The gifts of the Holy Spirit
This year's plan focuses on the gifts of the Holy Spirit a description of the gifts and the discussion bulletins are below.
The Gift of Wisdom
Piously considered the first and greatest of the gifts, according to Saint Bernard it is the “supernatural Gift of the Holy Spirit which enables us to know God and to rejoice in perfect love.” The gift includes not only illumines the mind, but the heart as well, directing it to a purer and deeper love for God.
*Wisdom is both the knowledge of and judgment about “divine things” and the ability to judge and direct human affairs according to divine truth
The Gift of Understanding
The gift of understanding differs from wisdom – the desire to contemplate the things of God – in that understanding allows us to “penetrate to the very core of revealed truths.” It enables us to relate all truths to one’s supernatural purpose and further illuminates our understanding of Scripture.
*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
The Gift of Counsel
The gift of counsel instils in us a supernatural prudence, enabling us to judge right and wrong and choose correctly what will help us in our salvation and glorifying God.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.” – Matthew 7:13-14
*Counsel allows a man to be directed by God in matters necessary for his salvation
The Gift of Fortitude
The gift of fortitude instills in us the courage to overcome obstacles and difficulties that come with the practice of our Faith and religious duties. Aquinas says the” principal act of fortitude is endurance, that is to stand immovable in the midst of dangers rather than to attack them.”
*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
The Gift of Knowledge
The gift of knowledge enables to us to as far as humanly possible see things from God’s point of view, pointing to us the path to follow and what danger to avoid in order to obtain Salvation and go to Heaven.
“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11
*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
The Gift of Piety
The gift of piety accords with reverence, inspiring a filial relationship with God so we may come to recognize our total reliance on Him and come before God with humility, trust, and love. Pope Francis said that piety “is not mere outward religiosity; it is that genuine religious spirit which makes us turn to the Father as his children and to grow in our love for others, seeing them as our brothers and sisters.”
“I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” – John 15:15
*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 honouring 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
The Gift of Fear of the Lord
Commonly misunderstood as a fear of a God ready to smite us, the gift of the fear of Lord instils in us an awe and wonder at the glory and majesty of God – a fear of separating ourselves from God and offending Him as the same as a child fears offending his father. Pope Francis said that it is “is no servile fear, but rather a joyful awareness of God’s grandeur and a grateful realization that only in him do our hearts find tr
*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
*St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae: from the thirteenth century.
Discussion bulletins are entered below.
Wisdom A gift of the Holy Spirit
Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Often referred to as the Serenity Prayer, the above is a modern version of a prayer composed in the 1930s by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. We may have different opinions on the meaning of wisdom in this context. Could understanding or knowledge be substituted for wisdom and the meaning of the prayer remain the same? In the everyday use of the words it would probably be acceptable, but the Church teaches that wisdom as a gift of the Holy Spirit has a more specific or fundamental meaning.
The Tradition of Wisdom
The importance of Wisdom is emphasised throughout the Old Testament. Indeed, there is an entire genre of literature in the Old Testament known as “Wisdom literature,” which includes such books as Proverbs, the Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes and , of course, Wisdom.
Wisdom is traditionally identified with the feminine. Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom and the Greek deity identified with wisdom was the feminine Athena, not the masculine Zeus. Meanwhile, in the Jewish tradition, Proverbs pictures Wisdom as a woman, working alongside God and crafting the universe like a skilled artisan (Proverbs 8). And in our Christian tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary, by her “Yes” to the Spirit of Wisdom gives her very flesh and blood so that Christ, “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians, 1:24) can be enfleshed in a human body. Our Lady is often given the title Seat of Wisdom.
The great Old Testament model of Wisdom was Solomon who was offered his choice of anything in the world by God and chose Wisdom. God’s reply is as relevant for us as it was for him:
‘Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked possessions, wealth, honour, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked long life, but have asked wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may rule my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honour, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like’ (2 Chronicles 1:11-12).
In some ways this is a precursor of Jesus’ teaching: ‘Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and everything else will be added as well’ in that the same principle lies at the heart of both. Wisdom values properly those things we believe through faith. It puts first things first (the love of God) and second things second (the love of neighbour and the goods of this world).
Wisdom as Love
It has been suggested, in considering the mystery of the Holy Trinity, that the Holy Spirit may be regarded as a manifestation of the love between the Father and the Son. Tradition tells us that wisdom is a form of love. Christian spirituality sees wisdom as love which has been perfected by the full presence of the Spirit in the soul. Love can be seen as the foundation of the gift of wisdom.
Wisdom is the first and greatest gift of the Holy Spirit that we receive sacramentally in confirmation. We need the gift of Wisdom: because we are sacramental beings who are called to turn our faith into concrete works of love the way the Holy Spirit of Wisdom fashioned the world in love and in Jesus, the Wisdom of God, was made flesh.
Wisdom v Understanding v Knowledge Rather than merely being wise in the commonly accepted sense, the gift of wisdom allows us to understand things from God’s point of view. It is the ability to think more deeply choosing ‘Godly’ rather than human solutions to decisions. It allows us to become attuned to the will of God. It may be defined as the spiritual state we arrive at when we become able to make judgements about everything in our lives on the basis of a deep personal union with the Lord in love. As is the case with all the gifts of the Spirit, Wisdom cannot be attained through our own efforts. The Lord must give it to us. He will give it if we ask. (James 1:5, 1Cor.2:15-16.)
Wisdom doesn’t end with knowledge, but is expressed in transformed hearts and lives. Those with the gift of Wisdom have a deep understanding of the holiness of God and the lack of holiness in their own hearts. They are able to take from their own life experiences and share with others what God has taught them through such events.
