By Timothy Hutchinson



If you open the blue softcover Catechism of the Catholic Church to the index, letter H, and find the entries under “Holy Spirit”, there you will see more than 84 sub-indexes. After this comes the word “Homily” followed by the word “Homosexuality”, which have one and two sub-indexes respectively. This should give you an idea of how important the Holy Spirit is in Catholic teaching. But, when some Christians talk about the Holy Spirit they only talk about miracles and wonders and not about theories and teachings, about what or rather who the Holy Spirit is. What does the Church teach us about the Holy Spirit and what are we to make of the extraordinary phenomena that is often associated rightly or wrongly with the Holy Spirit? I will begin answering those questions by first defining our terms;

The Holy Spirit

Most importantly the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Blessed Trinity, “who proceeds from the Father and the Son” as we say in the Creed. He is God, “consubstantial with the Father and the Son”, and as God the Holy Spirit is deserving of adoration and worship. He is neither of force nor a feeling, and as He is spirit this means He is by definition not tangible through our physical senses.


The Gifts of the Holy Spirit

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are God-given graces of two kinds.  The first are for the sanctification of the individual. These are the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and the fear of God (Isaiah 11:1-2).  These make the receiver more sensitive to the prompts of the Holy Spirit. The second kind are graces given for serving of others and do not sanctify the receiver.  These we call charisms or charismata. They are described by St. Paul (I Corinthians 12: 6-11, 12: 28-31 and Romans 12: 6-8) and include ordinary charisms like the gift of teaching and extraordinary charisms the gifts of healing and working miracles (only to name a few).


The Fruits of the Spirit

The fruits of the Spirit are also mentioned by St Paul in the epistle to the Galatians.  They are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness and faithfulness” (Galatians 5:22-23). The fruits of the Spirit are not permanent virtues, says St Thomas Aquinas, or even habits but acts – visible results of the Spirit.  It’s no wonder many older translations prefer the word “charity” to the word “love” in this verse and in other scriptures also.

Jesus promised to send us the Holy Spirit, after His Ascension, to lead us into truth (Luke 24:49). In the New Testament we see the gifts of the Holy Spirit working in the Apostles and the believers of the early Church.   The Catholic Church has been guided by the Holy Spirit from the beginning, stewarding the gifts and cherishing the fruits of the Spirit; one need only look at the lives of the saints to see this to be true.  The charisms (which fall under the gifts of the Holy Spirit which are not in themselves signs of the individual’s holiness) are usually where a lot of confusion occurs.  While miracles can be very exciting and encouraging to our faith, and Jesus foretold of them and performed them Himself, we must keep them in perspective.  They are not an eighth sacrament.  We receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Confirmation.  The charisms are secondary and we will look at them carefully in a moment.


Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the last 50 years

In the ‘60s and ‘70s people talked about “waves of the Holy Spirit”, being “Spirit filled”, “slain in the Spirit” and other similar terms.  There was a worldwide excitement in different Christian communities and this is when my parents became Christians, though not in the Catholic Church.  There was a similar movement among Catholics at the same time, which became known as the Charismatic Renewal.  Members of this movement, like its non-Catholic counterparts, put a great emphasis on charisms.  Popes of that time spoke directly to and about the movement. Paul VI encouraged the Charismatic Renewal to stay united to the Church. John Paul II said that he had been praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit since he was a young boy and Benedict XVI, when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger said that pastors should welcome renewal but that those who have these charisms should maintain a strong link with the Church. Ultimately, the popes of the last 50 years called for a greater devotion to Mary,  the Church and especially the Eucharist through this movement.

I was not alive at the time of some of those movements but my non-Catholic upbringing put an emphasis on these charisms without the perspective the Church offers us.  When I was young I believed that unless you sported certain charisms it was likely that your faith wasn’t genuine.  I still see this among many people today.  They divide between what they call “Spirit filled” Christians, those who are not “Spirit filled” Christians.  Needless to say when I began my journey into the Church I was eager to know whether Catholics where “Spirit filled” or not. Were there Catholics who have these charisms I’d grown up with?  A wise Catholic priest with whom I had become friends while I was a student answered this question with a story from the life of a saint.  This saint had unusual miracles occur when she was praying without her even asking for them.  Yet when she was asked about them she warned others not to long for miracles.  She said that miracles, regardless of how extraordinary they may be, are not signs that one is becoming a more loving person.  I was stunned.  I had never heard anything like this before, not in all my charismatic upbringing.  I had, however, heard something similar in Scripture:

“But earnestly desire the best gifts.  And yet I show you a more excellent way.  Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

(1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:2)


Because of my background I honestly still struggle not to give special attention to people and ministries that display these extraordinary charisms, but the truth is they are not the “best gifts” which we should desire.  The best gifts are those which make us more malleable to God and more loving towards others—those gifts of the Holy Spirit which sanctify  the individual.  As a Catholic I have learnt to strive to become more loving by the help of the Holy Spirit, to seek the Giver rather than the gifts. The saints have given me greater insight into the pitfalls of being side tracked by signs and wonders, especially the teaching of St John of the Cross. Even Jesus said that on the Day of Judgment there will be those who will claim to have done “great things in [His] name,” (Matthew 7:22) casting out demons and healing the sick, yet He will reject them and welcome those who did the simple loving tasks of caring for the sick and the needy (Matthew 25:31-46).

Keep love then at the centre of your Christian journey and pray for the Holy Spirit to fill you so that you may serve the Lord more perfectly and love more deeply.  For Christ said, “If you then being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13)


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