Charity & the Gifts of the Holy Spirit…
(from a June 2, 1974 Conference)

In the Book of Genesis we read how Jacob had a dream.  And he saw a ladder whose feet were on the ground, and whose top was in heaven, and there were angels of God going up it and coming down.  St. Francis de Sales uses the idea of Jacob’s ladder to illustrate what charity is like (Treatise on the Love of God, book II, chapter 15).  It links us to God, and it links us to our companions on earth.  You go up it to God and down it to your neighbors.  St. Francis says charity is like another Jacob’s ladder, and its steps are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.  By these steps, spiritual men, like angels, ascend to union of heart with God.  But they do not only climb up these seven steps to God, but like Jacob’s angels, they come down again.  They climb down to take their neighbors by the hand and lead them to heaven.  So we can think of climbing up and down the ladder of charity by means of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The first step on this ladder of charity up to God is the fear of the Lord.  We must have a great reverential fear of God, a sense of awe in His presence.  This will also cause us to have a great fear of doing anything evil, and we shall run away from sin.  The second step is piety, and this not only makes us do good, but gives us a feeling of belonging to God’s family . . . so our fear of God is tempered by piety and is delightful.  The third step is knowledge.  This gift of the Holy Spirit enables us to see the things of this world through God’s eyes, and we know how to behave with respect to them.  We see what is good in them and what is evil.  As we go up we need courage for doing the will of God more and more generously, and so the fourth step is fortitude.  We need supernatural prudence and discernment, and so the fifth step is the gift of counsel.  Then as we near the top, the sixth step is understanding, which gives us an insight into the mysteries our faith presents to us, and we begin to penetrate the outlines of God’s infinite beauty.  Finally, if we reach the seventh step, we unite our wills entirely with the will of God; we are united to Him and feel His embrace.  We have received the gift of wisdom.

Some people think that to succeed in becoming holy, to become a saint requires a very strong will, great determination, and energetic action, but we must be careful to understand what kind of strong will is needed, and what kind of great determination, and what kind of energetic action.  Because if we understand these things in the way we understand them of a person who is successful in life in the world, we shall have got things wrong.  There is plenty of room for strong will in the path to God, but it must be a strong intention of doing God’s will.  Very often strong-willed people decide how they should become holy and pursue their own will instead of God’s.   They try to become their own kind of saint, and not the kind God wanted them to be.  The wrong kind of determination, however good it appears to be, can stand in the way of the Holy Spirit and His gentle but powerful influence.  We must be flexible.  What God wants today we do today with great determination, but we do not assume that He will want the same tomorrow.  The Spirit blows where He will.  God may want one thing one day and another the next.  We must leave the goal to Him to decide.  Our task is to love God’s holy will in all things.

Yes, a strong will given entirely to God is needed to become a saint, but it must not be self-will.  Determination, too, must be to do what God wants, and not to do what we want Him to want.  I have known people so determined to join a religious order that they almost turned the world upside down to do so, but as God did not want that from them, it was just self-will.  We must love and seek God in His way.  Energetic action also can get in the way of God’s will.  Some people are very active by nature and must always be doing something.  If God wants action then we should be active, but when He wants us to be quiet we should be quiet, or we shall not hear Him.  Sometimes a very active person, who seemed full of virtue and holiness, falls ill and cannot do anything except pray.  Then you find out how holy he really is.  I have known very holy students for the priesthood, who have been ordained as priests and been incapacitated soon after by permanent illness.  Those who were only holy in appearance were very frustrated and upset, but those who had climbed that ladder of charity were resigned and even joyful.  As long as God was pleased, so were they.  This is true charity.

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