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The Holy Spirit as Power
(Gifts of Piety - Fortitude - Fear of the Lord)
Conference by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
We speak of the Holy Spirit in many different ways: as Love, as Gift, as the Paraclete, as the Advocate. All of these titles are biblical and identify some of the profound attributes
of the Spirit promised by Christ before His Ascension into Heaven. But there is one that we especially need to recognize today and that is the Spirit as Power.
First let us read from Christ's last instructions to the apostles as told by Saint Luke, in his Gospel and Acts of the Apostles. Secondly let us analyze the gifts of the Spirit that correspond to Christ's promise of the Spirit as Power. The gifts of the Holy Spirit which pertain to the will are Fortitude, Piety and Fear of the Lord. Looking at them spiritually we will see what they mean in our own personal lives and in our communication and proclamation to others through our apostolate.
Christ in His last instruction to His apostles said: "I am sending down to you what the Father has promised. Stay in the city until you are clothed in the power from on high." Then Luke, just before writing of Christ's Ascension, tells us of the Apostles asking our Lord, "Has the time come? Are You going to restore the kingdom of Israel?" If they who accompanied the Savior for so long, needed the Gifts of the Spirit and they surely did, then we certainly do. Christ replied with consummate restraint:
"It is not for you to know the times nor dates that the Father has decided by His own authority, but you will receive Power when the Holy Spirit comes to you and then you will be My witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but throughout Judea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth."
Over the centuries, the Church's enlightened reflection has identified the Spirit as Light when relative to the four Gifts: Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge and Counsel. It is not enough to have the truth, we must see the truth. In the darkness of night it may be the most beautiful scene in the world, but unless we can behold it, its beauty passes us by.
John the Evangelist is the great proclaimer of the Holy Spirit as Light. Luke is the great proclaimer of the Spirit given to us as Power. What does this Spirit as Power really mean? Let us analyze it in the Gifts.
Piety as a gift of the Holy Spirit aids and supplements the virtue of justice. Each one of these gifts corresponds to a virtue which it assists, readying it for its practice. It is an instinct which the virtue needs to practice: what the virtue is supposed to do. This gift of Piety corresponds to the virtue of justice, making us prompt to act by disposing us to show reverence for God as a most loving Father and for all human beings as children of God.
We respect and serve our parents through the virtue of piety, for piety means respect, even devotion to the authors of our being, to people who are the source of what we have. Serving and respecting our parents through the virtue of piety is the foundation for the gift that prompts us to offer service and worship to the Divine Parent of our souls in the supernatural order. The most fundamental instinct of human nature is to be grateful and devoted to those responsible for our being and care. The first instinct of a child long before it begins to reason, is gratitude to its natural parents for what it has. But, above and beyond all human parents is the great Parent, God. The term for God in Chinese is Shan Ti. Ti being parent, ancestor, progenitor; Shan being supreme, the first.
Consequently, this virtue of piety corresponds to the instinct we have and the virtue we should practice towards our natural parents, and the respect and reverence for God precisely as the Creator. The exact viewpoint of God corresponding to the gift of piety, is regard for Him as our Great Ancestral Source, Creator of ourselves as individuals and of human society as a collectivity, inclining us to have respect and reverence for everyone who is related to us in virtue of our common parentage.
The gift of piety, raised to the supernatural order, inclines us to not only worship God but to honor His children who are related to us by grace. Whatever is connected with God as the author both of our existence and what we have by grace, comes within the scope of this very simple and prosaic word "piety". The characteristic feature of this gift is to give us a filial attitude towards God, Who is our Lord and Master, and a fraternal attitude towards our neighbor. He is our Father twice over. It is this gift which we express every time we begin the 'Our Father' prayer in gratitude.
Piety governs how we look upon others. It is the basis of fellowship with our fellow men. It inclines us to consider others not as competitors in the struggle of life, but coequals under God, our common Maker, regarding them as our brothers and sisters through the saving merits of Christs Passion.
