By Laurie Stiegelmeier
Grandpa loved giving gifts—and he loved having us find them. We’d unwrap and open a huge box only to find another gift-wrapped box that also contained another gift-wrapped box … until we finally found the main gift in a small package. There were gifts within gifts, and as the paper flew and boxes were turned aside, Grandpa smiled and chuckled with joy.
Baptism is sort of like that—the Most Holy Trinity is delighted to bestow gift upon gift on us, all wrapped up for us to find in that one sacrament.
Opening the gifts
The sanctifying grace of Baptism takes away original sin, heals our wounded nature, and allows us to share in the divine life of the Trinity. We receive three theological gifts: faith in God and all the Catholic Church teaches, hope for eternal life, and love of God and our fellow man. Four moral virtues allow us to grow in goodness; these are rooted in the theological virtues and all other virtues are grouped around them.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, prudence is right-reason in action. It allows us to discern what is the true good in every circumstance. Justice is distinguished by consistent right-thinking and upright conduct toward our neighbor. Fortitude strengthens our resolve to avoid evil and choose good. Temperance allows us to moderate our use of created goods; it gives us mastery over our wills and desires.
And there’s still more in the one “big box”—the Holy Spirit also gives us seven gifts. These are permanent dispositions that make us docile to follow his promptings. They perfect the virtues, and the beatitudes flow from them.
St. Thomas Aquinas taught that four of these gifts direct our intellect. Wisdom allows us to know the purpose and plan of God, establish right order, and be peacemakers. Understanding is spiritual sight; with it, we clearly “see” the truths of God and faith and become pure of heart. Knowledge allows us to make reasonable use of material goods and to deny ourselves if they would become an obstacle to our salvation; this denial allows us to mourn meritoriously. Counsel is sometimes called right judgment; it is the ability to account for our stewardship of the people and time, talent and treasure God has put in our life; it leads us to be merciful.
Three more gifts direct our will toward God. Fortitude, also a virtue, is sometimes called strength or courage. It allows us to persevere, to overcome fear when confronting injustice, and to firmly believe all that Jesus taught. It causes us to hunger and thirst for justice. Piety leads us to complete trust in God; to honor and respect him and all those he has put over us, such as parents, teachers and employers. Meekness, which is power under control, flows from this gift. Fear of the Lord ensures our awe and reverence before him; it also helps us submit to God’s will and become poor in spirit.
Baptism is only the beginning
Baptism is the gateway to life in the Spirit according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Later, it is necessary that the Holy Spirit completes the grace and strengthens his gifts through the sacrament of Confirmation.
Father Joe Vogel, parochial vicar in Pastorate 15, said that a baby’s need for the gifts is small, but as a child grows, the need becomes greater as temptations and pressures of the world increase.
“When the need is bigger, we need bigger gifts. Ask for them,” he said. “If we can’t ask for the gifts, we miss so much joy in life. We are beloved children, and we can always ask our Father for what we need.”
Confirmation equips us to become a true witness of Christ; the anointing we receive makes us belong to him and enrolls us in his service forever. According to Father Michael Schmitz (of “Bible in a Year” and “Catechism in a Year” fame), fanning the gifts into flames, transforming the Church, rescuing souls, spreading and defending the faith, becoming part of the mission of Christ and never being ashamed of him comes to us through Confirmation.
When Father Vogel asks his Confirmation students whether he or Arnold Schwarzenegger have more muscles, they answer that Arnold does. But Father Vogel tells them they both have the same amount.
“What’s the difference? Arnold has found a way to develop the muscles he was given to become the person he is in his environment. That’s how we need to develop the gifts we are given by the Holy Spirit,” he said.
To build our spiritual muscles, Father Vogel advises slowing down. “We can’t be too busy being busy—God will rarely hit a moving target. We must be alone and honest with God even if that means we don’t like what he’s doing, even if it means shaking our fist in frustration. Quiet, pondering and honesty leads to adoration and gratitude. And hang around the right people—pray to God for good friends.”
Spiritual Director Teri Kemmer recommends a routine prayer life, silence with God, Mass, frequent reception of sacraments, faithfulness to Church teaching, grace and constant communication with the Holy Spirit.
“Attentively listening and faithfully responding allows the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, to make us holy and docile to his workings in our hearts,” she said. “As daughters and sons of God, we should desire and pray fervently for the spiritual gifts.”
Experiencing the Spirit
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the Holy Spirit as the interior master of life, a gentle guest and friend who inspires, guides, corrects and strengthens our life in Christ. More than knowing the names of the virtues, beatitudes and gifts, we must recognize and know this gentle friend in our daily life.
Anticipating the interview for this article, this thought came to Father Vogel: “I can’t talk about the Holy Spirit from a book, but I can from my experience.” Reflecting on his life shows him the Holy Spirit was with him often, helping him to do the difficult things.
“My learning of the Holy Spirit is from experience and often comes in the worst times of life,” Father Vogel said. With one semester of seminary left before ordination, his pregnant sister died suddenly. The baby was taken by cesarean section and survived.
