Experiencing the gifts of the Spirit in daily life

Father John A. Kiley

One of the liturgical innovations that made an appearance (and also a disappearance) during the 1970s and 80s was the “Litany of Praise.” A series of brief invocations was read after Communion by the lector from the pulpit thanking God for the blessings of the day. “For the virtue of faith which opens our mind to you,” the lector would proclaim. “We are truly grateful,” the congregation would respond. “For the virtue of love which opens our heart to you,” would again evoke the response, “We are truly grateful.” Etc. Publishers at the time would include such litanies of praise for each Sunday along with the Prayer of the Faithful in their liturgical guides. Then some episcopal advisors decided that these post-communion testimonies of gratitude competed with the liturgy’s actual statement of thanksgiving which is, of course, the Canon of every Mass. “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Father most holy, through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ…” And so the Litany of Praise went the way of burlap banners and ceramic chalices.

Uncharacteristically in step with this liturgical novelty, I composed a Litany of Praise for use at the annual Confirmation Masses at SS. John & Paul parish in Coventry. The litany mentioned each gift of the Holy Spirit with a grateful response. “For your gift of Wisdom which gives us a taste for the things of God.” “For your gift of understanding which gives us an appreciation for the higher truths of our religion.” “For your gift of counsel which gives us Divine direction in matters necessary for salvation.” “For your gift of fortitude which gives us strength to do right in difficult situations.” “For your gift of knowledge which confers right judgment in matters of faith.” “For your gift of piety which bestows reverence for God as Father.” “For your gift of fear which dreads all separation from God.”

The gifts of the Holy Spirit evoke much reflection in the diocese’s many parishes as students are prepared for the arrival of the bishop who will call down the Holy Spirit on young Catholics. And of course the solemnity of Pentecost recalls the Spirit’s celebrated gifts. Accordingly the sequence for the solemnity includes this prayer, “On the faithful, who adore and confess you, evermore in your sevenfold gift descend.” The Scriptures for the solemnity also testify to the powerful gifts of the Spirit promised to the faithful: “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” And again, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.” And still again, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”

Typical Catholic appreciation of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit sadly but honestly does not last much beyond the solemn feast day. Catholics might occasionally refer to the theological virtues (faith, hope, charity) and possibly even the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance). But in daily life the gifts of the Spirit are indeed elusive, acceptable in catechism class but vague in daily life. Franciscan Father Thomas Richstatter happily poses a cogent observation on the gifts of the Spirit in the daily life of Jesus. Father writes that throughout the Gospels the seven gifts direct Jesus’ personality. They characterize all his activity. Father notes the gift of wisdom expressed in Christ’s parables; his understanding for the poor and the sick; his right judgment when tested by the Pharisees; his courage to continue the journey to Jerusalem where he knew what fate awaited him; his intuitive knowledge of God’s will; his reverence for his heavenly Father; his awe before the wonders of creation—the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, the innocence of children. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit were clearly manifest in the Divine Power evident in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Perhaps not as dramatically or as consistently as in the life of Jesus, but nonetheless just as real, the confirmed Catholic can exercise the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit in daily life. With a little effort, Catholics too may relish the things of God, speak knowingly about their religion, make wise judgments, powerfully defend religious truth, develop an instinct for God’s Will, devoutly enjoy the Presence of God, and fear the ultimate loss of God. Certainly many pious Catholics do indeed exercise a number of these several gifts genuinely but perhaps unwittingly, not assessing the Spirit as their source. Such noble instincts may be deepened and similar activities can be enhanced through a more prayerful openness to the power of the Spirit. God’s Advocate is readily available; powerful transcendent resources are at hand; Divine benefits await those who open their mind to the Spirit. Jesus promised that his gift of the Spirit “will teach you everything.” Believers must gladly relish anew the presence and power of the Spirit in their daily life.