St Augustine described the gift: ‘Wisdom, forsooth, whereby we are all formed in the image of God.’
As a gift of the Holy Spirit, Wisdom does not require great knowledge but great insight. Many people have wondered at the wisdom of St. Thérèse of Liseux, a young woman who lived a very short but remarkable life leaving behind a treasury of simple but profound thoughts. A small selection of these are listed below. You may find enrichment in seeking out others.
- You know well that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them
- If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.
- The value of life does not depend upon the place we occupy. It depends upon the way we occupy that place
- Perfect love means putting up with other peoples’ shortcomings, feeling no surprise at their weaknesses, finding encouragement even in the slightest evidence of good qualities in them.
Therese was not immune to normal irritations. She related being seriously irritated by a rather grumpy, rather unfriendly nun’s noisy, praying of the rosary with the beads click-click-clicking during silent prayer and regularly emitting strange mouth noises. She addressed these challenges by making an extra effort to be caring of her ‘tormentor’ and eventually was asked, “Therese, why do you love me so much? You are always being kind to me.” Which story perhaps takes us back to the Serenity prayer.
- What sets wisdom apart, and how is it different from knowledge or understanding?
- Can we possess the gift of wisdom without understanding or great knowledge?
- Do you now see the Serenity prayer in a different light, and if so, how?
- In a world where cunning and misinformation seem to the chosen tools of the successful how can we promote the valuing of wisdom?
UNDERSTANDING A Gift of the Holy Spirit
The way in which we use words in a secular setting can often influence our comprehension of what they mean theologically. Understanding, the second of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, can often give people a hard time when considering how it differs from wisdom. No doubt in discussing and contemplating the bulletin on Wisdom, the word “understanding” will have been used. Put simply it differs from wisdom in that wisdom is the desire to contemplate the things of God, while understanding allows us, as Fr. John A. Hardon writes in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, to "penetrate to the very core of revealed truths." This doesn't mean that we can come to understand, say, the Trinity the way that we might a mathematical equation, but that we become certain of the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity. Such certitude moves beyond faith, which "merely assents to what God has revealed."
Through understanding, we gain a conviction about our beliefs. We see the world and our life within it in the larger context of the eternal law and the relation of our souls to God. Understanding allows us to grasp, at least in a limited way, the very essence of the truths of the Catholic faith. It discloses the hidden meaning of Sacred Scripture and helps us to recognise man's relation to God and his role in the world.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit including understanding, according to Thomas Aquinas, enable man to transcend the limitations of human reason and human nature and participate in the very life of God, as Christ promised (John 14:23). Aquinas insisted that they are necessary for man’s salvation, which he cannot achieve on his own.
With understanding, we begin to see the hand of God in every event of our lives and begin to comprehend the meaning of God’s message. However, in Romans 11: 33-36 we are warned by Paul not to presume that we can understand the mystery of God. God is beyond our ability to comprehend. In times of crisis, such as a pandemic, we may cry “Where is God?” Which is understandable! But from the very beginning God has lovingly asked “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). God is always searching for us to come into His presence, to see the world through His eyes - to use the gift of understanding.
The question “where is God?” Is rooted in a misunderstanding about the very nature of God - a human misunderstanding because our thinking leans towards a certain cynicism which gives rise to one of our greatest enemies Fear - fear of God, of one another of life itself! Worth considering what the scientist and Nobel prize winner Marie Curie said: “Nothing in life is to be feared- only understood.”
In this Year of the Word, an article in the publication Bible Alive stated “God still speaks to each one of us, we are His people. When God speaks to us today, it is not a new revelation, but an understanding, an enlightenment of the revelation that God has revealed himself fully in His Son.
The Holy Spirit, through the gift of understanding can illuminate a passage in the scriptures so that it becomes a personal word for us, we receive a new insight, a fresh way of understanding the lordship of Jesus as proclaimed in Philipians 2: 5-11 and Colossians 1:15-20
The scripture verse comes alive and touches us in the deepest being. A homily or sermon can explain the scriptures enabling the Holy Spirit to penetrate our minds and hearts so that we do not simply hear words but encounter Jesus and understand the Word of the Living God.
The Holy Spirit opens up our hearts and minds to the wisdom and understanding of God that we may take hold of Christ as Christ has taken hold of us”
Consideration of Saint Elizabeth of Portugal exemplifying the Gift of Understanding
Elizabeth was a Spanish princess and is usually depicted in royal dress with a dove or an olive branch. At her birth in 1271, her father Pedro III, future king of Aragon, was reconciled with his father James, the reigning monarch. This proved to be a sign of things to come. Under the influences surrounding her early years, she quickly learned self-discipline and acquired a taste for spirituality.
Thus, fortunately prepared, Elizabeth was able to meet the challenge when at the age of 12, she was given in marriage to Denis, king of Portugal. She was able to establish for herself a pattern of life conducive to growth in God’s love, not merely through her exercises of piety, including daily Mass, but also through her exercise of charity, by which she was able to befriend and help pilgrims, strangers, the sick, the poor—in a word, all those whose need came to her notice. At the same time, she remained devoted to her husband, whose infidelity to her was a scandal to the kingdom.
