The Gifts of the Holy Spirit - Angelo Amato
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The signs of hope: peoples

Angelo Amato

Christian life is intimately marked by the «cloud of the Spirit» (cf Mt 17.5). It is the Spirit who leads believers to full configuration with Christ. But in what does the presence of the Holy Spirit concretely consist and what is the significance of his gifts? The answer is simple: Christian life, in order to progress and mature, has need of the particular assistance of the Holy Spirit and of his gifts.
The profound mystery of the Spirit is that of being «gift»: «It can be said that in the Holy Spirit the intimate life of the Triune God becomes totally gift, an exchange of mutual love between the divine Persons, and that through the Holy Spirit God "exists" in the mode of gift. It is the Holy Spirit who is the personal expression of this self-giving, of this being love. He is Person-love. He is Person-gift» (Dominum et Vivificantem n. 10).

Being Person-gift the Spirit is the source of all created gifts, such as life, grace, charity: «the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us» (Rom 5,5). And it is Jesus who gave his Spirit as gift of new life to the apostles, to the Church, to the world: (Acts 2,33) These words of Peter at Pentecost, echo his Easter experience. The evening of the Resurrection, in fact, when Jesus appears to the apostles he says «Receive the Holy Spirit» (Jn 20,22).
At Pentecost too the apostles «were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech» (Acts 2,4). This apostolic Pentecost flows over the whole of humanity in all its categories, the young, the old, men and women. It is Peter himself who explains in the first kerygma, that this outpouring of the Spirit is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel:
«I will pour out my Spirit on all mankind.
Their sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your young men shall see visions,
your old men shall dream dreams.
Even on my slaves men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit» (Acts 2,17-18).

The gift of the Spirit signifies the vocation of the sons and daughters, the servants and handmaids, to be prophets: it signifies a call to young people to follow great ideals («visions») and to old people to have prophetic dreams. The outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost also fulfils the prophecy of Ezekiel:
«Then I am going take you from among the nations
and gather you together from all the foreign countries,
and bring you home to your own land.
I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed;
I shall cleanse you of all your defilement and all your idols.
I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you;
I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead.
I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances.
You will live in the land which I gave your ancestors.
You shall be my people and I will be your God.
I shall rescue you from all your defilement.
I shall summon the corn and make it plentiful and no more bring famines on you» (Ez 36, 24-29).

The Spirit is therefore gift of communion, water of purification, a heart of flesh, renewal, obedience, it is belonging to God and being faithful to him, it is abundance of gifts.

«Come giver of Gifts»
Saint John, speaking of our calling to communion with God-Love, affirms: «We can know that we are living in him and he is living in us because he lets us share his Spirit» (1 Jn 4,13). It is the Spirit that we love God. This is why saint Augustine says that «the Holy Spirit is God's gift to all those who through him love God». The Spirit enables us to enter into a personal relationship with God, a covenant between our «I» and the divine «You»: «The gift of the Spirit ultimately means a call to friendship in which the transcendent depths of God become in some way opened to participation on the part of man» (Dominum et Vivificantem n. 34). This is what Saint Paul said: «your interests are in the spiritual since the Spirit of God ahs made his home in you» (Rom 8,5.9); «Since the Spirit is our life let us be directed by the Spirit»(Gal 5,25).

To render possible and facilitate this journey the Spirit becomes source of many gifts, fruits, charisma. This is why on the solemnity of Pentecost we invoke him: «Come Holy Spirit, giver of gifts». Traditionally we speak of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: «wisdom, intellect, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord» (CCC 1831). Attributes in the first instance of the Messiah (cf Is 11,1-2) in whom they are fulfilled, these gifts perfect the virtues of the baptised person, rendering him or her docile and obedient to the promptings of the Spirit. If the Christian calling is to holiness, the gifts of the Spirit serve to foster the practice of virtues both theological (faith, hope, charity) and moral (prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance). Often theological tradition has linked single gifts with single virtues. For example the gift of the fear of the Lord corresponds to the virtue of temperance and the gift of wisdom with that of charity. In actual fact each single gift helps the excise of all the virtues, which are thereby strengthened. More than by grade or scale, the gifts should be placed in reciprocal circulation and relation.

Fear, as joyful trepidation for the nearness of God
Fear of the Lord can be considered the first step on the ladder to perfection, which should have its apex in the gift of wisdom. Saint Thomas of Aquinas affirms: «Filial fear takes first place among the gifts of the Holy Spirit in ascendant order, and last in the descendent order». The Book of Ecclesiasticus nevertheless shows the interdependence and reciprocal influence of the gifts:
«To fear the Lord is the perfection of wisdom;
she intoxicates them with her fruits;
she fills their whole house with their heart's desire,
and their storerooms with her produce.
The fear of the Lord is the crown of wisdom;
it makes peace and health to flourish.
The Lord has looked on her and assessed her,
he has showered down learning and discernment,
and exalted the renown of those who hold her close.
To fear the Lord is the root of wisdom,
and her branches are long life» (Ecclesiasticus 1,14-18).

Proposing a vocational journey we can see fear of the Lord as the first step in abandoning life according to the flesh and taking the path according to the Spirit. Fear of the Lord makes us understand that life is not solitude and silence, but communion with God. Fearing is not being afraid of the Lord, but to feel trepidation and gratitude for his great nearness to us. It is a new awareness of and praise for his greatness and wisdom, and at the same time, awareness of being immersed in this «divine sphere», held close in God's embrace:
«Lord you examine me and know me,
you know if I am standing or sitting,
you read my thoughts from far away,
whether I walk or lie down, you are watching,
you know every detail of my conduct.
The word is not even on my tongue
Lord before you know all about it;
close behind and close in front you fence me round.
Shielding me with your hand.
Such knowledge is beyond my understanding,
a height to which my mind cannot attain.
Where could I go to escape your spirit?
Where could I flee from your presence? (Ps 139,1-7).

Abraham's prostration before the three travelers (Gn 18,2), Jacob's wonder in his dream of the stairway reaching to the heavens (Gn 28,12) Moses' amazement before the burning bush (Ex 3,6), the wonder of Isaiah before the seraphim with the burning coals (Is 6,6-7), the fear of the shepherds at the angels' announcement (Lk 2,9) the bewilderment of John the visionary before the Living one (Rev 1,17), indicate the sudden wonder of someone who finds themselves face to face with the holy mystery of God. This is fear which does not turn to terror but, on the contrary, becomes for Adam service and dialogue with God, for Jacob confirmation of having encountered God, for Moses a call to mission, for Isaiah obedience to the prophetic call, for the shepherds an invitation to go to find the newborn Saviour, for John contemplation of the efficacious and victorious work of God in the painful vicissitudes of the Church and of the world.

Fear is that trepidation felt by one who begins the journey of life in the Spirit and confidently entrusts him or herself into God's hands:
«God examine me and know my heart,
probe me and know my thoughts;
make sure I do not follow pernicious ways
and guide me in the way that is everlasting» (Ps 139, 23-24).

Fear of the Lord thus becomes awareness of human weakness, an exercise of humility and of poverty in spirit, but also of trust in God's mercy, hope in his provident goodness, authentic «beginning of wisdom» (Ps 111,10).