the pre-Vatican II catechetical machine—there were plenty—but such superficial tinkering did not even begin to address them.
A recent article in Theological Studies by Rev. Charles E. Bouchard, O.P., president of the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, Missouri (“Recovering the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Moral Theology,” Sept. 2002), identifies some specific weaknesses in traditional Catholic catechesis on the seven gifts:
- Neglect of the close connection between the seven gifts and the cardinal and theological virtues (faith, hope, charity/love, prudence, justice, fortitude/courage, and temperance), which St. Thomas Aquinas himself had emphasized in his treatment of the subject
- A tendency to relegate the seven gifts to the esoteric realm of ascetical/mystical spirituality rather than the practical, down-to-earth realm of moral theology, which Aquinas had indicated was their proper sphere
- A form of spiritual elitism whereby the fuller study of the theology of the gifts was reserved to priests and religious, who alone, it was presumed—unlike the unlettered masses—had the requisite learning and spirituality to appreciate and assimilate it
- Neglect of the scriptural basis of the theology of the gifts, particularly Isaiah 11, where the gifts were originally identified and applied prophetically to Christ
The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church had already addressed some of these issues (such as the importance of the virtues and the relationship between the gifts and “the moral life”) but avoided defining the individual gifts or even treating them in any detail—a mere six paragraphs (1285–1287, 1830–1831, and 1845), as compared with forty on the virtues (1803–1829, 1832–1844). Perhaps that is why the catechetical textbooks that have appeared in the wake of the new Catechism present such a confusing array of definitions of the gifts. These definitions tend to be imprecise rehashings of the traditional Thomistic definitions or totally ad hoc definitions drawn from the author’s personal experience or imagination.
The Seven Gifts and the Spiritual Arsenal
Rather than perpetuating either a strictly Thomistic approach or an approach based on contemporary, culturally conditioned definitions, I propose a third way of understanding the seven gifts, one that goes back the biblical source material.
The first—and only—place in the entire Bible where these seven special qualities are listed together is Isaiah 11:1–3, in a famous Messianic prophecy:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
Virtually every commentator on the seven gifts for the past two millennia has identified this passage as the source of the teaching, yet none have noted how integral these seven concepts were to the ancient Israelite “Wisdom” tradition, which is reflected in such Old Testament books as Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Psalms, Ecclesiasticus, and the Wisdom of Solomon, as well as certain strands of the prophetic books, including Isaiah. This material focuses on how to navigate the ethical demands of daily life (economics, love and marriage, rearing children, interpersonal relationships, the use and abuse of power) rather than the historical, prophetic, or mythical/metaphysical themes usually associated with the Old Testament. It does not contradict these other.aspects of revelation but complements them by providing a glimpse into how Israel’s covenant with Yahweh is lived out in all its nitty-gritty detail.
It is from this world of practical, down-to-earth, everyday concerns rather than the realm of ascetical or mystical experience that the seven gifts emerged, and the context of Isaiah 11 reinforces this frame of reference. The balance of Isaiah describes in loving detail the aggressiveness with which the “shoot of Jesse” will establish his “peaceable kingdom” upon the earth:
He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. . . . They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Is. 11:3–4, 9)
Establishing this kingdom entails thought, planning, work, struggle, courage, endurance, perseverance, humility—that is, getting one’s hands dirty. This earthbound perspective is a profitable one from which to view the role the seven gifts play in the life of mature (or maturing) Christians.
There is a strain within Catholicism, as within Christianity in general, that focuses on the afterlife to the exclusion—and detriment—of this world, as if detachment from temporal things were alone a guarantee of eternal life. One of the correctives to this kind of thinking issued by Vatican II was the recovery of the biblical emphasis on the kingdom of God as a concrete reality that not only transcends the created order but also transforms it ( Dei Verbum 17; Lumen Gentium 5; Gaudium et Spes 39).
The seven gifts are indispensable resources in the struggle to establish the kingdom and are, in a sense, a byproduct of actively engaging in spiritual warfare. If a person does not bother to equip himself properly for battle, he should not be surprised to find himself defenseless when the battle is brought to his doorstep. If my classmates and I never “acquired” the “mysterious powers” we anticipated, perhaps it is because we never took up arms in the struggle to advance the kingdom of God!
The seven gifts are an endowment to which every baptized Christian can lay claim from his earliest childhood. They are our patrimony. These gifts, given in the sacraments for us to develop through experience, are indispensable to the successful conduct of the Christian way of life. They do not appear spontaneously and out of nowhere but emerge gradually as the fruit of virtuous living. Nor are they withdrawn by the Spirit once they are no longer needed, for they are perpetually needed as long as we are fighting the good fight.
The seven gifts are designed to be used in the world for the purpose of transforming that world for Christ. Isaiah 11 vividly portrays what these gifts are to be used for: to do what one is called to do in one’s own time and place to advance the kingdom of God. The specific, personal details of that call do not come into focus until one has realized his very limited, ungodlike place in the scheme of things (fear of the Lord), accepted one’s role as a member of God’s family (piety), and acquired the habit of following the Father’s specific directions for living a godly life (knowledge). This familiarity with God breeds the strength and courage needed to confront the evil that one inevitably encounters in one’s life (fortitude) and the cunning to nimbly shift one’s strategies to match—even anticipate—the many machinations of the Enemy (counsel). The more one engages in such “spiritual warfare,” the more one perceives how such skirmishes fit into the big picture that is God’s master plan for establishing his reign in this fallen world (understanding) and the more confident, skillful, and successful one becomes in the conduct of his particular vocation (wisdom).
Soldiers of Christ
These remarks are aimed primarily at adult cradle Catholics who, like me, were inadequately catechized (at least with respect to the seven gifts). Because of the ongoing controversy in the Church at large over the proper age for reception of the sacrament of confirmation, the malaise of inadequate catechesis is likely to continue afflicting the faithful. The lack of attention to the synergistic relationship between the virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit seems to be the main culprit in the failure to develop the gifts among the confirmandi . Catechesis that is aimed only at the acquisition of knowledge or merely at promoting “random acts of kindness” without a solidly evangelical organizing principle simply will not cut it with this (or any other) generation of young people. Centering prayer, journaling, guided meditation, or any of the host of other pseudo-pedagogical tricks popular in many current catechetical programs cannot compete with the seductions of the culture of death.
The path to a mature appropriation of the spiritual arsenal represented by the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit needs to be trod as early as possible, and the seven virtues can serve today, as they have for most of the Church’s history, as excellent guides along that path. Perhaps it is time to resurrect the traditional image of the baptized as “soldiers of Christ,” a phrase that has been anathema for Catholic catechetical materials for decades. Despite the fact that the post-Vatican II zeitgeist has militated against the notion of “militancy” in all things religious, this stance has been shown to be misguided—by an honest assessment of what Sacred Scripture has to say about it and by world events in our own lifetime. The toppling of the Soviet Union, for example, would not have happened without the nonviolent militancy of John Paul II in the pursuit of a legitimate goal. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are our spiritual weaponry for the spiritual warfare of everyday life.
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