Catholic 101: Gifts of the Holy Spirit

by | Aug 29, 2022 | Catholic 101, Spirituality

If you received the sacrament of Confirmation as a teenager, you were most likely asked to memorize a list of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit as part of your preparation. As Catholic Christians, we believe that the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation indelibly mark us as belonging to Christ. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in these sacraments also makes us more attuned to God’s voice in our lives, and it is through the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that we are strengthened each day in becoming the person that God created each of us to be.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are first mentioned in the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah describes the ideal Davidic king with these words:

The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him:

a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

A spirit of counsel and of strength,

a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord,

and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2-3)

Our Christian faith teaches us that Jesus, the Son of God, expressed each of these attributes of the “spirit of the Lord” in their perfect fullness. Because of our participation in Christ, we, too, are given a share of each of these gifts of the Spirit. Jesus himself assured us of this when he promised that his Father would send the Holy Spirit upon us in his name, to teach us everything and remind us of all that he told us. (John 14:26) It is through these seven gifts–wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord–that we grow in holiness and are continually reminded of God’s loving presence within us and around us.

It is easy to consider the gifts of the Holy Spirit only in the abstract, without deeply pondering the ways in which they are a part of our everyday lives because of God’s goodness and generosity towards us. In reality, these seven gifts have a variety of expressions that are unique to us as individuals. 

In my own life, I have sometimes experienced fear of the Lord most deeply when looking up at the stars in the countryside on a clear summer’s night. I am reminded of God’s infinite power and majesty, and His care for the universe and all that is in it. This fear of the Lord is not related to being afraid, but rather consists in being filled with immense wonder and reverence for the one to whom we owe our very existence and the existence of all that surrounds us. Maybe you have experienced the same feeling towards God during a breathtaking sunset or during a significant moment of physical or emotional healing. These are expressions of fear of the Lord, a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Pope Francis has spoken at length about each of the seven gifts, and I would like to share some of his descriptions here along with a few comments.

I remember receiving the gift of wisdom in a particular instance a couple years ago when I was living in Syracuse, NY. I encountered a man on a downtown street who would have been easy to pass by and not acknowledge in any way. He had a disheveled appearance and the words that were coming out of his mouth did not seem to make much sense. I felt prompted to say something to him, and so I greeted him. He was friendly, but I still had difficulty understanding him because he had trouble expressing his thoughts and ideas.

As I recall, he revealed to me during the course of our conversation that he had a desire to work on cars and one day even open up his own garage. It was at this point that I was no longer distracted by how this man looked or sounded, but that I could see him as someone very much like myself – a person with interests and desires, a person with hopes and dreams for himself and his life. After this encounter, I realized God had humbled me with the gift of wisdom to see a total stranger as my neighbor and brother, and nothing less.



  • Knowledge: “a special gift, which leads us to grasp, through creation, the greatness and love of God and his profound relationship with every creature.” This kind of knowledge goes beyond human knowledge and imparts to us knowledge that can only be received through divine gift. In noticing the beauty and the mystery of creation all around us, one receives intimate knowledge of the Creator and Author of all that has been, all that is, and all that will be. One way that knowledge expresses itself is when we recognize, in the depths of our heart, that there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn God’s love or to “get on his good side.” Rather, the recognition by our souls of the unconditional nature of God’s love and mercy for us is one form of true knowledge.




One particular way that we can grow in our awareness of the activity of the Holy Spirit through these seven gifts is through prayer. For example, in particular situations we can ask Jesus for help by petitioning him for specific gifts, such as wisdom or fortitude. We can also pray the daily Examen, where we can review our day with God and recognize moments in which we were inspired by a spirit of understanding, for example. God wishes to abundantly share the gifts of the Holy Spirit with each of us; He asks only for our docility and openness in receiving these gifts freely given. Let us pray that we continue to grow from the graces we received at Baptism and Confirmation and to encourage one another along our pilgrim journey!