Denis, too, was the object of many of her peace endeavours. Elizabeth long sought peace for him with God, and was finally rewarded when he gave up his life of sin. She repeatedly sought and effected peace between the king and their rebellious son Alfonso, who thought that he was passed over to favour the king’s illegitimate children. She acted as peacemaker in the struggle between Ferdinand, king of Aragon, and his cousin James, who claimed the crown. And finally, from Coimbra, where she had retired as a Franciscan tertiary to the monastery of the Poor Clares after the death of her husband, Elizabeth set out and was able to bring about a lasting peace between her son Alfonso, now king of Portugal, and his son-in-law, the king of Castile
The work of promoting peace is anything but a calm and quiet endeavour. It takes a clear mind, a steady spirit and a brave soul to intervene between people whose emotions are so aroused that they are ready to destroy one another. There is a need to show understanding of the feelings, emotions desires on both sides by expressing empathy with them. Elizabeth, through her spirituality had a deep and sincere love and sympathy for humankind, an almost total lack of concern for herself. Through her abiding confidence in God, and understanding of what Christ wanted, she exemplified this gift of the Holy Spirit among the tools of her success.
Studying at Trinity and All Saints Leeds to become a teacher, I was introduced to Blooms Taxonomy of skills, a classification of cognitive, affective and psychomotor learning. Each of these three types of learning contain hierarchical levels of achievement.
For cognitive learning, these levels include: Knowledge, Understanding, Application, Analysis, Evaluation, Synthesis
These skills come to my mind whenever I am in dialogue, or discussion and someone says “I know” or “I understand”. Often it is just a way of acknowledging “I have heard you and want to have my say”. Or to indicate intellectual understanding of something, a person in modern English may say, “I know” or they may say “I understand.”
The usage of these terms in educational or secular settings has no correspondence to how we mean them theologically. When the person says “oh I understand!” as if with a wink, we are getting closer, in that they are showing understanding as the ability to be able to be aware and open to others, having compassion for others putting ourselves in their shoes.
The gift of understanding helps us to relate all truths to one’s supernatural purpose, it further illuminates our understanding of sacred scripture and it assists us to understand the significance of religious ritual. This all gives us a profound appreciation of God’s care, love and purpose for us.
Points for discussion
- How would you explain the Holy Spirit’s gift of understanding to a person considering joining the church?
- If asked “Put simply what are the truths of the Catholic Faith?” How would you respond?
- Give an example of where a passage of scripture has been brought to live (could be in a homily / sermon / bible study etc) - and enabled you to encounter Christ.
- Below are two passages from scripture, how do they help you to comprehend the gift oil understanding.
- Matthew 13: 10-17
Prophets and holy men longed to hear what you hear
The disciples went up to Jesus and asked, ‘Why do you talk to them in parables?’ ‘Because’ he replied, ‘the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven are revealed to you, but they are not revealed to them. For anyone who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough; but from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. The reason I talk to them in parables is that they look without seeing and listen without hearing or understanding. So in their case this prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled:
You will listen and listen again, but not understand, see and see again, but not perceive.
For the heart of this nation has grown coarse, their ears are dull of hearing, and they have shut their eyes, for fear they should see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their heart,
and be converted and be healed by me.
‘But happy are your eyes because they see, your ears because they hear! I tell you solemnly, many prophets and holy men longed to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.’
- Matthew 13:18-23
The man who hears the word and understands it yields a rich harvest
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You are to hear the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom without understanding, the evil one comes and carries off what was sown in his heart: this is the man who received the seed on the edge of the path. The one who received it on patches of rock is the man who hears the word and welcomes it at once with joy. But he has no root in him, he does not last; let some trial come, or some persecution on account of the word, and he falls away at once. The one who received the seed in thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this world and the lure of riches choke the word and so he produces nothing. And the one who received the seed in rich soil is the man who hears the word and understands it; he is the one who yields a harvest and produces now a hundredfold, now sixty, now thirty.’
COUNSEL A gift of the Holy Spirit
Received at our Confirmation, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to us to support and help us as we journey in our pilgrimage of life. I use the word pilgrimage because pilgrims through the centuries have travelled in order to reach a destination at which they offer worship, prayer and praise to God. As Christians, as Catholics, we live our lives following God’s word which guide us in our daily thoughts and actions so that we may reach the journeys end in the eternal presence of God - Heaven. When we look at each of the seven gifts, we can see that they can be considered as in two parts.
Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge. Then Counsel, Fortitude, Piety, Fear of the Lord.
The first can be considered as gifts for ‘seeing’ in personal union with God.
The last four, for ‘acting’ in personal union with God.
All of the seven are gifts which bring us to a closer relationship with God the Father, either through giving us a revelation of God or a revelation of how to act in accord with God.
So, Counsel is the gift which allows us to perceive the actions we must do in particular situations. From this gift we manifest prudence (one of the four cardinal virtues). Now I know that we could say that this can be seen in many people, many who do not hold to the Christian faith. But, for the Christian, this prudence is given by the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit. Prudence is not just an outward reflection of the inward desire of a person to act as how they see fit, but has its origin totally and completely in God.
Many saints have shown the gift of Counsel in their lives. St Catherine of Siena was renowned for her counsel and many came to see her from far and wide. She held counsel with the Pope helping to heal the divisions in the Papacy of the time and wrote, “The Dialogue” as an aid to the spiritual life. She is one of the Doctors of the Catholic Church.
Now I am sure that none of us expect to become Doctors of the Church. For most of us it is hard enough to follow the Gospel on a daily basis let alone to give advice to a Pope. But the Holy Spirit offers us the gift of Counsel, just as it was given to St Catherine. It is for us to accept and allow that gift, through God’s grace to be borne in our lives.
