The Gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Mission of the Church
The task of living our Catholic faith as missionary disciples is particularly challenging today with all the currents of secular culture and the pressures that confront us. But as our Archdiocesan Synod understood, we have not been left alone. The Holy Spirit has come to dwell with us as Advocate, Consoler, Truth and Love, as promised by Jesus (John 14:16 et seq.).
“The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us,” writes Saint Paul in his Letter to the Romans (5:5).
What does this means for us? “The ‘living water,’ the Holy Spirit, the Gift of the Risen One who dwells in us,” Pope Francis explains, “purifies us, illuminates us, renews us, transforms us because he makes us participants in the very life of God that is Love” (Audience of May 8, 2013).
We need not “go it alone” in life, with success or failure depending entirely on our own personal efforts. In responding to the universal vocation to holiness, the call to be perfect in love and truth, in seeking to do good and avoid evil, we need not fend for ourselves.
The Lord offers us help, he offers his grace to enable us to meet the challenges of the day. Through this gift of the Spirit, by the love of the Crucified and Risen Christ, we are perfected in God and with God, no matter what our human limitations.
In addition to various special charisms we might receive, the Prophet Isaiah speaks of seven gifts in particular – wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2-3). The Catechism teaches that these gifts “complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them” (CCC 1831).
The gifts of knowledge and understanding allow us to transcend the superficial, to apprehend and grasp with our mind a fuller truth than what we can hear, taste, touch and smell. Wisdom and counsel, coupled with our reverence for human reason, can direct us and guide us in the awesome struggle to decide from all that we know how to do what we ought to do. Meanwhile, with piety and what we call “fear of the Lord,” there is a humble sense of awe and respectful appreciation for God’s presence. This helps us to gratefully recognize that God is greater than we are and that we rely upon his providence and blessing.
Beyond the usual trials of the human condition, which may tempt us to discouragement, are pressures from our secular culture to give in, to simply go along with what we know is not right. With the gift of fortitude, however, the Lord frees our hearts from fear, giving us the strength to persevere.
Next week, we will see these gifts on display in the early Church as we begin a series on the Acts of the Apostles. Prior to the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, the Apostles and other disciples often struggled with understanding Christ’s teachings. They were also unsure of themselves, timid and frightened after his arrest and crucifixion. All that changed when the Spirit descended upon them. Then they became bold, confident, courageous witnesses of all that Jesus revealed. Setting off in all directions, these missionary disciples brought the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
“This mission is still only beginning,” said Saint John Paul II, and “we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to its service” (Redemptoris missio, 1). Thus, we pray always that the Spirit empower us with his gifts so that we continue to manifest the kingdom of God and help him renew the face of the earth.