“But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
A spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord,
and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1-3a; NABRE)
The Coming of the Spirit. “When the time for Pentecost [Shavu’ot] was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit [Ruach HaKodesh] and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. They were astounded, and in amazement they asked, ‘Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his own native language? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.’ They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, ‘What does this mean?'” (Acts of the Apostles 2:1-12; NABRE; for Hebrew terms, see The Complete Jewish Study Bible)
Isaiah prophesies of the Messiah that “a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse“–he will be the true Davidic king–and “the spirit of the Lord [Adonai] shall rest upon him” with its gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength (or fortitude), knowledge, and fear of the Lord. As described in the book of Acts, the risen Lord, Jesus, imparted these gifts to his apostles at the time of Pentecost, fifty days after his Resurrection. For forty days, he had remained with them, teaching them and commissioning them to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), but he exhorted them to remain in Jerusalem until he sent the promised Comforter, the Holy Spirit, which would give them gifts for proclaiming the gospel. So, after Jesus’ Ascension, his returning to his Father in heaven, the apostles and Mary gathered to pray in the Upper Room for nine days. On the tenth day, the Spirit of the Lord came as a mighty rushing wind, and the Holy Spirit rested on each of them as in a tongue of fire, and they began to prophesy in different languages. The Holy Spirit would dwell within them, as Jesus had told them, to remind them of all he had taught them. The Spirit would give them the wisdom to speak as they never had before, knowing how to increase the faith, hope, and love of so many they would encounter, in however many years of life remained to each of them.
In those years they would need not only the extraordinary gifts, such as amazed and inspired the pilgrims to Jerusalem that day, but also the more subtle and durable gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, and fear of the Lord. A seventh gift of piety is usually understood to be an inseparable partner to the holy fear of the Lord, which inspires both pious acts and more fundamentally, an abiding love for the Lord and deep reverence for his glory.
What exactly are these different gifts? We can hardly hope to activate them, and cooperate with the Holy Spirit working within us, without some sense of their scope. Although many books have been written on the gifts of the Spirit (I will recommend several in the Resources), I have found clear, succinct explanations of each one in the form of a lovely novena prayer for Pentecost:
Blessed Spirit of Wisdom, help me to seek God. Make Him the center of my life and order my life to Him, so that love and harmony may reign in my soul.
Blessed Spirit of Understanding, enlighten my mind, that I may know and love the truths of faith and make them truly my own.
Blessed Spirit of Counsel, enlighten and guide me in all my ways, that I may always know and do Your holy Will. Make me prudent and courageous.
Blessed Spirit of Fortitude, uphold my soul in every time of trouble or adversity. Make me loyal and confident.
Blessed Spirit of Knowledge, help me to know good from evil. Teach me to do what is right in the sight of God. Give me clear vision and firmness in decision.
Blessed Spirit of Piety, possess my heart, incline it to a true faith in You, to a holy love of You, my God, that with my whole soul I may seek You, Who are my Father, and find You, my best, my truest joy.
Blessed Spirit of Holy Fear, penetrate my inmost heart that I may be ever mindful of Your presence. Make me fly from sin, and give me intense reverence for God and for my fellow men who are made in God’s image. Amen. (Pocket Book of Catholic Novenas, pp. 35-36)
Finally, I would like to share some thoughts on activating the gifts of the Holy Spirit from the meditations of Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, in his classic devotional book, Divine Intimacy:
The very fact that God has willed to put the gifts into our spiritual organism, is the most evident proof that He wishes to intervene in the work of our sanctification, and to grant us the help of the Holy Spirit. … If we want the gifts to be fully developed in our soul, we must practice charity [i.e., love] constantly, for with every advance in divine love, there will be a corresponding new development of the gifts. They are the sails of the soul… (p. 565)
Although the assiduous practice of the virtues will not suffice to bring the soul to God, the manifestation of goodwill implied by this practice is very necessary. The sailor who is anxious to reach the port does not lazily wait for a favorable wind, but begins at once to row vigorously; similarly, the soul who seeks God, while waiting for Him to attract it, does not abandon itself to indolence; on the contrary, it searches fervently on its own initiative: making efforts to overcome its faults, to be detached from creatures, to practice the virtues and to apply itself to interior recollection. The Holy Spirit perfects these efforts by activating His gifts. … From the foregoing it can readily be seen why, from the very beginning, we must acquire the habit of being both active and passive in our journey toward God, making efforts, yes, but at the same time trying to be attentive and obedient to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit. (p. 570, Divine Intimacy)
More of the Holy Spirit: How to Keep the Fire Burning in Our Hearts by Sr. Ann Shields, SGL. Word Among Us Press, 2013. Besides excellent discussion of the seven gifts, Sr. Ann offers personal insights into living daily life close to the Holy Spirit.
The Sanctifier: The Classic Work on the Holy Spirit by Archbishop Luis M. Martinez. Pauline Books & Media, 1981, 2004. Includes chapters on each of the seven gifts.
The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit by Kevin Vost. Sophia Institute Press, 2016. Trained in Scholastic philosphy, Vost gives a thorough treatment of the Seven Gifts as Thomas Aquinas wrote about them.
Divine Intimacy, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, Baronius Press, 2014. Original work published 1953.
Pocket Book of Catholic Novenas, St. Joseph Edition, by Rev. Lawrence G. Lovasik, Catholic Book Publishing, New Jersey, 2006.