Perhaps, it might be an opportune moment for each of us to consider our own examples of Counsel in our lives. For myself, I have many times seen this gift of the Holy Spirit acting in the lives of others which God has shown me for their and my own benefit. I remember asking a wise priest about a decision I had to make which was giving me concern. His reply was immediate. He said, “Don’t act on impulse. Don’t act on feelings. Give prayer and reflection to it and it will be resolved.” Now that may not sound earth shattering but at the time it was the best action to take and was exactly what I needed to hear. Not what I wanted to hear. I would have preferred for things to take their course much more quickly, but I know that was how God wanted the situation to play out having sought the good counsel of this priest. Having received his advice there was in my own heart, a certainty that this is what I should do. In many ways, this certainty of heart lets us know that the advice is correct and we can be sure that it owes its origin to the Holy Spirit. God’s counsel will always give us peace.
Counsel is a wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit but in order to be open to it in our lives we need to ensure that our minds and hearts are not cluttered with the distractions which can so easily blind us to the promptings of the Spirit. Making time for prayer, reflection, spiritual reading and Holy Mass is the way in which God pours grace into our hearts so that we can hear his word.
“Now we have not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.
And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit.” (1 Cor 2:12-13).
Questions to think upon.
- Do I see the work of the Holy Spirit in my life and the lives of others?
- Am I open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit through using the gifts he has given me?
- Do the choices I make in my life show due regard for the gift of Counsel.
- How am I called to use the gift of Counsel in my life for the benefit of family, fellow parishioners and others?
Fortitude. A Gift of the Holy Spirit
How are you feeling right now? Are you coping? Have you managed to adjust to the lockdown? What have you been doing with all this lockdown time you have been through?
Have you been Gardening, Spring Cleaning, Exercising, or have you been Reflecting?
Reflection is a very personal thing to do, as we all reflect on different things at different stages in our lives, about what has happened in our life, and how it has changed. Recent events having slowed us down almost to a complete stop, and most of us we are still affected.
If you have been reflecting, what have you been reflecting on? Your life, a family issue, a family member, a work colleague, an incident at work, or an issue with your faith and where you are at the moment in your relationship with God?
We all speak to God at different times, in many different ways and many different phrases. More often than not, in our own words, and in private; which is good. Talking to God at any time is good for all of us and being lockdown, it has given us more of an opportunity to do this.
What you say and what you think about God is your own unique and very private and confidential way of connecting with him. Do you feel that, at times, you are guided by the Holy Spirit? I do: as I will share with you all now - allowing you to come into my private experiences with God.
Coming from a large family and being the eldest I grew up in a very large council estate. Everyone was poor, food banks where non-existent. You had to grow your own fruit and vegetables or borrow them from someone to eat. But no matter how poor we were, we were always kept clean and well-dressed, especially on a Sunday when we never missed a Sunday Mass. All matters being, orchestrated by my Mother who was a huge influence on my life and my relationship with God, which has never ever left me.
Saying our prayers every night (out loud) so our mother could hear us, was a ‘must do’ before going to sleep at night - which I still do now
Having such a big family to keep and feed with dad not earning a lot, I left school at fifteen, to begin my apprenticeship. But the main reason was to bring in some extra cash to help feed my brothers and sisters.
It never really bothered me. I never really thought about any other thing to do, as college or University were not an option due to our financial situation at home. However, as a very young man, I got all my strength and guidance from God probably via the Holy Spirit; talking to him every day, praying for my family, asking god to keep safe my parents and my siblings. That is all I ever asked of god at that time.
However, some years later; well after I had finished my apprenticeship things got better.
As more of my brothers and sisters left school, starting jobs to earn and bring more money home to mum, in a way rewarding her for all the hard years she spent bringing us up in a wonderfully loving home.
I moved out, got married and set up my first home which was again putting me under severe financial pressure will all the cost that goes along with setting up a home Along with my wife we, just as mum did, just scraped through: earning enough to keep us fed and clothed.
I never thought about my mother in a religious way but looking back on my life, she was a SAINT. By that, I mean, she had the gift of being virtuous and having Fortitude; always putting other’s first, never’ ever thinking of herself and sacrificing her life to ensure we had the best start in life.
I am sure you have read a lot about the Saints there are thousands of them, all of which lived their lives in different ways, serving their communities, and Faith in many different ways it always putting other first, Ring any bells?
I believe that all Saints are guided by the Holy Spirit who gave them the grace and strength to carry out their work whilst they were on earth and, thankfully, we have all the scriptures, letters and readings to remind us of each of the prophets and Saints good deeds whilst doing Gods ,work helping to evangelise and teach you right from wrong . Ring any bells?
Think back to your childhood days, as I have done earlier in this Bulletin and compare your upbringing to mine, compare what you were taught by your Mother and as to how the Saints carried out their teachings and guidance, they too where guided by the Holy Spirit, I believe. Ring any Bells?
Leading a quiet day to day life of fortitude is much tougher than we often realise but it is perhaps possible to gain encouragement from others who have faced even greater challenges.
