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Spot Check: Discerning the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Spot Check: Discerning the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit

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We’re in the Public Courtyard this month, doing some thinking about what mission God has called us to. Remember that your mission is the way that God has called and equipped you to serve the Kingdom of God and to participate in the Divine Life by participating in Jesus’ 3-fold mission as Priest, Prophet and King. In this spot check, we’re going to take a close look at discerning the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and how they are working in your life. Remember – our goal isn’t necessarily to come to a rock-solid decision about how God has equipped and called you. Our goal in this spiritual project is just to think and pray about it more deeply and to open our selves to God’s will.

In addition to the natural talents that God created us with, the Holy Spirit also equips you with special spiritual gifts. These gifts are the most exciting because they are actually a direct cooperation between you and the Holy Spirit to do the work of the Kingdom of God. Through the spiritual gifts, the Holy Spirit works through you to perform the mission of Jesus in the world. There are two main categories of spiritual gifts we need to think about. The first are the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the second are the charismatic graces.

The Actions of Grace in Our Souls

Now, there are three general categories for the activity of grace in our souls. Sanctifying grace directly gives us an intimate relationship with God. So when you were baptized, the three members of the Holy Trinity united themselves to your soul through sanctifying grace. And ever since then the Holy Spirit has been helping you to build that relationship. Then, during Confirmation, there were specific graces offered by the Holy Spirit called the Gifts of the Holy Spirit that were activated in a special way. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit fall under the category of actual grace. Actual grace helps us to perform actions that build our relationship with God. Finally, charismatic grace helps us to perform acts of service that cooperate with the Holy Spirit for the good of the Kingdom of God. As we discern our mission, our main focus is on the charismatic graces.

But again, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are primarily expressions of actual grace. But as we’ll see, they can also sometimes work as charismatic graces. That’s why we want to reflect on them and see how they are acting in our lives. Four of the Gifts (Knowledge, Understanding, Wisdom and Counsel) help you to know God more deeply. In other words, they help you grow in intimacy with God. Three of the Gifts (Fortitude, Piety, Fear of the Lord) help you to participate in the Divine Life. They help you make choices to participate in God’s goodness, and they help you to act in ways that draw you closer to God.

So let’s take a look at each of these.

The Gifts that Aid Our Intellect


First, we have the gift of knowledge. The gift of knowledge is a gift where the Holy Spirit helps us to understand the created world and to judge created things, so that we can use them according to the purpose that God created them for and also for our own Christian perfection. The gift of Understanding is deeper insight into divinely revealed truths. You may have experienced this even without even knowing it, for example at a bible study, when something that you had read thousands of times and never meant much to you, or that had never made much sense suddenly becomes active and you say, “Now I get it.” Yes, part of that is natural human learning and development, but part of that is the Holy Spirit giving us deeper insight to help us use the divine truth to deepen our relationship with God.


Next we have Wisdom. Wisdom is probably one of the most precious of the gifts according to many spiritual writers and according to Sacred Scripture too. Wisdom is the ability to think with the mind of God. In other words, wisdom is divine intimacy itself. The way that Saint Thomas Aquinas describes wisdom is, “It’s the ability to judge all of creation, not just the physical world, but the whole universe from eternal perspective.” You may know some people who you consider very wise and that may be again natural or it may be supernatural wisdom where they just seem to have the voice of God. They say something and it just, it puts things in perspective. It makes things click. Or you may have had an experience of sometime yourself, maybe when you were helping somebody, and you were counseling them or coaching them along, and suddenly you said something you don’t know where it came from, God gave you the words and it just made things fall in place for that person. That would be an example of the gift of wisdom.


Then finally, we have counsel. Counsel, a lot of people say counsel is just like forming your conscience, but there’s more to it than that. What counsel really does for us is it shows us the beauty and the wisdom of God’s moral law, of the order that He placed in human nature and His plan for human beings. So it goes beyond just forming our conscience so we know what’s right and wrong, it gives us a love for God’s Law.

The Gifts That Aid the Will

So, those are the four spiritual, Gifts of the Holy Spirit that help us to know God better and to participate in his truth, and to grow an intimacy with God. The other three Gifts of the Holy Spirit help us to commit ourselves to God so we can love Him more completely, and to actually participate in the Divine Life by choosing God’s goodness. They therefore help us to act in ways that draw us closer to God. These three gifts again are Fortitude, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. Let’s take a look at each of these.


First of all, we have the gift of piety. Piety is filial affection for God. Filial means the affection that a child would have for his or her parent. What does piety look like in real terms? It looks like going through the motions and following the rules of the faith, but suddenly discovering new meaning in those actions. Like you’re fasting on Good Friday, and maybe before you’ve always done it just because it’s what your family’s always done, or just because it’s a rule of the Church and you want to be obedient. But then you start thinking, “I want to focus on Jesus. I want this fast to be united to His cross. I want to suffer for the good of others.” Well, there you have piety. Piety is the Holy Spirit whispering into your soul the true meaning behind our acts of faith, and the help of the Holy Spirit to perform those actions with love and with trust for the Father.


