“John 17 and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit” (6/4/2019)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
“Father, glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you.” The prayer of Jesus at the beginning of his high priestly prayer is a good one for us also to pray and reflect on. It can help undercut a false humility. It can help us overcome false ideas that creep in that God is somehow not in favor of our full-flourishing as his sons and daughters.
“Father, glorify us, your sons and daughters, that we may glorify you.” Our glorification in godly ways, our increase in goodness, we desire and strive for, so we may better glorify God. St Irenaeus’ famous quotation comes to mind here. “The glory of God is man fully alive.” That’s right, man fully alive in the Spirit. Man living the abundant life of the Spirit is the glory of God.
Jesus prayed, ““Father, glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you.” And we can rightly pray, “Father, glorify us that we may glorify you.” We seek not the empty glory of the world or the glory of vainglory, which literally means just that, empty glory, vainglory. No. Rather we seek the glory of bearing God within us in all his fullness, insofar as we can, in these vessels of clay that we are.
Later in our Gospel, Jesus says to the Father that he prays for “the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I am glorified in them.” We belong to Jesus and to the Father, and Jesus is glorified in us. Jesus seeks to extend the glory of the Father by living in us. So our acts of love and virtuous lives can be for the praise of God’s glory. So Jesus can glorify the Father through us.
How is it that we can bear God within us in all his fullness and so be glorified that we may glorify God more fully. This gifts of the Holy Spirit are one way that this comes about. The seven gifts are infused in the soul at Baptism and they can grow and become evermore active. According to St Thomas and the Catechism, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are habitual dispositions of ours, so they are something that are really a part of us. It is really our humanity that is elevated by grace and brought to a fuller perfection in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gifts are habitual dispositions that make us docile to the movements and working of the Holy Spirit. The gifts allow the Holy Spirit to work in us with power and ease. It is one way that we are glorified so that we may better glorify God.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit bring to a new perfection the virtues, acquired and infused. The seven virtues, namely the three theological virtues and the four cardinal virtues each have a gift of the Holy Spirit that brings them to a new perfection. Faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude are each perfected by a gift of the Holy Spirit.
The main point here is that every dimension of our humanity and every aspect of our moral life is given a new boost by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Our intellect and will, our passions, the concupiscible and irascible appetites, are all made docile to the working of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit breathes new life into every aspect of our moral life.
The seven virtues are enhanced by the gifts, for us to be moved by the Holy Spirit with a certain ease and fullness. While the virtues, and even the infused virtues, are like us rowing a boat. The activation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is like the sails of our boat catching a gust of wind. We row the boat of our spiritual life as best we can but at times through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we catch a gust of wind as the Spirit propels us forward.
A second way of distinguishing the gifts from the virtues, and this is from St Thomas, is the distinction between a human mode and a divine mode of operation. So the infused virtue of faith operates in a human mode. We make acts of faith and profess the Creed freely, when we choose, and using human concepts and in a human mode. But at times, not of our choosing, and thanks to the gift of understanding, our gaze of faith operates in a divine mode.
Contemplation, as it goes beyond concepts and images, is a prime example of this passing beyond the human mode to the divine mode. The gifts of the Holy Spirit bring this about. We will consider the seven of them in the next few homilies. But to close here, it’s worth noting overall what the gifts of the Holy Spirit tend toward.
The gifts are ordered toward God’s wish to dwell with man, connaturally is the word that is used. So God can dwell in man as in a home, a home he is comfortable in, so to speak. Man as a home that is suitable for God. The gifts of the Holy Spirit equip man so that God may dwell in every dimension of his being. The gifts empower man toward a more intimate share in God’s own operations and very life. They help us toward what Jesus prayed for in the Gospel, that God may glorify us that we may glorify God and that we may belong to God more and more completely. The gifts of the Holy Spirit help us belong to God and he to us, to fulfill the words Jesus prayed to the Father, “They are yours. Everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I am glorified in them.”