Let us look, for example at Maximilian Kolbe. He was born in a troubled Poland in 1897. Russia, Germany and Austria occupied separate parts of his native land. From an early age he responded wholeheartedly to the devoutly spiritual upbringing he received, which was solidly based on a love of Mary. He faced a tension between wanting to join the military to fight for his country or to join the Franciscan order to fight for the salvation of souls. The Franciscan call won. He was an excellent student and friar, studying well and praying passionately throughout his priestly life. For Father Maximilian Kolbe, sanctification always necessitated the mediation of Mary because, for him, “only through her and by means of her, the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier of souls, acts in an inseparable way in each individual soul… whether or not that soul acknowledges Mary’s role in this process.” But as he explained, the more a soul acknowledges and is conscious of Mary’s important role in the economy of salvation – the surer, easier and faster that soul can become a saint, via consecration to her. Despite suffering seriously from tuberculosis and remaining physically weak for most of his adult life he worked tirelessly to promote devotion to Our Lady. In the friary at Niepokalanow, which expanded from 18 friars to 650 is his lifetime, he established a publishing community – “the City of the Immaculate” - whose publications reached millions. He was sent to Nagasaki to set up a monastery there. By good fortune or Divine providence, he chose to build it on the ‘wrong’ side of the mountain and so it escaped the nuclear blast some years later. Having established the monastery in Japan he was called back to the “City of the Immaculate” to continue its work with ominous signs evident. After the German invasion he and his fellow friars were arrested on 1st September 1939, largely because of the material they were publishing. Not surprisingly when the Russians occupied Poland after WWII, they also shut down the publications. Maximilian and his brothers were released two months later and returned to a wrecked ‘city’. They rebuilt, took in refugees offered support to many and spoke out against the German occupation. In Feb. 1941 Fr. Kolbe was arrested again and sent to Auschwitz. To his brothers he said, “Courage, my sons. Don’t you see that we are leaving on a mission? They pay our fare into the bargain. What a piece of good luck! The thing to do now is to pray well in order to win as many souls as possible. Let us, then, tell the Blessed Virgin that we are content, and that she can do with us anything she wishes.” In the labour camp he showed outstanding patience and tolerance of physical abuse, despite attracting the attention of one particularly vicious guard who beat him regularly. Then in July the defining moment of an already outstanding life occurred. As a punishment for an attempted escape by one of the prisoners, the commandant ordered that ten prisoners would be starved to death in an underground cellar. One of the ten chosen cried for mercy because of the wife and family he would be leaving, to no avail. Fr. Kolbe pointed at him and said, “I will take that man’s place”. The commandant was so surprised by this occurrence that he agreed. It is reported that other prisoners who attended to the dying men that Fr. Kolbe’s led the others in prayer and talked to them about God’s love and so helped the others to slowly go to their eternal rest. He was among the last to die and took too long so the Germans injected him and a few others with carbolic acid to kill them – coincidently on the feast of the Assumption.
In 1971, Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man whose life he saved was present in Rome for his Maximilian Kolbe’s canonisation.
Looking back on our childhood or adolescence we can hopefully remember the teachings and disciplines that we had put down to us in our lives, School, Church, Work, Play. Many of us like St. Maximilian Kolbe look in particular to our mothers’ and our divine Mother’s example for inspiration.
This lockdown after reading this it may trigger some memory that you can recall in your earlier life.
Are you still searching for the Holy Spirit?
Are you still searching for God?
Are you still searching for your favourite Saint?
Now think about your Mother RING ANY BELLS?
Knowledge A Gift of the Holy Spirit
“He who buries his talent is making a big mistake.”
How true this statement is for so many Christians? God has given each believer spiritual gifts that He wants us to use for His glory, but we often don’t use them. We may deny that we actually have a spiritual gift or if we do acknowledge it, we may doubt its usefulness to glorify God, and then just bury it.
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are first described in the Book of Isaiah 11:1-3 (Google Isaiah 11:1-3 Catholic)
Why do we have spiritual gifts at all?
In Acts 1:8, Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
So, the primary purpose of the gifts of the Spirit is to give the church power to preach Christ to the entire world. The seven gifts are designed to be used in the world for the purpose of transforming that world for Christ.
You are a special part of the body of Christ. If you are a Christian and are not serving in some way, the church as a whole suffers. It’s like missing a part of the body.
Gift of Knowledge
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 Knowledge is the ability to think about and explore God's revelation, and also to recognize there are mysteries of faith beyond us. (Aquinas)
Knowledge here is not simply knowledge that is acquired by reason (e.g., through science) or by faith (e.g., revealed truths). However, such knowledge, especially knowledge of our faith, is important for us to of employ this gift of the Holy Spirit.
Several definitions are helpful. Father Jordan Aumann defined the gift of knowledge as 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.”
The Catechism defined it as “a gift of the Holy Ghost which enables us to see God reflected in all creatures and to praise Him in them, but yet to see the nothingness of creatures in themselves so that we will desire God alone.”
Lastly, Father Adolphe Tanqurey defined it as “a gift which, by the illuminating action of the Holy Ghost, perfects the virtue of faith, and thereby gives us a knowledge of created things in their relations to God.”
This gift was surely never displayed better than by St. Francis of Assisi. When thinking of St. Francis, very few of us fail to recognise the breadth and depth of this knowledge. We picture small animals being loved but don’t forget his love for mankind and the environment. It is enough for us only to start to say, “Where there is hatred let me …..” to recall his deep insight into God’s plan for the world. Indeed, Pope Francis recalls that as the voting in the conclave was starting to make it clear that he was about to be elected, a brother Cardinal whispered to him that he must never forget the poor. At that point his choice of Papal name came to him immediately. While considering this topic, it might benefit each of us to spend a little time investigating St. Francis’ teaching.
Given the above definitions, one could say that the gift of knowledge helps a person to embrace the truths of faith. Then, formed by these truths and guided by the Holy Spirit, the person makes correct judgments regarding earthly things and how they are related to eternal life and Christian perfection. As such, the knowledge of these created things leads one to the Creator. The created things are not seen as ends in themselves and held onto tightly, so that they become idols or obstacles to union with God; rather, they are instruments that help us appreciate the majesty of God and over which we must be good stewards. Also, while things of this world perish, God is eternal.
