The Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost and the Extraordinary Graces
1. The Holy Ghost gives to all who have sanctifying grace the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, that is, seven virtues of the soul, by which it easily responds to His light and inspirations.
The light of the sun is split up into seven distinct colors, and the seven-branched candlestick in the Temple was a type of the seven gifts. These seven gifts embrace the four cardinal virtues. They remove entirely the barriers which divide us from God, especially by subjecting our concupiscence to the dictates of reason (St. Thomas Aquinas). The seven gifts give us a definite movement towards God; they perfect the powers of our souls, so that the Holy Ghost can easily move them. Just as teaching in the elementary school prepares the scholar for higher forms of instruction, so the seven gifts pre pare the soul for the higher influence of the Holy Ghost. The three theological virtues are higher than the seven gifts, because the latter only give us a movement towards God, while the former unite us intimately with Him. These gifts are lost by mortal sin, but are increased as one advances in perfection. Confirmation also increases these gifts.
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are: Wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and the fear of God.
The first four enlighten the understanding, the others strengthen the will. These gifts are enumerated by Isaias as belonging to the Redeemer of mankind (Is. xi. 2).
1. The gift of wisdom enables us to recognize the emptiness of earthly things, and to regard God as the highest good.
St. Paul counts all that the world loves and admires for loss (Phil. iii. 8). Solomon, after tasting of the joys of this world calls them “vanities” (Eccles. i. 2). St. Ignatius of Loyola used often to exclaim: “Oh! how poor are the things of earth when I look at the heavens.” Compare, too, the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, “My and my all.”
2. The gift of understanding enables us to distinguish Catholic teaching from all other doctrine, and to rest in it.
Blessed Clement Hofbauer, the apostle of Vienna (A.D. 1820), though he began his studies very late in life, and had only just enough knowledge of theology to be ordained, was often consulted by the dignitaries of the Church on the accuracy of the doctrine taught in the books passing through the press. A very short examination enabled him to detect at once what was unsound. St. Catharine of Alexandria (A.D. 307), reduced some fifty pagan doctors to silence, and made them into Christians. Our Lord’s own promise was: “I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries shall not be able to resist and gainsay” (Luke xxi. 15).
3. The gift of knowledge enables us to obtain a clear grasp of the teaching of the Catholic Church without special study.
The Cure of Ars had done but little study, yet his sermons were riO remarkable that even bishops were eager to hear them, and marvelled at his knowledge. St. Thomas Aquinas used to say that he learned more at the foot of the altar than out of books; and St. Ignatius of Loyola declared that he had learned more in the cave at Manresa than all the doctors in the world could teach him. How did the old man Simeon know that the child in the Temple was the Messias (Luke ii. 34)? Were not the apostles, after the coming of the Holy Ghost, “endowed with power from on high” (Luke xxiv. 49)? Was not St. Paul rapt into paradise to hear words such as no man had heard (2 Cor. xii. 4)?
4. The gift of counsel enables us to know under difficult circumstances what the will of God is.
We might recall the answer made by Christ to the question whether tribute should be paid to Caesar (Matt. xxii. 21), and the judgment of Solomon (3 Kings iii.). Our Lord, when warning the apostles of the persecutions awaiting them, had said, “Be not solicitous how you shall answer or what you shall say; for the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what you must say” (Luke xii. 11, 12).
5. The gift of fortitude enables us to bear courageously whatever is necessary in carrying out God’s will.
St. John Nepomucene (1393) chose rather to be imprisoned, tor tured with hot irons, and finally cast into the Moldau, rather than betray the secret of the confessional. Job was patient in spite of the loss of his property, his children, and his health, and in spite of the mockery of his wife and friends. Abraham was ready to sacrifice his only son. The gift of fortitude is especially prominent in the holy martyrs, and most of all in Our Lady, the Queen of martyrs, “She herself,” says St. Alphonsus, “would have nailed her Son to the cross had such been God’s will; for she possessed the gift of fortitude in a higher degree than Abraham.”
6. The gift of piety enables us to make continual efforts to honor God more and more in our hearts, and to carry out His will more perfectly.
St. Teresa took a vow always to choose what was most perfect, and St. Alphonsus never to waste time. St. Aloysius would spend hours in presence of the Blessed Sacrament, till his confessor had to command him to shorten his devotions. Many of the saints used to melt into tears during their prayer or in meditating on heavenly subjects.
7. The gift of the fear of God enables us to fear giving offense to God more than all the evils in the world.
Such was the gift, for instance, of the three children in the furnace, and of all the martyrs. It enables us to overcome the fear of man and human respect.
2. The Holy Ghost gives to many graces of a rarer kind; for instance, the gift of tongues, of miracles, of prophecy, of discernment of spirits, of visions, of ecstasies, etc.
The apostles received on the feast of Pentecost the gift of tongues, and we find it recorded also in the life of St. Francis Xavier, as having been possessed by him. The prophets of the Old Law fore told future events. St. Peter knew the thoughts of Ananias. St. Catharine of Sienna after communion used to be raised in the air and rapt out of her senses. St. Francis of Assisi received the stigmata, or impression on his body of the sacred wounds of Our Lord. Instances of all these gifts occur again and again in the lives of the saints, and are, after all, only the fulfillment of the promise of Our Lord in Mark xvi. 17, 18. These graces are conferred by the Holy Ghost on whom He will (1 Cor. xii. 11). Louis of Granada beautifully expresses it: “As the sun shines on the flowers, and brings out their various perfumes, so does the light of the Holy Spirit fall on pious souls, according to their peculiarities, and develops in them His graces and gifts.”
These extraordinary graces are conferred by the Holy Ghost generally for the benefit of others and in aid of His Church.
The time of the apostles was conspicuous for extraordinary gifts (1 Cor. xii.-xiv.). “God is like a gardener,” says St. Gregory the Great, “who waters the flowers only while they are young.” Extraordinary graces ought to be used with due discretion for the benefit of others (1 Cor. xiv. 12). In the words of St. Irenseus, “A merchant does not leave his money idle in his chests, but he makes the best use he can of it in business; so God’s will is that His graces should not be left unemployed, but that men should make good use of them.” These extraordinary gifts of themselves do not make men better. They are indeed great graces, available for great good, and are the free gift of God, like riches, health, etc. Hence the words of St. Teresa: “Not for all the goods and joys of this world would I give up a single one of the graces given me; I esteemed them always as a singular gift of God and a very great treasure.” It is the right use of these gifts, and not the gifts themselves, which make them of service to man. St. Fulgentius writes: “One may have the gift of miracles, and yet lose his soul. Miracles give no certainty of one’s salvation.” Nor are these extraordinary graces a sign of holiness in the possessor of them; Our Lord’s own words convey this in Matthew vii. 22. Yet there is no saint of the Church who has not had these gifts. Benedict XIV. says: “They are, as a rule, given not to sinners but to the just. When they are found in union with heroic virtue in a man, they are a strong proof of his sanctity.” These gifts are usually accompanied by great sufferings, such as desolation of spirit, struggles with the devil, sickness, persecutions, etc.
3. The gifts of the Holy Spirit were conspicuous in a special degree in Jesus Christ (Acts x. 38), His holy Mother, the apostles, the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Law, and all the saints of the Catholic Church.
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