Sunday, July 19, 2015

What Are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit?



The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are one of those things we might remember from catechism classes, but we usually don’t think about them very much. After making my retreat during Pentecost week, I realized I only had a vague idea of what they are exactly and how they relate to each other. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church doesn’t say very much about them, except for this:

1830 The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
1831 The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.


To learn more about them, I looked up what St Thomas says about them in his Summa. The first thing he asks is this: Are the virtues the same as the Gifts, or are they different? (I-II, q. 68, article 1.)

He answers that they are different, and goes on to explain why. We can be moved in two ways: in one way from within ourselves, and in another way from outside ourselves, that is, from God.

By nature we have the ability to reason, and a free will. The virtues are qualities that enable us to be moved from within, by our own reason and will. (We do need the help of God’s grace to act so as to do good, that is, a meritorious act by grace, but that is a separate issue. For now I’m just focusing on the difference between the virtues and the Gifts.)

A virtue is a good habit. For example, a person might have the good habit of being honest in dealing with others. An upright person recognizes that it is good to tell the truth, not to cheat, etc., and can choose to act that way toward others. That person is practicing the virtue of honesty and integrity. The fundamental virtue underlying that is justice, one of the four cardinal virtues. In terms of a natural virtue, the person is being moved by reason and will to act with integrity—being moved from within.

We can be moved in a second way, however, when we receive inspirations from God. To be moved by divine inspiration, we need to be receptive to the movement of grace. For that, we need something more than virtues—we need the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The purpose of the Gifts is to make us receptive to the inspirations God is sending us. In light of this, St Thomas concludes that the Gifts are not identical with the virtues, but are something over and above them. They make us fine-tuned to be able to pick up the inspirations God sends, and to act on them.

St Thomas goes on to explain more about exactly why we need to be moved by God this way, but I’ll put that in another post.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Scapular and Our Lady of Mt Carmel: A Biblical View







Today’s feast, commonly associated with the scapular, can help us reflect on the Biblical theme concerning garments of salvation. The German word for scapular, Gnadenkleid, literally means “grace-garment.” Many references to garments and clothes are scattered throughout the Bible, beginning in Genesis: “And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). In their original state of innocence, they had no need for clothes. They were naked but not ashamed—this is what Pope John Paul called “original nakedness.”
But after their sin, our first parents lost their innocence and needed to be clothed. God’s tender action of making clothes for them can perhaps be seen as symbolizing the garments of grace that God would bestow through Jesus Christ.

Pure and clean garments came to symbolize grace and salvation, as the prophet Isaiah sang:
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10)

This imagery blends the spousal theme with that of garments of salvation. This text is used in the Liturgy of the Hours for the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Garments signify the gifts of grace that God adorns us with inwardly.

The last book of the Bible, Revelation, picks up the theme of white garments to express the holiness of the saints, of those who have been through great trials and held fast to their faith: “Yet you still have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels” (Rev 3:4–5).
Among the several “blessings” in the book of Revelation, we find this one: “Blessed are those who wash their robes [in the blood of the Lamb] so that they will have the right to the tree of life” (22:14).


Perhaps today the scapular devotion is not as popular as it once was. But Catholicism, as a sacramental religion, uses such material symbols as signs of the deeper underlying inner reality of grace. The scapular is not meant to be something superstitious, like a talisman or a good luck charm. Wearing it expresses in a silent yet eloquent way our love for Mary and our confidence in her intercession and help.

Prayer

The following prayer, called Flower of Carmel, is attributed to St. Simon Stock:

O Beautiful Flower of Carmel, most fruitful vine, splendor of heaven, holy and singular, who brought forth the Son of God, still ever remaining a pure virgin, assist us in our necessity! O Star of the Sea, help and protect us! Show us that you are our Mother! Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

5 Things the Media Will Not Tell You About Laudato Si'



Today Pope Francis released his second encyclical, Laudato Si'. It is very long, more like a book. Probably most people won't read the whole thing but will get an impression of it from news outlets. Here are five things they will not tell you about it:

1. The encyclical has six references to St. Thomas Aquinas, including this: “Nature is nothing other than a certain kind of art, namely God’s art, impressed upon things, whereby those things are moved to a determinate end.” no. 80

2. The great Catholic theologian Romano Guardini figures prominently in the section on technology. Guardini heavily influenced Pope Benedict’s theological thought. I wonder if Francis talked to Benedict about this topic.

3. The pope criticizes abortion:
120.     Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? “If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.”  (quoting Pope Benedict, Caritas in Veritate, no. 28)

4. The pope also upholds the importance of sexual differences:
Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.”[1]


5. He also criticizes advocates of population control:
At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health.” Yet “while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development.” To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. no. 50


I hope to post more thoughts about it later. In reading it, a lot of questions came up for me. Undoubtedly this encyclical will stir a lot of debate, since Francis clearly believes in climate change. He also has a lot of faith in international organizations like the UN to bring about change, as well as big government. Personally, I have some reservations about those structures, since there are many reasons to doubt their effectiveness. That's an important question to be discussed.

Also, the pope himself says in the encyclical, “On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.” (no. 61).

Friday, May 22, 2015

Novena to the Holy Spirit Day Nine: Self-Control

"The fruit of the Spirit is . . . self-control." Gal 5:22

This is the ninth and final fruit of the Spirit that Paul mentions here in Galatians. He is not speaking of self-control only in the sense of a certain kind of asceticism, though we need that too. For Paul, if we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit himself enables us to live holy lives. We need to do our part, definitely, but it is primarily a matter of grace.
And God always gives that grace in abundance if we pray and ask for it. On Sunday when we celebrate Pentecost, pray for the Spirit to come upon you personally just as it happened on the first Pentecost. The timid apostles who were hiding out in the upper room were transformed and spoke about Jesus with boldness. The Holy Spirit will transform us too.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts!