As Pope Francis stated (May 21, 2014), “When our eyes are illumined by the Spirit, they open to contemplate God, in the beauty of nature and in the grandeur of the cosmos, and they lead us to discover how everything speaks to us about Him and His love. All of this arouses in us great wonder and a profound sense of gratitude.”
Considering our society today.
While a person may be intrigued with the pursuit of science and technology, that pursuit must not be an end in itself but one that leads to God. Albert Einstein said, “There are two ways to live your life, one is as though nothing is a miracle the other is as though everything is a miracle,”
Like him, we know the latter is the correct position. For example, while a person may love an animal, the beloved family pet, we know that respect for the human person supersedes that given to animals. We KNOW human life is sacred from conception until natural death.
While we may use the resources of the earth, we KNOW to avoid wasting, polluting or wantonly destroying the environment.
While we may accumulate many material things, e.g., wealth and possessions, we KNOW these things deteriorate, perish, or are simply left behind at death. Therefore, we KNOW they are blessings to be used wisely for the glory of God and the good of others.
Moreover, this gift gives to the person spiritual knowledge. A person knows that God loves us and will never abandon us. He must be the first priority of our lives.
The gift of knowledge assists in the sanctification of the soul in three ways:
- A knowledge enabling the person to see the state of his soul.
- A knowledge of detachment from material things when they have become obstacles to God.
- A person has a sense of faith, sense meaning that the person has a divine instinct about whether or not something, like a Devotion, is in accord with the faith.
Finally, it gives us “knowledge” of how to help others, particularly in spiritual ways. For example, the Holy Spirit guides a priest to know what to say to a penitent in the confessional or to know what to preach to his congregation. Moreover, some of the saints, like St. Padre Pio, could even read souls, knowing the true spiritual disposition of a penitent.
For good reason, St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the gift of knowledge brings to perfection the supernatural virtue of faith, but it is also linked to the perfection of the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, and temperance.
But how do I maintain the Gift of Knowledge?
The way to cultivate the gift of knowledge is to continue to study our faith:
Take time to read sacred Scripture, perhaps one chapter of the New Testament each day. In this manner, one would cover the whole New Testament in less than a year.
Read a section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, just a section.
Besides praying each day, 15 minutes devoted to such spiritual reading fuels the soul so that the Holy Spirit can set afire the great gift of knowledge.
Pope Francis’ target for us
In May 2014 Pope Francis spoke on the Holy Spirit’s gift of knowledge, explaining that it enlightens our human perspective and helps us to see God in the whole of creation.
“The gift of knowledge puts us in tune with God’s gaze on things and on people.”
“Through this spiritual gift, we are enabled to see every person, and the world around us, in the light of God’s loving plan.”
Pope Francis noted that “This knowledge does not limit itself to the human knowledge of nature,” but instead “allows us to perceive the greatness of God and his love for his creatures” through creation.
“In a sense, we see the beauty, harmony and goodness of all creation with the eyes of God its maker” he continued, observing that “As is clear from the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi and so many other saints, the gift of knowledge gives rise to grateful contemplation of the world of nature and joyful praise of the Creator.”
Noting how “the beauty and immensity of creation speaks to us of the Creator and invites us to worship him,” the Pope drew attention to the bible’s account of creation in Genesis, saying that it “underscores that God himself was happy with his work: all was good and man was ‘very good.’”
This gift, he went on, teaches us to “exercise wise stewardship” over our resources “for the benefit of the whole human family.”
He then described how the gift of knowledge also “prevents us from restricting our vision to the persons and things of this world alone, forgetting that in their order, value and beauty they point beyond themselves to God,” who is “their source and ultimate end.”
Seeing with the vision of God, he explained, is “A kind and respectful gaze that warns us of the danger of believing we are the total owners of creation, disposing of it as we like and without limits.”
“Creation is not our property, and much less of just a few. It is rather a gift that God has given us so that we take care of it and use it with respect for the benefit of all.”
The Pope encourages those us to ask the Holy Spirit “to help us grow in the knowledge which enables us to perceive the love with which God guides the world, to respond with gratitude and to praise him for his infinite goodness and love.”
“May we see everything around us as God's work and ourselves as fellow brothers and sisters.”
Sermons by Pope Francis, Essay by Fr Jordan Aumann, Article by Fr Adolphe Tanqurey, Article by Frank X Blizard, Article by Michael A Milton Notes on Sts. Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure
Piety A gift of the Holy Spirit
The sixth gift of the Holy Spirit, is the perfection of the virtue of religion. While we tend to think of religion today as the external elements of our faith, it really means the willingness to worship and to serve God. Piety takes that willingness beyond a sense of duty so that we desire to worship God and to serve Him out of love, the way that we desire to honour our parents and do what they wish. Piety, for me, implies an ongoing trust in God and an ongoing confidence in talking to Him.
I see this confident relationship with God in the life of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. Monica was born a Christian, in Tagaste in North Africa, but her parents arranged her marriage to a pagan called Patricius, who was ill-tempered, licentious and brought with him a very unpleasant mother-in-law for Monica. Her response was to commit fully to praying for her husband’s conversion and also for her mother-in-law. Her prayers and example were eventually successful and both converted to Christianity just a year before Patricius’ death in 371 AD. They had at least three children, the oldest, being Augustine. He was, as a young man, what we now call, “a chip off the old block”. He was living a life of debauchery and his mother strove constantly to bring him to a life of faith. Augustine wasn’t too comfortable with this situation and on the pretence of seeing a friend off took a boat to Rome, where freedom from her apron strings beckoned. Monica prayed for him, then also took a boat to Rome. When she arrived, she discovered that Augustine had gone to Milan. She caught up with him there and both came under the influence St. Ambrose. Ambrose influenced both mother and son and his friends. He directed Monica to involve herself with the devout ladies of the city and converted Augustine and some friends, who went on a mission back to Africa. Shortly afterwards, Monica died, quite painfully, having fulfilled her life’s mission. To this day she is remembered as a model of constancy in her prayerfulness and continued trust in God. Her prayers were answered and Augustine carried on her legacy to the benefit of many in this country.
