[Homily: ADDU Collegiate Mass of the Holy Spirit, June 18, 2013]
We come together at the beginning of this academic year to invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit. This year we wish to ask the Holy Spirit explicitly to bestow on us his seven gifts: the gifts that pertain to the intellect – wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge – and the gifts that pertain to the will – fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.
Just as there is a difference between diamonds, sapphires and rubies, and we should know about those differences, so too should we know what we hope for when we pray to the Holy Spirit for his gifts.
But before we explain these differences, some general remarks on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. First, they are gifts. We have no innate right to them. We cannot demand them. We cannot sue the Holy Spirit should they not be granted us. They are gifts. Because they are gifts, we pray for them. We ask for them. St. Ignatius would even say, we beg for them. That is what we are doing at this Mass.
Secondly, all the gifts of the Holy Spirit enrich us in our relationship to God. Human consciousness need not be related to God. Human consciousness may fold in on itself, and close itself to transcendence. Human action may take place in complete isolation from God. Human spirituality may confer meaning without God. In the past, I have characterized spirituality as “what makes you ‘tick’”; “what makes you ‘tick’” may be human pleasure, or human altruism, or human magnificence, or human service totally disjoined from God, no matter how selfless. There is a way of being that is numb to God. In this context, in general, the gifts of the Holy Spirit relate the human spirit with the holiness of God. The gifts which touch the human spirit with the holiness of God are the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
So let us look at the gifts for which we pray.
First the gift of wisdom. This is not just the wisdom of the sage. The wisdom of Plato and Aristotle, the wisdom of our elders. Their wisdom is acquired humanly by reflection on human experience. The gift of wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit, however, is a gift of deep, graced insight into reality, insight that emerges from faith in Jesus Christ; it is the gift of insight into human life touched by Jesus Christ, insight that emerges from having encountered Jesus Christ and having said “yes” to him. It is the gift that knows that after getting to know Jesus Christ, especially after having experienced his forgiveness and his love, the world can never be the same, and my life in this world need necessarily be changed. The gift of wisdom comes with a fullness of faith that not only affirms that there is a God, but founds an abiding awe at God’s reality as related to ourselves. It comes with a fullness of hope that because of the reality of God what we must do to be fully human is worthwhile, no matter the cost. It comes with a fullness of love for this God who is so surprising, so powerful, so forgiving, so turned to ourselves in compassion and love. The opposite of the Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom is confinement to the limited wisdom of humanity, bereft of transcendence, bereft of ultimate meaning: despair.
The second gift is the gift of understanding. It is the gift of comprehending how life must be lived in discipleship of Jesus Christ. It is the gift of grasping how after making the act of faith in the Father, the Savior-Son, the Holy Spirit, and the Community of Jesus’ disciples in this our world, life must be re-configured, re-dimensioned by the Holy. One is convinced that a world concept, a vision of the world, a Weltanschauung without God is endlessly abstract, and so false. The opposite of this gift is a secularism not founded on God’s creativity, but on God’s denial. It is a worldliness that is reckless, a capitulation to the tyranny of things, allowing things to be the center and goal of our activities, or it is a capitulation to the illusory power of time, believing time heals what it cannot heal, and brings what in fact it cannot bring. One who does not have the gift of understanding is directionless, dumb, inadequate, helpless.
The third gift is the gift of counsel. This is a crucial gift of right judgment, the ability, in the light of faith and the breadth of understanding, to call what is true and what is false, to declare what is required, and so necessary, or what is not required, and so optional. The Holy Spirit’s gift of counsel bases itself on facts, on data, on the outcomes of stringent research, on valid affirmations of truth, understanding that what is true is greater than the sum of data and the sum of facts, and that God’s holiness is ultimately always part of that truth. In this context, the Holy Spirit’s gift of counsel is the fullness of prudence in the totality of God’s Kingdom and the invincibility of his reign, able to recognize appropriate means that lead to worthy ends, and reject courses of action that distract, that derail, that destroy the human person in pursuit of his true end. Counsel, that is the fullness of prudence, has nothing to do with a chronic fear of making mistakes, that can lead to paralysis, and everything to do with a willingness to make mistakes in “good faith,” in order to insure that means really lead to ends, or suffer change. The person gifted with counsel is practical, street smart, efficient, effective. His or her opposite is the spaced-out theoretician who starves rather than decide to cook a meal or lives in a pigsty rather than resolve to clean a room. He or she is arbitrary, rather than reasoned; messy, rather than ordered; scattered rather than integrated.
The fourth gift is the gift of knowledge. This is the gift of learned truth in the context of certain truth about God, nature and humanity, and in the context of his certain interventions in our world and in our lives. At the beginning of the academic year, we ask that we who search for truth, actually find it, understanding that what we search for, and research unto, is often not disclosed, but hidden. Knowledge is accessible to the human person on the basis of the systems one uses to discover and affirm truth, but the Holy Spirit’s gift is knowledge affirmed in the certain field of God’s plan for us, his redemptive action, and our future in his Providence. So is there a difference between knowledge attained through empirical science and merely human epistemology, and the gifted knowledge of truth manifested in the movement of God’s self-revelation in the world. The Holy Spirit’s gift of knowledge is inseparable from faith. Its opposite is truncated knowledge, and so false, or sheer ignorance.
The gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel and knowledge are gifts of the spirit ordered to the intellect. The rest – fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord – are ordered to the will.
The gift of fortitude. This is the Holy’s Spirit’s gift of courage to do what must be done to honor and praise God, and in this context to do what must be done in order here to achieve appropriate ends. It is the courage to take the means to serve the faith, and not just to talk about it; to take the means to promote justice, and not just dream about it, to actually promote sensitivity to cultures and diverse religions, and not just wish it. This is the gift to stay the course even in persecution not just out of a human sense of honor, but out of a sense of loyalty to God’s will as it is manifested to us. Fortitude is gifted as the fullness of lived prudence. It’s opposite is fear, discouragement, or cowardice.
Next, the gift of piety. This is the Holy Spirit’s gift of practical reverence that comes from an affirmation of God’s existence and power, and the conviction that all we do is possible only if carried by God. It is the gift given with the the Lord’s words, “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Mt. 7:7), and “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5 ). It is the gift that encourages humble prayer, sincere supplication, and sublime contemplation, and leads to liberation in the joy of recognizing and accomplishing God’s will. It’s opposite is arrogance, and the attitude that God is manipulable by my devices and there to do my will.
Finally, the gift of fear of the Lord. This is the practical gift that comes with the gift of wisdom: awe at the majesty of the Lord who has created the heights of the heavens and the depths of the seas, who has brought vast galaxies into being, and fixes the movements of molecules and atoms. It is awe at the fact that this God, who has created so richly, even notices us individually. It is awe that he has turned to us in love, and in love has redeemed us. This gift of the Holy Spirit is fear of being offensive to the Lord, who has been so affirming of us; it is fear of sinning against the Lord who has suffered so much to free us of sin. Fear of the Lord is the reverse side of the coin minted in love and gratitude for the Lord. It’s opposite is shamelessness.
More than diamonds, rubies and sapphires, may the Holy Spirit bestow on us his seven gifts this academic year! May they deepen our faith, hope and love, and bring us to deep joy.