In my journey back to the faith I had spent much time researching, listening, and learning about what it meant to be a daughter of God, what it meant to be a follower of Christ, and to clumsily pick up my cross and carry it. All of this seemed like an overwhelming task and something I didn’t know if I would ever get right. God saw my struggles, and in that particular season of learning in faith, I went to a retreat coordinated by the ladies in my parish. The retreat was called Wrapped in the Spirit. That weekend I was introduced to the Holy Spirit.
Now, I had been baptized as an infant and confirmed as a teen, so the Holy Spirit had been with me and known me that whole time, but I had yet to understand what it meant to know the Third Person of the Trinity. As Professor Akers says in his lectures in his class on the Creed: “The Third Person is usually the forgotten one or the ignored one in the room.” This is exactly how I was living my life. In ignorance of the Holy Spirit. Not in a way that was malicious… rather, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. Thankfully in God’s providence, I didn’t have to live my life like that for long because He could tell I was searching for Him.
This is the prayer that I was introduced to in that retreat. One of the biggest surprises to me was that God had gifts to give us and all we had to do was ask!
“O Lord Jesus Christ Who, before ascending into heaven, did promise to send the Holy Spirit to finish Your work in the souls of Your Apostles and Disciples, deign to grant the same Holy Spirit to me that He may perfect in my soul the work of Your grace and Your love.
Grant me the Spirit of Wisdom, that I may despise the perishable things of this world and aspire only after the things that are eternal; the Spirit of Understanding, to enlighten my mind with the light of Your divine truth; the Spirit of Counsel, that I may ever choose the surest way of pleasing God and gaining heaven; the Spirit of Fortitude, that I may bear my cross with You and that I may overcome with courage all the obstacles that oppose my salvation; the Spirit of Knowledge, that I may know God and know myself and grow perfect in the science of the Saints; the Spirit of Piety, that I may find the service of God sweet and amiable; the Spirit of Fear, that I may be filled with a loving reverence towards God and may dread in any way to displease Him.
Mark me, dear Lord, with the sign of Your true disciples and animate me in all things with Your Spirit.
This prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit changed my life and it led me to learning more about how the Holy Spirit works in our lives and the life of the Church. In his wonderful book, Theology and Sanity, Frank Sheed writes, “the Gifts of the Holy Ghost are habits residing in the soul in a state of grace, which the soul is capable of responding readily and fruitfully to these Actual Graces when God gives them. To use the illustration which is now traditional, the Gifts are like sails catching the wind of the Spirit.” I had finally found the sail to hoist on the “small bark of my wit” as Dante would say.
The Gifts of the Spirit lead to the Fruits of the Spirit. These fruits are the virtues that a Christian has as a result of submitting one’s own will to the Will of God. The fruit of the Spirit manifests itself in nine ways according to Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “…but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control“ (5:22-23).
These are virtues that must be practiced; they do not come automatically or merely by movements of the heart. The fruit is cultivated and grown carefully by the Holy Spirit working in us. The Holy Spirit works in us is the same way He worked in Mary. He fulfills the plan of the Father for our lives, manifests Jesus to us physically in the Eucharist (to Mary in her womb), and brings us into communion with the Trinity and with those in the Mystical Body of Christ (CCC 722-725).
The Holy Spirit has helped me personally such that, when I am weak, the Spirit is strong in me. When I don’t know how to pray or what to pray, I can trust that the Spirit himself will intercede for me in ‘sighs too deep for words’.” Per the Catechism, once again, “the Holy Spirit, whose anointing permeates our whole being, is the interior Master of Christian prayer. He is the artisan of the living tradition of prayer. To be sure, there are as many paths of prayer as there are persons who pray, but it is the same Spirit acting in all and with all. It is in the communion of the Holy Spirit that Christian prayer is prayer in the Church” (CCC 2672).
My encounter with the Holy Spirit has wrought new knowledge and virtue through my relationship with the Trinity through Him. I have been blessed to learn more about the forgotten or ignored Third Person of the Trinity who seems too often to be left unmentioned. He is known in the Church on a level that always points back to Christ and the Father, never actually pointing to himself. This may, in fact, be the reason the Holy Spirit is so misunderstood in our culture. We have a hard time conceiving and wrapping our mind around a person who does not draw attention to himself, a distinct person who is the Love of others and reflects those who love. In the end, we can only understand and retain very little about the mystery of the Holy Spirit in the union of the Trinity. Faith, Hope and Charity are supernatural virtues we can receive from the Spirit as gifts, and then act upon in our will, which opens us to the other virtues and gifts of the Spirit.