When considering my own ‘piety’, I find myself ‘challenged’. I was slightly amused some time ago when I realised that I wasn’t totally normal in thinking that the day after my confirmation, I would waken up with new powers. They weren’t instantly obvious. I’ve looked for them coming into action over the years. For most of them I’m willing to make a partial, though self-delusional, claim. I’ve learned from many people over the years, not least in the Catholic Men’s society, and have met and understood some knowledge, learned from many wise men, always been willing to offer counsel, whether asked or not, I’ve had the occasional moments of fortitude, had early and lasting experience of priests who specialised in instilling the ‘fear of the lord’ . But, piety? ‘Definitely needs a lot of work’. I want to claim this might have started with my choice of confirmation name. I have avoided disclosing this name to anyone for most of my life and will only leave room for deduction now. But I have never forgiven my parents for letting me choose it. It didn’t come from the Pope at the time, but from one of his predecessors in the early twentieth century. He was a very good man and well worth choosing as a role model. But then again so was St. Adolf and he wasn’t even considered. However, the folly of setting one’s sights too high doesn’t excuse the consequent failure. I am very comfortable in the atmosphere of a church and generally have a warm feeling during services, but keeping my attention on prayer is quite another matter. I realise that this is not unusual. Most people can get distracted. I recall a sermon on this issue from many years ago. The priest recounted the tale of a parishioner who disputed the suggestion that everyone got distracted. His priest said, I’ll bet you a new horse that you can’t say even one Hail Mary without your mind wandering. The challenge was accepted and the prayer began. “Hail Mary full of grace, …. does it come with a saddle?” Indeed, Scotland’s national poet actually took time to compose quite a famous poem to a small creature visible in the hair of the young lady in front of him in church. As he was also wont to do when out ploughing a field. I often ponder why he favoured mice over lice. And there goes another thought distraction. So, I’m not unique in this matter. Indeed, having expressed my concern on my wandering mind, a priest once told me that it can be quite upsetting to find oneself back in the sacristy thinking, “I did do the consecration, didn’t I? I must have done.” However, the frailties of others don’t excuse one’s own. A couple of sentences into a decent sermon and my mind is off and running; often into ill-chosen territories. Unforgotten slights or wrongs; possible retribution. Private prayer often fairs no better. So where do we go from here?
- Perhaps a first thought is to look to others for help. Look to the saints like St. Monica whose sense of purpose might set an example. There are many others.
- Pay heed to different ideas. Fr. Daley, our National Chaplain, suggests a different intention or person considered on each bead of the rosary.
- Broaden your horizons. A couple of years ago, one of our members brought from Lourdes for each of us a ‘ring rosary’. I put it in my jacket pocket and forgot to take it out when I got home. Sometime later, waiting for a train, I put my hand in my pocket and felt the rosary. “Well, a quick decade while I’m waiting, won’t go amiss!”. Not a bad habit to start.
- At a recent ‘lockdown’ visit to a parish in Ireland, the priest mentioned a local custom. On Good Fridays he takes 14 small crosses to a nearby forest and parishioners gather to pray the Stations of the Cross. He mentioned about a thousand attending – ‘Yes’ - I checked with my wife - ”He did say a thousand?” One of the recent highlights of the Scottish CMS annual retreats has been praying the Stations of the Cross in the grotto at Carfin - A special experience. I wondered about the idea of when going on a familiar regular walk, mentally posting Stations of the Cross along the normal route. (I actually considered small wooden crosses but thought that might be a step too far.)
In summary, I am looking for ideas to build better communication with God, conscious of one of my father’s sayings; Every time I pass a church, I pay a little visit. So, when at last, I’m carried in, God will not ask, “Who is it?”
These days the church is usually locked and I’m driving past, anyway. But keeping in touch with God is a very good idea.
- Which saints do you think of when considering the virtue of Piety?
- What advice would you give to those of us who are easily distracted during prayer?
- I find certain prayers keep my attention better than others e.g. St. Mother Theresa’s, “Do it anyway!” prayer. What prayer(s) do you want to share with others?
- You might not have noticed, but many of us seem very reluctant to use the front seats of the church. Would our attention wander less if we moved further forward? Go on. I dare you.
- Prayer groups help our prayer life. Discuss.
- In prayer, does variety of form help or are you better sticking to your personal prayer style?