The next gift of the Holy Spirit that exercises our will (our ability to chose) is fortitude. Now, in the natural sense fortitude is the virtue of moral courage. So, what do you think that’s the Gift of the Holy Spirit is? That’s right. It’s more moral courage, but this is the Holy Spirit giving you that courage. How do you get courage from another person? Through trust. Fortitude is actually trusting in God when you have met the limits of your own strengths. It means hanging on to what is good even when it seems like all is going to be lost, because you trust that God will bring good out of your situation. So, you’ve gone to the limits of your own courage. You’ve gone to the limits of your own strengths, and you reach out to God you say, “Dear God, help me, I put my trust in You.” That’s fortitude.

Fear of the Lord

Then finally, we have Fear of the Lord. This is one that people seem not to like because they think, “Well, why would God want us to fear Him?” A lot of people have changed the name of this Gift to “wonder and awe,” but that’s really a weak version of this. Instead, let’s try to understand what is meant by “Fear of the Lord” more completely. When Saint Thomas Aquinas talks about Fear of the Lord, he does what a good teacher should do. He talks about different kinds of fear, and he explains what Fear of the Lord is, and what Fear of the Lord is not. Okay, let me put it in a nutshell for you. Fear of the Lord is not being afraid of God. Fear of the Lord is not saying, “God is going to strike me down if I do something wrong.” That’s not fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord is more like the fear experienced by a groom and a bride on their wedding day, when they have those butterflies in their stomach. They’re thinking, not necessarily, “Am I doing the right thing?” Or “Should I be getting married?” But they’re thinking, “I love this person so much, I sure hope I don’t goof this up.” That’s more like Fear of the Lord. Another example, when I held my daughter for the first time, my first thought was, “I hope I can do this. I hope I can be a good father for her and bringing her up well, and let her know about the love of God.” That fear – the fear of failure, that fear of losing the relationship because it’s so precious to us, that’s Fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord is really the fear of losing our precious relationship with God. It is fear of the consequences of sin – not because we think God is going to punish us – but it’s fear that our sin could make us miss out an eternity with God. That’s fear of the Lord.

How Are the Gifts At Work In You?

Like I said, these seven gifts are actual graces. That means that they help us to perform actions that build our relationship with God. So the first step in understanding the Gifts of the Holy Spirit is to explore how they’re working in your life to strengthen your relationship with God. But then also be aware that sometimes the Holy Spirit will work through some of these Gifts in an extra powerful way, not just for our own personal relationship with God, but to help us to serve the Kingdom of God.

While all of the gifts are active in our personal faith life, it’s possible that you’ll notice that maybe one or two of them that become extremely strong and become oriented outward toward other people. These stronger gifts are often meant to equip you for your mission. They become “charismatic graces” in addition to being “actual graces.”

For example, I have been blessed with a very strong gift of Understanding. The Holy Spirit gives me insights into trues of our faith, and He helps me to make connections between doctrines that really help me to see the big picture of God’s plan. Now this gift definitely helps me in my personal faith, but it also helps me find ways to explain the faith to others in ways that clarify and hopefully in ways that can inspire them. So that’s one way that the Holy Spirit empowers my mission. He uses the Gift of Understanding, not just as an actual grace but as a charismatic grace aw ell.

So, explore the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Think about how the Holy Spirit works in your heart first to deepen your relationship with God, because most of us is just aren’t aware of these seven gifts. Even if you have the list of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit memorized, how often do you reflect on how they are active in your life? So that’s the first part of this “Spot Check.” I want you to be really conscious of them.

Next, I want you to think about how you can cooperate with them in order to deepen your relationship with God. So if God gives you these insights with the Gift of understanding, or He’s enabled you to see the beauty in His moral law with the Gift of Counsel, or He’s given you the Wisdom to see things from an eternal perspective, how can you use those Gifts to deepen your intimacy with God.

Once you’ve done that, then start thinking about how the Holy Spirit is working through any of the Gifts in an extra-special way, and in an external way – a way that helps you to reach out to others in your mission.

Now, if you aren’t able to identify any of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit that are charismatic graces, ask other people. Sometimes other people see things in us that we don’t. If you still can’t identify particular strengths and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, don’t worry about it. The Holy Spirit equips all of us uniquely. Not everybody is given Gifts of the Holy Spirit in a charismatic way. He may be working through you in other ways. We’ll talk about the charismatic graces in the next spot check, so you can discern those as well. But keep praying and be open to the possibility that one or two of these seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit will manifest themselves more strongly as you exercise them.

And remember that you can find resources to help you on your reflections when you go to and find the show notes for this Spiritual Project on “Discerning Your Mission.”

Also published on Medium.

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