What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we receive at baptism and confirmation? How do they impact our lives and build up the Body of Christ?
As a pastor, I frequently receive requests from parishioners to explain the gifts of the Holy Spirit—those graces that enlighten, direct, and enable us to grow in holiness.
In this article, we’ll explore what these seven gifts are, where they are referenced in Scripture, and how we can utilize them in our spiritual lives. My goal is to provide a fundamental understanding of these profound gifts that make God’s very presence dwell within us.
What Are the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit?
The Church teaches that we receive seven special supernatural graces or gifts at baptism, and these gifts are strengthened at confirmation. These seven gifts are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord
Here is the verse that explains the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit:
“The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.”Isaiah 11:2-3
“To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another mighty works, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in tongues and to still another the interpretation of tongues.”1 Corinthians 12:8-10
The prophet Isaiah first makes reference to these charisms in Isaiah 11:2-3, when he prophesies about the coming of Jesus Christ, who will possess these gifts in their fullness. In the passage, the gifts are described as resting upon the Messiah in perfection, empowering him to fulfill his mission to preach the Gospel.
How Do the Gifts Help Us Grow in Holiness?
As Christians, it is important we understand that the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are not merely abstract concepts – they are vital charisms that God shares with us to help conform us to the image of Jesus and guide us along our spiritual journey.
Each gift serves a particular purpose and helps us cooperate with God’s grace at work in our souls. The gifts complement one another and together, they provide us with everything we need to overcome obstacles, resist temptations, grow in holiness, and bear witness to the Gospel.
Besides Isaiah 11:2-3, we see references to the gifts of the Holy Spirit throughout Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul instructs the community on charisms of the Spirit. In Jesus’s farewell discourse in the Gospel of John, we see allusions to the Spirit guiding the disciples to remember all Jesus taught them. Of course, Pentecost remains the ultimate Biblical demonstration of the Spirit’s power.
As Catholics, we believe the Holy Spirit dispenses these supernatural gifts not for the benefit of just one individual but for the common good—so the Body of Christ as a whole can be enriched and built up.
List of the 7 Gifts of the holy spirit
Wisdom Fundamentals: Fearing the Lord
What exactly do the individual gifts help us accomplish? First is the gift of wisdom, which helps us value the things of God above all else. Biblically speaking, true wisdom always begins with fear of the Lord, or deep awe-inspired reverence. With wisdom, we experience joy in God’s plans being fulfilled and they give us vision for the future rooted in Christ.
Next is understanding, which leads to deeper comprehension and insight into the core principles of our faith. The gift helps us grasp, at least in part, the profound mysteries of the God’s kingdom without compromising reason.
Counsel and the Well-Formed Conscience
Counsel, or right judgment, is the gift that perfects a Catholic’s conscience and allows us to make decisions in accordance with God’s will when faced with complex situations or moral dilemmas. Counsel helps form our conscience in the light of faith.
The gift of fortitude allows us to overcome fear and gives us the strength of character needed to endure personal trials as we work toward heavenly reward. It provides the courage to stand firm for truth amid adversity.
The fifth gift is knowledge – this gift helps us discover and embrace doctrinal truths while exposing lies masquerading as truth. When developed fully under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the gift allows us to effectively discern falsehood and to refute misleading lines of thought.
Next, piety disposes us to express heartfelt devotion in our spiritual duties and worship. This gift makes one’s faith come alive and fuels our vibrancy as we perform works of mercy, our apostolates, and liturgical celebrations.
Holy Fear of Offense
Lastly is fear of the Lord, which corresponds to a holy fear of separating ourselves from God. It compels us to deeply desire to please God in all things and avoid even small transgressions due to reverence for the sanctity of reconciliation with the Lord.
Building Up the Body of Christ
As you can see, each supernatural gift has a specific purpose and function – to empower us to overcome sin in our lives and build up the Body of Christ. The gifts ultimately help us develop the mind of Christ in all our thoughts and actions.
Of course, we also believe that as the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit ultimately directs the dissemination and activation of these gifts within each believer as needed to accomplish God’s divine plan. Not all gifts manifest themselves equally from person to person – God sovereignly determines the distribution of the gifts based upon the assigned mission of each member of the church.
So while one member may receive a full measure of wisdom, another may experience deeper understanding. However, by working together under the direction of one Spirit, the community prospers and gets stronger.
Unfortunately today there are some misguided notions surrounding the seven gifts, especially concerning their role in the charismatic renewal movement. So I think it’s important to touch upon what the Catholic Church actually teaches:
While the Holy Spirit may “renew” or “rekindle” the use of His gifts in certain settings, He never rescinds or removes them. In other words, the seven gifts are always present within us since baptism in “seed” form as habits that dispose us to grace. The gifts do not come and go but are meant to develop over the course of the Christian life.
Furthermore, utilization of the gifts comes from growth in holiness and obedience to God’s prompting, not seeking mystical experiences or chasing supernatural phenomenon like speaking in tongues. All of us, clergy and lay people alike, are called to submit to the manifestation of gifts in our daily lives for God’s glory alone.
Lastly, while praying for “Baptism in the Spirit” serves an important purpose for some Christians, from a Catholic theological perspective, we understand the sacraments themselves as that vehicle for the Holy Spirit’s full indwelling—not subsequent experiences, however profound or sacred.
Of course, there remains much mystery here as to how God sovereignly acts. We must avoid conceit and humility and remain open to how the Holy Spirit manifests his gifts, fully realizing that the supernatural life can never be reduced to scientific precision or complete systemization.
Hopefully, this broad overview provides some helpful insights into the true nature and scriptural foundations of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit as understood in Catholic theology.
Let us continue praying daily to fan into flame the gifts we have already received! Come Holy Spirit!
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