Wonder and Awe. A gift of the Holy Spirit
This gift of the Holy Spirit listed last by Isaiah has often been known as ‘Fear of the Lord’. But the Church has traditionally understood this gift in a much more positive light than the word ‘fear’ might conjure up. St. Thomas Aquinas linked it to the virtue of hope. St. Augustine, in considering the beatitudes, link ‘those who are ‘poor in spirit’ to those who are humble and have a fear of the lord. Indeed, when our predecessors might have referred to themselves or others as, ‘God fearing’, it was a positive and hopeful assertion, suggesting ‘Respect’ more than ‘Fear’. However, recent translations and usage has taken us a step further in recognising in this virtue as an even deeper awareness of God’s majesty. At the council of Nicene, and in our school days catechisms, the church declared that God was the supreme spirit who alone exists of himself and is infinitely perfect. ‘There is no ‘finish’ to God’s, power, majesty, love, existence.’ How do we respond to this? Imperfectly? inadequately? humbly? All of the above and more. When looking for a model of a saint who lived this virtue, my mind considered an extensive list until I considered the imperfect human who came closest to our living God, St. Joseph. We have very little insight into how St. Joseph understood the unique role which was assigned to him in the salvation of mankind. We know that he accepted Mary’s news with love, honour and an awareness that something beyond his understanding was being asked of him. Mary’s understanding that, “The Lord is with you”, would almost certainly be aligned with the Jewish concept of the Messiah. Joseph’s acceptance of his role must have been filled with considerable awe. He undertook his role in the salvation of the world with humility and acceptance of whatever place he was to occupy in God’s plan. But not only did he accept the role assigned to him, he also lived it with perseverance and courage. The burden of the travel to Bethlehem was challenging, tiring and worrying but made more so by having an awareness that his wife and the child she was carrying were special beyond any mother or child before or after them. The flight into Egypt was also arduous, lengthy and fraught with danger. But he undertook it with courage and perseverance. As he watched Jesus grow up, he was aware, but couldn’t be fully aware, of the duty which had been assigned to him. To watch over and protect his family must have been both a joy and humbling responsibility. St. Joseph should be a constant role model for all fathers and an inspiration to all mankind.
When considering the place of wonder and awe in my own life I constantly consider a memory of a casual, flippant comment I once made as a very young man. There we were, a group of young science students discussing deep and meaty matters; like the origins of the universe, when one of our number suggested that perhaps it wasn’t God who started the universe but perhaps a pi-meson going boom. If you don’t know what a pi-meson is don’t worry, neither did he, but it sounded good. Without thinking I said, “If that’s what you believe then the pi-meson is your God. But my God’s better than your God”. I was rewarded with some laughter from my friends and that’s always welcome. But the thought has stayed with me for life. Most people now have some understanding of our universe starting with a massive explosion of energy followed by an unbelievable amount of chemical reactions and movements through space. Some Christians still dispute this concept but George le Maitre who first proposed the idea was a Catholic priest and Pope Pius XII was quick to accept the idea. However, Abbot le Maitre urged caution about declaring support, partly because the science community was largely sceptical because of some contradictory evidence which took a couple of decades to be explained away. However, although we still have uncertainties, I think the following, very crude, explanation of how we came to be here, is at least in the right ballpark. After the big bang (which actually wasn’t very loud and wasn’t called that originally) loads of bundles of elements were flying through space, with a colossal amount of chemical reactions taking place, with new elements and compounds being formed. In our particular group of particle/dust clouds the central group contracted, the energy increased at its core, and the sun was created with its heat rays blasting away the dust and the other groups formed the planets circling the sun. It was dark and then it was light. The earth held by the gravitational pull of the sun orbits the sun while rotating on its own axis. Then there was day and night. The activity of the ‘earth cloud’ created land, sea and a gaseous mantle. Life formed in the sea, and was swept onto the land and into the air, first plant life then animal life. Evolution took place and humans appeared. When you read the account in Genesis, only the arrival of night and day are out of the probable sequence of actual events. When we realise how late on in the process, man appeared, my wonder is, how on earth did the original tellers of the Genesis story have such a reasonable awareness of the origin of the earth. The second version in Genesis chap 2 is also a simplified explanation of early plant and animal evolution. Some scoff at the simplified version of early events in Genesis: ‘day means 24 hours’ – not when this story was first told, the ‘apple’ is not mentioned – knowledge of good and evil is another fruit entirely. And Cain’s story relates the he was concerned about being persecuted by others and so was marked as untouchable. He then went to the land of Nod where his wife bore his first child. ‘Needing protection from others and having a wife’, perhaps suggests a slightly broader process of man’s evolution being described. Also remember that the Australian aborigines also have a Garden of Eden story in the ‘Dreamtime’. The time before clear recollection. For me the wonder is that even before man had the written word and any hint of scientific knowledge there was a source of knowledge and understanding far beyond human knowledge at that time. But then I think everything comes from God. God is in everything we can see, touch and feel. I come totally from God. It’s not as if He or She found some bits lying about and made me. He created all of the bits. When we look deeper into our universe the picture is mind blowing. I do not have knowledge to even start to explain the puzzles and contradictions challenging scientists just now, but if you doubt the complexity, seek out and explanation for ‘string theory’; try to explain why Professor Higgs thought there had to be a boson and find out what happens to ‘time’ as you watch someone disappearing into a ‘black hole’.
Then I think about the invisible things that come from God. Human thought, emotions, love, hate, selfishness, generosity, life itself, good and bad and I am overwhelmed with wonder and awe. The pi-meson comment was actually more than a little silly, but that big bang was truly awesome and whatever was there before it is both awesome and wonderful.
- What aspect of your belief fills you with the most awe?
- When you see the mightiness of the universe could you consider intelligent life elsewhere? Have you thought of the fact that if there is such life, then God loves them, as He loves us?
- It is easy for us to see that man has altered God’s Earthly world in many ways. How involved are we in ‘saving the planet’? Have you looked at ‘Laudato Si’ recently? How well do we support ‘Justice and Peace’ activities at parish and national level?
- As I write this, I’m aware of a recent spectacular display of the Aroura Borealis and that there are some very colourful autumn leaf displays becoming apparent. Do we pay enough heed to the wonder of creation?