What I Learned About the Holy Spirit and His Gifts
A couple weeks ago, we celebrated Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit rested above the heads of the disciples of Jesus like tongues of fire. I’m sure most of us have heard this story, no matter what church we were raised in. This story seems to transcend religious bias. But really, what does this have to do with us, and why is this biblical moment so significant? After all, isn’t the whole bible significant? Of course it is, but this one… well it seems to carry a special kind of weight. Heck, it even has its own feast day!
I received a question a few weeks ago directly related to the significance of the Holy Spirit. More specifically, what is the difference was between the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Fruits of the Holy Spirit?
To be honest, I thought it was going to be a simpler answer until I actually gave it a moments worth of thought. After looking into it (albeit armchair research at best), I learned some things.
For starters, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, according the Catechism of the Catholic Church, are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.
Then, there are the 12 Fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity.
Although there is enough to say about the Holy Spirit to fill all of creation (He IS God after all), I want to simply focus on the Gifts and Fruits, and the difference between them, so this should be a shorter post.
The Catechism reminds us that we are “sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Within each Christian person, the Holy Spirit resides and imparts upon us His gifts, “permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.” They render us capable to live out our lives in a way that is aligned with Christ, and they empower us in a way that transcends our own power to not only turn ourselves over to God’s will, but to be brilliant examples of what it means to belong to God to others. Just looking at them, it’s easy to see how these brilliant gifts can enrich our lives.
Wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel are clearly gifts of moral direction, and embracing them allows us to not only know the difference between Christian living and leading a life of sin, but also allows us to point others in that same holy direction. Fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord are, in a similar way, yolks that can keep us on track and provide to us the necessary strength to forge ahead, even in the darkest, most discouraging days that we may even be yet to face, all while showing us the value in giving to God what is rightfully due to him as our Creator.
I used to think that the Sacrament of Confirmation was when we received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Then again, at confirmation, we are old enough to remember what is said, and the Holy Spirit seems to be a major theme (because He is). In actuality, however, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are imparted to us at our baptism, when we become members of the Christian life, and more importantly, when we become members of the Church Militant (those of us Catholics who are still alive, and still striving for heaven).
It is true, however, that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are enriched and amplified by our Confirmation, when we commit the rest of our lives to Christ and His Church.
It’s no mystery then that these gifts offer benefits, fruits, which are outward signs of the power of the gifts the Spirit has given us. This makes perfect sense – at least to me – because I am always looking for validation of my faith in the lives of others. Not because it proves or disproves my faith, but because it’s rewarding!
As a result of these gifts, like wisdom and knowledge, we can more completely understand the value of the way we live outwardly, bearing fruits like modesty and self-control. After all, without wisdom and knowledge, it’s easy to fall into immodesty and very easy to give into our every desire. In the same way, we can make sense of gifts like piety and fear of the Lord, because we know that those gifts produce fruits like faithfulness, goodness, and generosity.
As a help, think of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit as causes, things that give rise to action, and think of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit as effects, changes that result from that action. The gift of fortitude can result in patience, the gift of piety can result in charity and generosity, and so-on.
The Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit are incredibly important aspects of the Christian life. They provide us with a call to action, the means to live out our vocations, and they bear fruits that enrich not only our lives, but the lives of anyone who encounters us. Be sure to always pray for an increase in the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that those fruits can be all the more sweet!