Fortitude as a gift perfects the virtue of fortitude. It adds to the virtue of courage the important commodity of enabling us to carry, to successful conclusion, the most difficult tasks that are undertaken in the service of God. If it took courage to enter religious life for instance pronouncing our vows, it takes more courage to sustain us through life committing ourselves until death. There are two forms of courage implied in this gift of fortitude. There is the gift to undertake arduous tasks, and secondly to endure long and trying difficulties for the divine glory. We were impelled by the first kind of gift of fortitude to undertake the religious life; and by the second to persist. A commendable type of courage of action or apostolate, but the obstacles, vaguely foreseen, are faced with a quiet trust in Providence that inspires willingness to suffer in the prosecution of the plan. Such fortitude of the pioneer is characterized by a dauntless spirit of resolution of God, firmness of mind, and an indomitable will. But, that is not enough. Another form of courage augments this dauntless spirit and continues what someone else initiated and finding oneself weary by unexpected trials, persecution and external failure, it still continues on to the end. When Christ died on the cross it seemed an external failure. Faith alone tells us it was the greatest internal success of all human history. Both of these types of courage are necessary for salvation and certainly for sanctification. Never to be minimized is that strength needed to live up to our ideals in spite of the criticism and opposition we meet in our struggle for sanctity.
The third gift of the Spirit as Power, tradition tells us should be placed first. This the Fear of the Lord which confirms the strengthening of the virtue of hope. It impels us to a profound respect for the majesty of God. Its correlative effects are to protect us from sin through dread of offend.
In servile fear which we are not excluding, the evil dreaded is punishment and is selfish, fearing pain. In filial fear, which is selfless, we dread to offend God Whom we love. Both kinds of fear may proceed from the love of God, but filial fear which is given to us through this precious gift of the Spirit is 'par excellence', inspired by perfect charity. In that sense it is inseparable from divine love. This is a sense in which the highest love of God is compatible with the Fear of the Lord. However, dreading the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, my fear, though servile, may be basically motivated by the love of God, He whom I am afraid of losing by my sins since heaven is the possession of God and hell the loss of Him. Still, on a higher plane, our fear may not be self-centered when the object of it is not personal loss, but injury to the divine majesty. This motive is not only based on an implicit love of God, but is love to a sublime degree. This is what we receive in this priceless gift of the Holy Spirit called Fear of God.
Going back to what Christ promised not only His disciples, but us, that we would receive "power when the Holy Spirit comes on you", which means that power was to come to us. This power was not only for ourselves but for others that we, being strengthened, might witness to Him Who strengthens us. Having received this power, the disciples to whom the first promise was given, and all Christians since, were to be witnesses to Christ in Jerusalem and even to the ends of the earth.
We need to unravel the mystery hidden behind that casual word - witness. When Christ said, "You will be my witnesses", Luke writing in Greek, used another word - "You will be My martyrs". We are bidden to witness as martyrs. How? By the way we live, which is the most eloquent witness we can offer. More persuasive than any speech is our conduct. We give witness by our profession of the faith in truth that is Christ and in all the ways in which we believe that faith is externalized and communicated.
We have three responsibilities to be recognized: that we be true followers of Christ; that our conduct tells who we are; that we also communicate our beliefs to others, conditioned, of course, by our specific vocations.
There should be some sort of outreaching by all of us that others will glorify God and come to know Christ not only by seeing us as persons, but by whatever means or instrumentalities are at our disposal. Today, in this Communications Age, we have available the most effective means of communication in the history of man. Thirdly, we are to witness by who we are, by what we say and also by our suffering. This is where the word martyr is so critical. We are to expect to suffer for our faith if we wish to witness to Christ. When Tertullian in the early 'Age of the Martyrs', said: "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church", it was true then; it is true now. The blood may be either the physical blood of torture or martyrdom or the spiritual blood of undergoing trials, difficulties and opposition that anyone who wants to serve Christ faithfully today will have without exception. If we are not suffering for the name of Jesus, we are not serving Jesus. Even the fool and the pervert, though not accepting the truth, recognize the powerful value of one who is so sincerely convinced of the truth that he or she is ready to suffer for it. We have this power given to us to live, profess and suffer. The graces are there. By prior definition, such a gift benefits the one to whom it is given only if he appropriates and uses it. The problem with most of us is not that we don't have enough graces or gifts, though God knows we always need more; the real problem is to have the divine assistance to put to use the graces we already have been given.
What good are all the treasures of heaven which Christ has conferred on us - His most beloved children and people of God - unless we use them! Here lies the difference between those who are good Christians but remain until death in mediocrity and those who strive for, and reach, sanctity. It is up to us! And, strange as it may seem, when God sees we appreciate the grace we have by using it - He gives us more. This is the secret of holiness - using the gifts that God gives in order that, having received, we may glorify the Giver.
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