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Understanding the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

When Jesus ascended to His Father, what tools did He give His apostles to continue carrying out His work? He left them with the supernatural Gifts of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, filled with the Spirit’s power, these frightened men left the Upper Room where they had been hiding, to begin the enormous task of establishing the Church.

The apostles finally understood what Jesus meant when He told them, “The man who has faith in Me will do the works I do, and greater far than these.” (John 14:22) As powerless and uneducated as they were, they had the courage to go out and convert thousands of people. They spread the gospel to the Gentiles in foreign lands. We owe the fact that we follow Jesus and are Christians today to the effective way in which they carried out this mission.

When we are baptized into the Church, we receive the same gifts and power as the apostles. At Confirmation we are called to begin using these gifts for God’s work. Unfortunately, at that time in our life most of us are more interested in the gifts of our friends and family than the Gifts of the Holy Spirit!

The most important reason we do not use these gifts is that we do not understand what they are or that we have received them. In addition, we were never taught how to let the Holy Spirit operate through us. We know that we want to serve God but if we go ahead and act on our own power we will not succeed in doing His work as He wishes it done.

Catholic doctrine defines the gifts of the Holy Spirit as “charisms” and teaches that they are distributed according to God’s will to renew and build up the church. The fact that someone has these gifts is not a sign of personal holiness but of the Holy Spirit working in and through him or her. The two important things to remember are that the charisms are given to empower us to per form the work God wants us to do, and that they are granted for the good of the whole body of Christ.

In his letters St. Paul lists many different Gifts of the Holy Spirit, ranging from being apostles or prophets to giving alms and doing works of mercy, to speaking in tongues and performing miracles. In 1 Cor 12, we find listed the nine charismatic gifts of the Spirit, which are wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation.

These are important ways in which God makes His presence known and visible to His people. Through them He accomplishes His work and empowers ordinary people to do things far greater than their human abilities. The gifts are also important ways in which we learn to recognize God’s power and to be willing to yield in other areas of our lives to Him as well.

The charismatic gifts can be divided into three types: the word gifts, the teaching gifts and the signs of power gifts. The first group, the word gifts, are ways in which God speaks a “word,” or message, to His people.

One of these gifts is that of praying in tongues or simply, tongues. Sometimes people find this gift difficult to understand. Basically, praying in tongues is using the private prayer language which God has given each person.

Through this gift we allow the Holy Spirit to pray for us using our voices in syllables which may sound like babbling or words resembling a foreign language.

Tongues is often called the foundation gift because it teaches us to yield to the Holy Spirit by giving Him our minds and tongues to use. Surrendering control of these areas is often difficult. Before we can do this we must have experienced the presence of God and trust Him enough to give Him dominion over our voices and intelligence.

Submitting to the Holy Spirit and praying in tongues is a powerful way to achieve peace of mind and spirit. One Christian therapist said that if all his patients would pray in tongues for ten minutes a day he would have to give up his practice. None of his patients would need his help any longer if they would consistently do that.

Another word gift is prophecy. In this gift God uses someone to speak a message of encouragement, correction, urging or direction, either for an individual or a community. It is always completely in harmony with Scripture and expresses those truths that we need to hear again and again.

Closely connected with prophecy is the gift of speaking in tongues. This is different from the gift of praying in tongues, which is using our private prayer language. In this case, a prophetic message is spoken by one person in a language that must be interpreted for those who are listening. This second ability is called the gift of interpretation, in which someone else will “translate” the message. However, it may not be an exact “translation” of the message but an interpretation of the message. Again, it is always in complete accord with God’s word.

The second group of charisms is the teaching gifts, which enable us to comprehend and express important truths about God and His work. The gift of wisdom empowers a person to speak a truth so that it can move those who hear it to accept it and act upon it. For example, a person might give a teaching which is so powerful that it moves others deeply enough that they are willing to change their lives to try to become more holy and more like God.

Knowledge is another teaching gift, through which someone is able to understand how God wants to work in a situation. One example might be the words of knowledge someone speaks at a healing service, which tell about how God is healing a person or several people at that time. God uses this gift to challenge people to cooperate with Him in whatever He is doing, such as healing, answering a special prayer or calling for repentance.

The third teaching gift is discernment. This empowers a person to tell whether a gift or inspiration comes from God, from our human nature, or from Satan. This gift is especially important when we listen to a prophecy and try to ascertain whether it really is from God. It is also valuable in making decisions as to how we can follow God’s will in our lives.

The last group is signs of power gifts or works of power. These include miracles, healing, and faith. These are manifestations of God’s power to work in supernatural ways. Through miracles, for example, God intervenes in ways contrary to natural laws to exhibit His power over our lives and over the whole world.

Through healing God restores wholeness to a person, whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual. The healing may be immediate or gradual. Through the gift of faith, God empowers someone to know with complete certainty what His will is for a situation so they can pray with strong faith and urge others to do what God wishes.

God may choose at any time to give us one of these gifts. We must be open and expect the Holy Spirit to empower us in areas that we never used before and to do things we never felt we could. We must always use the gifts with love to promote unity and growth within the body of Christ.

One important thing about the Charismatic Renewal is that it embraces the belief that the Holy Spirit still gives these gifts to manifest His presence and power. Many Christians feel the gifts were given only in the early days of the New Testament, to help the apostles accomplish their important work of establishing the Church. They do not believe, however, that these gifts are still in existence or necessary today.

Can we look at the present situation and feel that the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are not needed? We live in a world where sin and immorality are acceptable, where the teaching and divinity of Jesus are constantly being rejected even by some churches and where Christians are persecuted for their faith.

It seems far more appropriate to thank God that He continues to grant the charismatic gifts to those who desire to serve Him, the Church, the body of Christ and the entire world. He is still empowering those who love Him to accomplish tasks which are far beyond their human powers and abilities.