In our congregation, today (Saturday May 23) we celebrate the feast of Mary, Queen of the Apostles. Mary was the one most filled with the Holy Spirit. So here is a prayer that brings out that connection.



Mary, Transformer of the Apostles

Mary rejoice for the days you were in the Upper Room
with the Apostles and Disciples of your Son, Jesus.
You were teacher, comforter, and mother to all those
gathered in prayer awaiting the promised Holy Spirit,
the Spirit with the sevenfold gifts,
Love of the Father and of the Son;
Transformer of the Apostles.
Through your intercession and prayer obtain for us
the grace to realize the value of every human person
saved by your Son’s fidelity to the Father
to the point of offering his life on the cross.
May the love of Jesus urge us on for the Gospel.
May we feel in our hearts the needs of the unborn, of children,
of youth, of adults, of the elderly.
Grant that the vastness of Africa, the immensity of Asia,
the promise of America, the hopes of Europe, and Oceania
will attract us to share the message of the Gospel
with every person and in every culture.
May the apostolate of witness, prayer, the press,
films, radio, television, the Internet, social media and all media-technology,
draw many apostles to use these effective means
as ways to announce the Kingdom of God.
Mary, Mother of the Church and our Mother,
Queen of the Apostles, our intercessor, pray for us.

Blessed James Alberione, SSP, adapted



 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Novena to the Holy Spirit Day Eight: Gentleness (Fri.)

"The fruit of the Spirit is . . . gentleness" (Gal 5:22)

The word Paul uses for gentleness (prautes) is the same word Matthew uses for the beatitude: Blessed are the meek (or gentle or humble in heart). Jesus spoke of himself in that way, that he is gentle and humble of heart. He invites us to take his yoke on us because he is so gentle he will never "break the bruised reed" (Is 42:3).
Jesus promised he would send us the Spirit. Of course he has already sent the Spirit, but he can do that again and again. As time goes on we can grow in our capacity to receive the Holy Spirit.

Do I turn to Jesus with trust? 

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of life, you who came down upon the apostles in a mighty wind and with fire, who filled the house where they were and gave them the gift of tongues to proclaim the wonders of God, come down now upon me as well.
Fill me with yourself and make of me a temple wherein you dwell. Open my lips to proclaim your praise, to ask your guidance, and to declare your love.
Holy Light, divine Fire, eternal Might, enlighten my mind to know you, inflame my heart to love and, strengthen my will to seek and find you. Be fore me the living and life giving Breath of God, the very air I breathe, and the only sky in which my spirit soars. Amen.


Below is another version of the Taize chant of the Veni Sancte Spiritus.



Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Novena to the Holy Spirit Day Seven: Faithfulness (Thur.)

"The fruit of the Spirit is . . . faithfulness" (Gal 5:22)

The word Paul uses here (pistis) can be translated as faith or faithfulness. But in the context of Galatians, in which Paul speaks about how faith in Christ justifies us, it can probably be best seen as a trust founded on God's own faithfulness (that's from Matera's commentary.)

This kind of faithfulness leads us to trust that God will always be with us no matter what trials we are going through. This makes me think of an incident from the life of St. Thomas. As a young man he decided he wanted to become a Dominican. At that time the Dominicans were a new order. They were mendicants, which meant that they were traveling preachers who depended on people to help them with food and other necessities.
Thomas was from a noble family in Italy. They wouldn't have minded if he had wanted to become a Benedictine. Since he had studied at the Abbey of Monte Cassino, they thought he could enter there and eventually become the Abbot. But the idea of him going around begging for food horrified them. His mother in particular adamantly opposed Thomas on this.

But Thomas had other ideas. He wanted to follow the poor Christ, without a position of power (in those days abbots sometimes had a good deal of power and influence). So when he entered the Dominicans and they sent him on a journey to Paris, his family intervened. His brothers went after him and took him against his will back to the family castle in Aquino.
There they kept him under a sort of house arrest. They thought he wouldn't last too long and would eventually give in. But no, he resisted all their pressure to make him change his mind. Finally, after about a year, they realized he wasn't going to follow their plans. Instead, Thomas was faithful to the plans that he believed God had for him. That was faithfulness in action.


Is there some area in my life where I can be more faithful to what God is asking of me right now?

Prayer to the Holy Spirit for the Gift of Courage (public domain):

Come, O Holy Spirit of Courage, uphold my soul in time of trouble and adversity, sustain my efforts after holiness, strengthen my weakness, give me courage in the trials of life, that I may never be overcome and separated from you, my God and greatest Good. Amen.

Below is another version of the Taize chant of the Veni Sancte Spiritus.












Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Novena to the Holy Spirit: Day Six Goodness (Wed.)

"The fruit of the Spirit is ... goodness." Gal 5:22


 In high school I had a teacher who was a mentor for me. She would often say, "Be good." Even though it sounds so simple, it sums up the essence of the Christian life. By being good we can act  with goodness toward others. The way we act reveals what is in our hearts. And it's also true that by good acts, we become better persons. 
St. Paul often encouraged his Christians to be good: "I myself feel confident about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness..." (Rom 15:14).
The Holy Spirit is the source of our goodness, for the Spirit is Love. When we open ourselves more fully to the Spirit, we can expect to be filled with an abundance of grace and spiritual gifts.

How can I show goodness to others today?



Prayer for Holiness of Life
 By St. Augustine

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
that I may love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
that I may defend all that is holy.
Guard me, O Holy Spirit,
that I always may be holy.

And here is the traditional Come, Holy Ghost:

 

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