This weekend we begin the Confirmation ‘Spirit’ Programme. We’re beginning with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The purpose of the gifts is to make us holy, like God. They’re the means by which God draws us into his own life, the Divine life.
Some of us will know them, particularly those of us of a certain age – we were taught them ‘by heart’ as we used to say. My mother can still list them – at 83 years. We’ll look at just two, briefly, the first two, Wisdom and Understanding.
Wisdom; what’s that? Firstly, it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it does not belong naturally to human nature. It’s a gift given by the Holy Spirit and when we receive it, we know (instinctive-like) that it’s in the spiritual life and not in everything from health to wealth that we find lasting security. Those who don’t have the gift will naturally look for their security in everything from health to wealth.
Understanding; what’s that? When we receive the gift of understanding we penetrate the truths of our faith. As we receive it we move from faith into certainty. Those who do not have the gift are always unsure, they always lack conviction.
Now, the thing about the Gifts of the Spirit is that they can be difficult to understand. If you go looking for an explanation you’ll find multiple explanations, nearly all different, or at least they appear to be different.
Here’s the reason. The gifts come from the Holy Spirit. Therefore they’re supernatural. They’re not naturally part of human nature. We’ve almost lost this sense. This is the root of the difficulty with explanations. The gifts are known only by experience and cannot be really known outside the spiritual life and spiritual growth. So our understanding of the gifts tends to reflect the point where we stand on the scale of spiritual growth. That’s the reason we get so many different explanations.
Overall, in my lifetime, there’s been a tendency to reduce the gifts to the purely natural. I think this reflects the decline of Catholicism generally.
Now, similarly – and this is the point I want to make about today‘s Gospel (Mark 12:21-28) – spiritual evil, both satan and unclean (evil) spirits, cannot be understood outside the spiritual life and spiritual growth.
The essence of the spiritual life is the death of self. This is the reason true religion will never be popular. The death of self is the last thing we want to hear and we ‘naturally’ fight it all the way, sometimes spending a fortune trying to avoid it! As John the Baptist said; “I must decrease and he must increase” (John 3:30). Here’s the point: Only when we’ve spiritually advanced to the point where we’ve truly died to self and started living for God alone, only then will we come face to face with spiritual evil. Only then will satan and the unclean spirits manifest themselves directly to us and become a part of our experience. It is spiritual maturity – a full complement of the gifts of the Holy Spirit – that forces satan out of the shadows, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.” Satan was always there, hidden, unseen, but now holiness forces him out. If only Jesus could get the same recognition from us!
So, we’ve looked briefly at both ‘extremes’ if you like, the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit on the one hand, and satan and the unclean spirits on the other, and we’ve seen that our understanding and knowledge of both is determined by where we stand on the scale of spiritual development.