“I had no idea what to do, we had said a million rosaries and I was angry at God. I sat in the chapel crying, ‘Why? Why?’—and here comes the Holy Spirit,” he said. “I told God, ‘I quit.’ I didn’t quit God, but I told him, ‘I quit expecting you to explain everything you do and why.’ I learned at that moment that I don’t always have to have answers. My job is to be with people; we’re loved by God, and that’s all we need.
“I always think of the Holy Spirit as a counselor and advocate,” Father Vogel added, illustrating it with this experience: While sidewalk counseling at the abortion clinic in Sioux Falls, a policeman told them they had to leave because they were trespassing. The law they were obeying had changed, and the case went to trial.
“In court, whenever I didn’t understand what was going on, I asked our lawyer if he could help me understand, because he knew both sides,” Father Vogel said. “The Holy Spirit knows both sides and I learned from the Lord, through the interpreter (Holy Spirit), that I need someone who knows both sides and is there. I need an interpreter, a paraclete, to guide me.”
He also learned that when you don’t know what to do, stop, breathe three times and say, “Come Holy Spirit, I need your love, your interpretation in me, because I know you will always love me and be at my side.” The Holy Spirit was with the sidewalk counselors, who won the case.
Father Vogel sees the Holy Spirit, the presence of God, in living for other people and loving sacrificially, just as the Father who sent his Son to die for us. He describes the power and love of the Holy Spirit as a parent seeing their baby for the first time and feeling they would do anything—even die—for that child.
“The love—that WOW—you have for that child, that’s the love of the Holy Spirit,” Father Vogel said. “It’s beyond human power, love without measure. Breathe that thought in: that’s the Holy Spirit in me and you. He’s always been there, always will be.”
“We sense God’s promptings in our heart as he calls us to action,” Teri said. “These promptings of the Holy Spirit happen frequently in prayerful Christians and increase and become clearer as our faith life grows. The Holy Spirit has always been active in my life; however, it was not until I put time and effort into building an intimate relationship with him that I was awakened to the first glimmer of the gifts he had awaiting me.”
Teri added that her life changed dramatically after reading “True Devotion to the Holy Spirit” by Archbishop Luis M. Martinez. “It introduced me to a whole new world and set me on fire for Christ. The Holy Spirit is within all the baptized in Christ, but he is awakened within us as Christ reveals himself to us.”
Evidence of the Spirit’s gifts
Teri said we know we are operating in and through the power of the Holy Spirit by the perfections he forms in us, and by the fruit he bears in our lives: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity. She said we are given opportunities daily to grow in them.
“The more we cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s inspirations, the more the Spirit bears fruit in our lives, and the more we exhibit them,” she said, adding that yielding to the Holy Spirit’s guidance brings peace, security and tranquility, and allows us to travel triumphantly along the paths of life that take us to eternal joy.
“The fruits of the Holy Spirit are proof of his gifts in our lives,” Father Vogel said. “You’re going to be joyful; you’re going to be loving. We don’t get to the fruits because we’ve always had everything we want. It’s because God said ‘no’ and ‘wait,’ and we say ‘not my will’ and ‘I quit’ and ‘you don’t have to explain.’”
And there’s still more
Teri explained that while the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit are given to us to keep, charisms (additional spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit) always benefit other people. According to Catholic teaching, it is the faith of the Church that each person possesses one or more of the charisms. “It is one of the ways that God enters the world to build and strengthen the Body of Christ through our assent and cooperation,” she said.
Although there is not an official list of charisms as there is for the gifts and fruits of the Spirit, many people see these as examples of charisms: prophesy, exhortation, tongues, interpretation of tongues, healing, faith, working of miracles, discernment of spirits and hospitality.
“They are given to one, or to some, not to everyone equally,” Teri said. “A friend once shared that ‘as many needs as there are in the Church, are the number of charisms.’”
“In the kingdom of love—God’s kingdom—we always have all we need. Some may have some of this gift and some of that, but we always have all we need,” Father Vogel said. “We always get what we need when we need it the most.”
Baptized in the Spirit:It’s personal
“As the Holy Spirit equips us for mission, he touches us each uniquely,” Teri said. “Once you have encountered Christ personally, you are forever changed.”
This outpouring of the Holy Spirit and encounter with Jesus Christ, referred to as “Baptism in the Spirit,” is personal. It marks the beginning of a closer union with God; the individual begins to know, love and serve Christ in a personal way.
Two primary personal encounters with Christ ignited Teri’s faith and activated her charisms. “The first was a Holy Spirit Retreat while I was still on active duty in the Army. As the priest laid hands on me and prayed for healing, I rested in the Spirit and awoke fully restored and healed of a long-term affliction.
“The second was at my first Encounter Ministries School of Healing Conference,” Teri continued. “As I was prayed over, I received an overwhelming increase in faith, joy and holy boldness. I immediately went forward boldly proclaiming Christ’s healing power and the good news of the Kingdom of God. As I continue to pray, listen and step forth as prompted by the Holy Spirit, I witness miracles in the name of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
“Are you ready to defend your faith?” Teri asked. “A good indication that you have been baptized in the Spirit is an affirmative response to this question: ‘If you were brought up on charges for being Catholic, would they find enough evidence to convict you?’”
Be sure to open—and use—every gift you were generously given.