«Father Peter John Cameron, O.P. The Knights of Columbus presents The Veritas Series “Proclaiming the Faith in the Third Millennium” The Gifts of ...»
Like all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Gift of Piety is a lasting perfection or refinement of the powers of our soul. Specifically, Piety makes us readily responsive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit with regard to honoring God as our Father. Saint Thomas explains that, because God is called our Father par excellence, homage to him is termed piety.
Made receptive by the Gift of Piety, we are lead to honor and serve God in the spirit of sonship. Piety is a Gift by which we are brought to participate very practically in the Sonship of Jesus Christ, the eternal and divine Son of God. At the same time, the Gift of Piety offers honor and service to all people on the basis of our relationship to God as his children.
For this reason Saint Thomas notes that the Gift of Piety inspires any act by which a person does good to all out of reverence for God.
Solicitude for others is the second concern of the Gift of Piety. For Piety, like God, remains concerned with coming to the aid of those in need. Saint Thomas quotes Saint Augustine in this regard, who says that we pay homage to those whom we cherish by doing honor either to their memory or their company. By reaching out to others in their actual struggles, we honor the Father by serving his children. This dynamic of self-giving service remains the very lifeblood of the Church, as is witnessed by the mutual love and constant intercession of the saints in heaven. Saint Thomas points out that the saints continue to manifest the Gift of Piety through the honor they show each other in heaven, and through the compassion they show to us on earth in our moments of misery. The saints’ intercession on our behalf is at root a pious impulse.
Saint Thomas connects the Beatitudes “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after justice” (Matthew 5:6) and “Blessed are the merciful”
- 15 Matthew 5:7) with the Gift of Piety because Piety fills the heart with eagerness to do works of mercy. The Gift’s principal act of filial reverence for God will remain even in heaven, for the deep affection that we have for others will only increase as we enter into the rejoicing of the saints. In heaven, piety is exercised as the saints manifest their love for God by honoring him together and by honoring the wonders his grace has done in all the elect. The Gift of Piety persists in heaven, where it enhances the mutual joy and delight the holy ones experience in each other’s company.
Now although the Gift of Piety naturally affects the way we worship God in prayer and in other religious practices, it is mainly a matter of our devotion to God as his adopted sons and daughters in Christ. The Gift of Piety reminds us that we are God’s children, and it gives us special confidence and satisfaction in that recollection. Thanks to this Gift, we offer true worship and service to God the Father, the saints are honored, good works are done to relive human misery, and we are lead to rejoice as we are adopted into the life of the Trinity.
The Gift of Knowledge In our world there are as many opinions as there are people (if not more!), and when it comes to questions of religion we find that even in the Church we can hear voices of dissent and confusion that would pull us away from God’s Truth. How can we know what we need to believe, and how to assess things according to Faith? One grace God gives us to enable us to make a complete and penetrating assent (agreement) to the truth of faith is the Gift of Knowledge. The Gift of Knowledge is a perfection of the human mind that disposes us to follow the impulses of the Holy Spirit when we judge human or created things in relation to God. Through the Gift of Knowledge, the Holy Spirit guides our judgment so that we can recognize created things—especially human thoughts, words, inclinations, circumstances, and deeds—in the light of Faith.
The Gift of Knowledge, when operative, is concerned with differentiating between what is and is not consistent with Faith. By this Gift, God enables us to recognize when a human and temporal thing—a
- 16 plan, a practice, an idea—ought to be received as consistent with the revealed truth or not.
Unlike God himself, whose knowledge is “sheer and simple,” instantaneous and perfect, our human knowledge depends on a process of reasoning and logical progress. We naturally need examples, arguments, diagrams, evidence, illustrations, instruction, and many other helps before we can ever know anything with certainty—and, of course, we can make mistakes. God, on the other hand, judges the truth of all things by a simple and utterly infallible insight. And shockingly enough, he wants to impart a share of that capacity to us. Through the Gift of Knowledge, the Holy Spirit blesses us with the ability to know and judge in an enhanced way that resembles, to some extent, the perfect knowledge of God.
The believer in whom the Gift of Knowledge is active will recognize, when confronted with facts, ideas, circumstances, or any created being, what is in harmony with the truths of Faith. This Gift operates, then, as a kind of supernatural instinct for discerning the authentic and the inauthentic in all that pertains to God and to our salvation. The Gift of Knowledge keeps the saints—those who truly love God—from falling into errors and confusion in faith and morals.
As Saint Thomas Aquinas explains, although Faith itself touches on what is divine and eternal (that is, God), the act of believing is a temporal and created event in the mind of the believer. Our ideas about God, even when true, are not the same as God himself. This is why a particular Gift is needed for dealing with them here and now. Knowledge provides a means by which we can conform our beliefs to the truth of Faith, thus bringing us confidence and certainty in questions that concern the practical and theoretical judgments of religion.
In his explanation of Knowledge, Saint Thomas observes that ignorance in never entirely removed from us except by the input of two kinds of knowledge: theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge. The Spirit’s Gift of Knowledge is both theoretical and practical at the same time. First and foremost, it is engaged with contemplation, illumining a believer to know what he or she ought to hold by faith. Therefore, pure
- 17 truth remains the gift’s main concern. However, the Gift of Knowledge also, and in a secondary way, considers what we do and what we think about—since our practical, active life and works should be directed by the knowledge of divine truth, the matters of faith, and the conclusions to be drawn from them. Knowledge, then, also prevents us from being mislead with regard to the moral life and in practical matters that bear on the Faith.
