It is through the gifts of the Holy Spirit that Wisdom directly intervenes in the life of the soul and establishes complete dominion over it. The role of these gifts is therefore of capital importance in the spiritual life. Both St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross talk of these in their writing but they do not name them. This chapter will talk about God’s action in giving these gifts of the Holy Spirit and their role in the spiritual life. These little study guides are written as an overview. This chapter is packed with a lot of detail and it is therefore advised that one read it in its entirety. Also, if one would like more information on this subject, a book that would help in better understanding the role of the Holy Spirit is, “The Sanctifier” by Archbishop Luis Martinez. This book is available on Amazon.
A. Nature and Role of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
The gifts to the soul are compared to the sail of a boat in guiding it. These gifts are better described in Scripture as “spirits”. These “spirits” render the soul more passive under the hand of God, and at the same time more active in following Him and accomplishing His works.
2. Virtues and Gifts
Virtues and gifts are different and distinct, but are closely related.
Their mode of operation differentiates them. The supernatural virtue is controlled by the reason which directs them all. Virtue acts as a free secondary cause receiving from God its active power and an impulse which leaves it however its independence. Through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the intervention of God in the activity of the soul becomes direct and more complete. God substitutes His light for that of reason. The soul’s activity is taken over by God, and the faculties become His instruments.
b. Relations between the virtues and the gifts
Their different ways of acting do not set virtues and gifts in opposition but permit them to complete one another and to unite harmoniously for the perfection of the spiritual life.
The consequences of sin which are evil tendencies and imperfections increase the disproportion between the divine end to be attained and the help that supernatural virtue can count on from human powers. The intervention of God through the gifts of the Holy Spirit remedies these deficiencies and provides the appropriate help.
Example: The virtue of faith, receiving a higher light as to God through the gift of understanding, assents perfectly to its divine object and rests peacefully in the darkness that becomes its delight.
The intervention of God through the gifts of the Holy Spirit can become so frequent and so interior that they establish the soul in an almost continual dependence on the Holy Spirit. “Whoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Rom. 8:14
The touches of the Holy Spirit on the soul can therefore be perceptible to the senses (virtues) or altogether spiritual (gifts). They may be powerful or delicate. In studying these interventions of the Holy Spirit through the gifts, we have sometimes the impression of a lifting of the veil of mystery which hides God’s action in the soul and in the Church.
3. Distinction of the Gifts from One Another
The spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and of godliness and the fear of the Lord are based upon the distinction of their proper objects.
The gift of wisdom penetrates divine Truths.
The gift of understanding renders clear the divine Truths regardless of the objections and obstacles.
The gift of knowledge clarifies the relations of created things with divine Truth and judges them in the light of that Truth.
The gift of counsel intervenes in the deliberations of prudence, giving light as to decisions to be made.
The gift of piety makes one render to God the duties that are due Him as to a loving Father.
The gift of fortitude secures strength to triumph over the difficulties in the way to the accomplishment of good.
The gift of fear creates in the soul the respectful and filial attitude toward God, demanded by His transcendence and quality of Father.
Four of these gifts are of the intellect: wisdom, understanding, knowledge and counsel.
Three of these gifts are of the will: fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord
Three are contemplative: wisdom, understanding, knowledge
Four are active: counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord
Theology has explored the relations of the gifts with the virtues, with the beatitudes, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom is united with charity; understanding and knowledge with faith; fear of the Lord, with hope; piety, with justice; fortitude with the virtue of fortitude; counsel with prudence.
St. John of the Cross states that God communicates to the soul a real participation in His nature and His life-- grace. Although we are inferior to God because created, nevertheless grace makes us true children of God; the participation in the divine nature that it gives is entire although created. The communication that the soul receives bears also a created participation in the whole being of God and in all the divine riches of the other attributes. It is a participation in His whole richness that He communicates through each one of the gifts.
Fr. Marie Eugene uses the example of St. John Bosco and St. Teresa of Avila and the gifts that each seems to possess at the hand of God to do His will. Obviously, each has a different task at hand to do but each seems to share in the same virtues and even at times the same gifts. They are both participating in the life of God’s grace but accomplishing different tasks.
B. Experience of the Gifts
St. John of the Cross explains that when divine communications come to a purified soul, they do not produce in it any perceptible effect, just as a ray of sunlight entering a room with perfectly pure air and going out by an opposite window, would not be seen at all because it encountered no material particles to reflect its light. God can infuse into a soul His sublimest favors without the soul’s being experimentally conscious of receiving them. The direct communications of God are not, then, always accompanied by awareness of them. Consequently, one could not affirm that there is no mystical life without mystical experience.
Although, Fr. Marie Eugene points out that St. John of the Cross states in the “Living Flame” that the experiences of God are usually preceded by a thirst or hunger from the emptying or cleaning of self that is so necessary for the workings of the Holy Spirit. This feeling of pain ordinarily precedes divine communications and prepares the soul for them by inciting it to acts of humility and of confidence that draw upon it the outpourings of mercy.
The mystical experience of God’s communication usually imposes profound respect, His dazzling light produces darkness in the intellect not adapted to receive it; His strength overwhelms human weakness. The very sweetness that comes with the gift of wisdom makes the soul rejoice in its littleness. God thus puts the soul in an attitude of Truth by creating in it humility. Hence, this “negative” experience is the most constant and most authentic sign of the divine action. The positive experience of the gift may be lacking but if this “negative” experience is wanting --- one may legitimately doubt the reality of God’s action in the soul. Here is the paradox: the littleness of the creature and the transcendence of God; man’s sin and God’s mercy, must become more and more manifest in the proportion that God reveals His action and His Truth in the soul. Apart from the gift of wisdom and its subtle influence on all the others, the positive experience of the gifts is extremely variable.
Father Marie Eugene points out that we can escape from these uncertainties and obscurities by going to the surest and most visible sign of God’s action through the gifts – that is -- You shall know them by their fruits! This is the standard given by Our Lord Himself. The Spirit of God will Himself provide for this and will make Himself recognized when the time comes, by that humble patience that will have known how to wait and to pray.
C. Utility and Utilization of the Gifts
The Spirit is infinitely wise and infinitely powerful. To serve His design, He uses all the resources of His wisdom and His strength. It is the Holy Spirit of infinite mercy who preserved the soul of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary from the consequences of original sin and made her all pure and full of grace. Thus, by the gifts of the Spirit, those passive powers that the soul receives by its adaptability and openness, God takes possession of the soul and there gives it grace to accomplish His Will, perfecting its virtues.
The Church provides us teachers of loving knowledge and guides in the mystical mysteries. St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross are the doctors on prayer. St. Therese of the Child Jesus is also a doctor on prayer but is a spiritual daughter and a great example for us to go the “Little Way” which brings simplicity and surrender to God.
We know from the lives of the saints that certain dispositions of soul have a seemingly irresistible attraction for Him; and there are dispositions that He demands for active cooperation with His actions. In the next three chapters, Fr. Marie Eugene will go over these fundamental dispositions of the gift of self, humility and silence. Until then, let us call upon our Queen and Mother Mary. May She guide us to perfect prayer. May we truly live out our Consecration to Jesus through Mary in depending on Her to guide us every step of the way toward Her Divine Son and to union with God.
Blessed Fr. Marie-Eugene