Do you have your Christmas shopping done yet?
It’s getting close and many of us have no idea what to get. Sometimes it helps to remember the gifts you yourself have received.
The greatest gift any of us has ever received is the love of God, which brings us life and salvation. And God’s gifts come to us through the Holy Spirit.
As Pope Francis noted in a series of audiences in spring 2014: “The Spirit himself is ‘the gift of God’ par excellence (cf. Jn 4:10), he is a gift of God, and he in turn communicates various spiritual gifts to those who receive him. The church identifies seven (gifts of the Spirit), a number which symbolically speaks of fullness, completeness.”
These gifts of the Spirit are something we hear about with the sacrament of confirmation. On the feast of Pentecost, when we remember the Holy Spirit coming upon the Apostles, the church prays the Pentecost Sequence, saying, “On the faithful, who adore and confess you evermore in your sevenfold gift descend.”
However, we receive the gifts of the Spirit all the time, freely given. They, in turn, are meant to be shared to bring forth “much fruit” as the Gospel of John tells us.
Gift searching with Isaiah
What are these gifts of the Spirit? They are found in the Old Testament as attributes of the Messiah, the Anointed One, upon whom the Spirit of the Lord would rest (Is 11:2-3). These gifts are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, fear of the Lord (also called reverence) and piety. This last gift, piety, is not in the original Hebrew text but was added to later Greek and Latin translations of the Old Testament.
Wisdom brings the ability to recognize God and God’s work in the world. Wisdom allows us to recognize what is eternal and from God and to distinguish it from that which belongs only to this mortal world. It comes, as St. Thomas Aquinas said, from a deep union with God.
Understanding allows us to delve into the meanings behind the teachings of our faith. St. John Paul II explained understanding as “a supernatural intelligence” that lets us see into the depths of God and open our hearts “to the joyous understanding of God’s plan.” This gift helps us discern the truth in difficult situations.
Counsel is related to understanding, because it imparts the ability to know what to do in a particular situation. It tells us “what Jesus would do.”
Fortitude is the strength to persevere through life’s trials. St. John Paul explained this as a gift that gives “strength to the soul, not only on an exceptional occasion such as that of martyrdom, but also in normal difficulties …”
Knowledge gives clear sight to discern truth from error. St. Augustine, writing about the Trinity, explained this gift as the difference between reason and informed action: “For it is one thing to know only what one ought to believe in order to attain to a blessed life (reason) … but another to know in what way this belief itself may both help the pious and be defended against the impious (informed action) …”
Fear of the Lord is not about being afraid, but awe. This gift gives reverence and a deep desire to avoid anything that might displease God.
Piety may be a familiar word, but it is not only about being religious in our actions. Pope Francis explains this gift as “our friendship with God, granted to us by Jesus, a friendship that changes our life and fills us with passion, with joy.”
Shopping with the Spirit
So what gifts would you choose to give to remind someone of the gifts of the Spirit?
Wisdom: Since this is about recognizing God, what about a journal to record the times someone sees God acting in their lives? Or a bracelet with Jesus’ name or a dove?
Understanding: Since this helps us delve into the mysteries of faith, what about a mystery book like G. K. Chesterton’s “Father Brown.” Or a magnifying lens or binoculars.
Counsel: Doing what is right in any situation is hard, but maybe a “What Would Jesus Do” gift would help someone remember this gift. Or a scales of justice statue as a reminder to weigh possibilities.
Strength or Fortitude: This gift is evident in perseverance, so why not exercise equipment or set of weights?
Knowledge: Knowing what to do is a great thing. Maybe a reminder of great achievements or something with clear insight — like an award statue or a crystal glass — would help.
Fear of the Lord: A statue or image of the Trinity or one person of the Trinity could be a reminder of the gift we know as awe and reverence.
Piety: At some level, reverence is an ongoing bond of friendship with God. This could be represented by a prayer aid, like a rosary or even a friendship ring. What closer friend have we?
Whatever gift you choose, giving to God the gift of prayer — even a little one each day — will bring gifts in return. St. John XXIII, in his encyclical on penance, offered a good reminder about Christmas: “For will not Almighty God surely be lavish with his gifts, after receiving so many gifts from his children; gifts which breathe the scent of myrrh, the sweet fragrance of their filial devotion?”
Sources: Catechism of the Catholic Church; the Summa Theologica at stjamescatholic.org; The Catholic Encyclopedia; “On the Holy Trinity” at newadvent.org; The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia; Spring 1989 Angelus addresses by John Paul II and 2014 Angelus by Pope Francis at vatican.va; Catholic Answers at catholic.com; catholicism.about.com; The Harper Collins Encyclopedia; and ccel.org