We witness the efficacy of the Gift of Knowledge in the holiness of the saints. Through the outpouring of the Spirit’s grace, the saints possessed sure judgment in all matters of faith and practice so that they never strayed from the straight paths of justice and right faith. The Holy Spirit calls us to the same kind of holiness, and provides for it in his Gift of Knowledge.
Unfortunately, though, we fall. How well we know the temptation to pursue evil things as if they were truly good, enriching, and satisfying for us. When we pursue evil under an appearance of good, it inevitably turns on us and betrays us. The very things we had hoped to master, instead master us. We become infatuated with evils (masquerading as goods!) and are robbed of our authentic freedom. The created things we mistakenly trust to fulfill us instead become tragic occasions for our turning away from God. Saint Thomas considers these pitfalls—these created things that we mistakenly seek and love as if they would fulfill us—and likens them to idols, which, as Scripture says, “have become abominable amid God’s works, snares for the souls of men and a trap for the feet of the senseless” (Wisdom 14:11). The Gift of Knowledge gives us the supernatural good sense to keep our feet out of those snares.
The office and function of the Gift of Knowledge is to pass a right judgment about created things so as to purify and perfect our relationship with God. Creaturely things can never stir us to spiritual delight unless they are enjoyed in their fitting and proper relation to the Divine Good.
In a special way, the Spirit’s Gift of Knowledge helps us to come to this right judgment about created things. It helps make us aware of the deadly loss created things may occasion when we stake our happiness on them.
And it helps us to maintain a right and holy relation between God’s uncreated Goodness and the things of creation that are designed to lead us
- 18 to divine Goodness. The Gift of Knowledge instills in us solid sense of balance, proportion, and judgment.
For this reason, Saint Thomas relates the Gift of Knowledge to the Beatitude of mourning (Matthew 5:5). In this he relies on the insight of Saint Augustine, who observed that knowledge befits those who mourn, that is, those people who have learned a hard lesson by the difficulty of defeat they experience whenever they seek evil things as goods. Saint Thomas reminds us how precious is the knowledge we gain from our mistakes. True, it fills us with sorrow for what we have done wrong. But at the same time it gives us true consolation, for our regret over past failings finally persuades us to accept the created things in our life in the way that God would have us accept them: not making idols out of them, but using them in God’s Providence to lead us more surely into his love.
The right judgment of Knowledge comforts us by assuring us how created things are ordered to divine Good.
Saint Thomas says that the comfort effected by the Gift of Knowledge begins now but will be complete only in heaven. Therefore, while this Gift presently on earth overcomes the hunger of ignorance, only in heaven will the gift manifest its real mettle. For there it is destined to fill and satisfy the mind with a complete and perfect certainty not of faith, but of vision—for in heaven, we shall see God.
The Gift of Fortitude At first blush it might seem that the Gifts of Fortitude (Courage) and Fear of the Lord should cancel each other out. How can the Holy Spirit offer us two graces, fear and courage, that seem to be opposed to each other? It must be that these two Gifts are not really opposed, but complementary. Now Fear of the Lord leads us to withdraw from any evil and abstain from any action that would ever offend God or impair our relationship with Him. Yet, our holy commitment to maintain a reverent and upright relationship with the Father as his children is constantly assailed by the world and the forces of evil. Reverence and Fear of the Lord are needed, but are not all we require—we need an additional force to
- 19 fortify, temper, and reinforce us in the struggle. Such is the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Fortitude.
Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches that Fortitude (also called Courage), is that kind of firmness of mind and spirit that we need both for doing good and for enduring evil. We require this steadfastness especially when embracing good and eschewing evil become more difficult. The Spirit’s gift of fortitude preserves us from yielding to untoward pressure.
Through God’s own power, the Gift of Fortitude goes beyond and perfects the natural moral virtue of fortitude. For the human virtue, fortitude, makes our mind competent to confront and to endure dangers;
yet it does not carry the resources to make us confident of escaping each and every danger that might come our way. Complete and supernaturally stable confidence belongs instead to the Gift of Fortitude. For through this Gift, the Holy Spirit moves our human mind in a way that exceeds its natural, particular abilities so that we enjoy a full and perfectly well-founded confidence in the strength of God. This Gift enables us to endure and persevere in achieving arduous (hard-to-reach) goods and in sustaining sufferings. Of course, this spiritual work is ultimately and gloriously achieved by the Holy Spirit in us when he leads us to eternal life—the consummate end of all good works and the final escape from every danger.
The Fortitude that is a Gift of the Holy Spirit operates as a certain, unshakable confidence that will see us through the terrors and trials of earthly life to the eternal joys of heaven. Endowed with Fortitude, we are prevented from giving in to any fear that menaces us on the way to God.
Fortitude will not grant these fears a hearing. As a kind of holy censor, Fortitude removes all credibility and influence from the fear and discouragement that would turn us back from the way of Christ.