The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
The First Reading is the source for the Christian tradition about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There are seven of them: pietas, fortitude or courage, fear of the Lord, wisdom, understanding, counsel, and knowledge. The last six are all listed in this Reading (Isaiah 11: 2). The first one, pietas, is the spiritual virtue described in the verse about taking care of the poor and afflicted.
There is a version of all these virtues that you can get for yourself. You can practice being brave, for example, and your practice will build a kind of habit in you. There is also a kind of courage that the Lord can put into a person. The apostle Peter wasn’t a particularly brave person, as you can see in his denial of the Lord, but the Lord gave him such courage when he had to face the Jewish authorities after Christ’s resurrection that they marveled at him (Acts 4:13).
But the gifts of the Holy Spirit are different from both these kinds of virtues, the acquired ones and the ones God infuses. You can see the difference clearly if you look at pietas.
In Roman times, pietas was a virtue having to do with fathers and sons. A son owed his father reverence, and a father owed his son care. There is also pietas towards your community or country. This is still a virtue having to do with fathers. The idea is that every citizen owes reverence and care toward his fatherland.
In Christian times, pietas as a virtue infused by God had to do with taking care of your own, your own parents, your own children, your own community, your own country. Paul says that if any person does not take care of his own, he is worse than an infidel. (1 Tim. 5:8).
But that pietas is still not the same as the pietas that is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Pietas that is a gift is the love of God as our Father in heaven, and it includes the recognition that every human being who crosses our path—every one without exception—is the beloved child of our Father. And so every human being—the sinful, the annoyingly stupid, the derelict, the afflicted—is one of our own. And this is pietas as a gift of the Holy Spirit.
And all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are like this. If we do not refuse them, they kindle the fire of love for God and his people in us.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University