Mastering the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Marriage

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Isaiah taught us about the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Isaiah 11:1-3.  The faithful of the Catholic Church receive these gifts, especially in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.  St. Ambrose in De mysteriis taught about these gifts saying, “Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God’s presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with His sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed His pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts”.[1]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches about the gifts as well in paragraph 1830 stating, “The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are readily available to those called to the vocation of Marriage.  Within marriage a couple has great opportunity to master the use of these wonderful gifts.  Each gift can easily be applied to the married life and can help couples live a marriage that is an icon to the love of God and His people, the Church.

Isaiah lists the first gift as wisdom.  Madame de Stael, a French-Swiss writer, once said, “As we grow in wisdom, we pardon more freely.”[2] Within the marriage relationship we have the opportunity to grow in wisdom by learning from mistakes rather than harboring hurts.  Wisdom opens a door to growth in the relationship when mistakes are seen as opportunities for learning; learning more about the other, learning better ways to work with one another, learning God’s plan in the relationship.  When husband and wife allow the gift of wisdom to heal mistakes, their marriage can grow rather than stagnate or dissolve.

Understanding is the second gift Isaiah spoke of.  Before a couple is ever married, they should be educated on the purpose of marriage according to God’s plan.  The Code of Canon law # 1055 specifies the Church’s teaching on the purpose of marriage.  “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.”[3] This definition of the sacrament gives us the two purposes of marriage, “good of the spouses” and “procreation and education of offspring.”  The understanding of these two ends of marriage may be in the minds of the bride and groom from the beginning, but as a couple lives their lives together, this understanding is given more clarity.  The decisions that must be made for the good of the marriage and family become very important. The gift of understanding must be asked of the Holy Spirit and then be relied upon for each decision.    The spouses grow in their marriage with the gift of understanding as they realize the great calling of their vocation; the good of their spouse and the procreation and education of their children.

Counsel is the next gift of the Holy Spirit.  This can also be referred to as right judgment.  “The gift of counsel helps us to discover the will of God under difficult circumstances.”[4] This gift is desperately needed in the marriage especially when the couple understands their calling.  The couple must trust in the prompting of the Holy Spirit in the day-to-day decisions that must be made for the growth in their sanctity and direction in their family.  When a couple works together to determine God’s will by using the gift of counsel for their marriage and family, they grow in their partnership, helping one another along the path to Heaven.

Fortitude is a gift of the Holy Spirit possibly most forgotten in marriages today.  Augustine gave us the three goods of marriage in his treatise, On the Goods of Marriage. One of those goods is the indissolubility of the sacrament.  “Caused by mutual consent, consummated and sealed by spousal union, the bond of Marriage is indissoluble.”[5] The Holy Spirit gives couples the gift of fortitude to help them stick with it no matter the challenge.  Fortitude is required to survive the refiner’s fire that marriage can be.  Using the fortitude offered by the Holy Spirit, husband and wife can grow into the people God created them to be and help them find the happiness in marriage that God intends rather than giving up on the marriage and missing out on the joy that could be found on the other side of the struggle.

The gift of knowledge is a gift from the Holy Spirit that can possibly aid husband and wife in their marriage the most as long as the couple is open to it.  Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen stated in Three to Get Married, “As love comes from knowledge, so hatred comes from want of knowledge.”[6] Couples should become students of each other and of the Sacrament of Marriage.  Man and wife are not done when they say “I do,” they are just beginning.  The Holy Spirit offers knowledge of the spouse when one is open to it.  He reveals the uniqueness of the other, the special gifts that only the spouse has, the way in which that individual person is made in God’s image.  It is this knowledge of the spouse that brings intimacy and aids the two in becoming one.  The Holy Spirit also reveals the knowledge of how to live marriage as an icon of God’s love for His Church when the couple attempts to learn more about this beautiful and ongoing sacrament. Husband and wife should strive to use the gift of knowledge so that the marriage can sanctify them both and by doing so reveal God’s love to the world.

Piety, which is synonymous with reverence, sanctity or holiness, is the sixth of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.    The good of the spouses, as discussed earlier, can be described as piety or sanctity.  Marriage offers great opportunities for the growth in piety.  Dr. William May wrote in his paper, “The “Good of the Spouses” and Marriage as a Vocation to Holiness” of the primary purpose of the marriage being the sanctification of the individuals.  He wrote, “In short, a married person’s path to holiness God wants him to have has a name: his or her spouse.”[7] He goes on to give the means necessary to accomplish this ongoing growth in piety; conjugal, or self-donative love, choosing to engage in the marital act as unitive and choosing to engage in the marital act as procreative.[8] All three of these means require selflessness which in turn aids in the growth of holiness.  With Christ as our example of dying to self, we become more like Him when we choose to die to self as well.  Marriage offers the perfect avenue for growth in piety by continually placing the needs of the spouse and family above our own.

The final gift of the Holy Spirit that Isaiah identified is the gift of the fear of the Lord or reverence for each member of the Holy Trinity.  Blessed John Paul II explained in his Theology of the Body just how married people can grow in this gift.  “Penetrating their hearts, kindling in them that holy “fear of Christ”…the mystery of Christ must lead them to “be subject to one another”…”[9] He takes this phrase from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when he tells them in the fifth chapter, verse 21, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Man and wife can grow in fear of the Lord, or “reverence for Christ” by loving one another as Christ loves; selflessly, as a gift of self.  Purposely making the effort to truly put the spouse’s needs ahead of one’s own needs draws a person to Christ.  It reveals Christ within us as the gift we have made to the other.  Again in the Pope’s Theology of the Body, this fear of the Lord is even further explained, “Thus, that “fear of Christ” and “reverence,” about which the author of Ephesians speaks, is nothing other than a spiritually mature form of that reciprocal fascination, that is to say, of the man for femininity and the woman for masculinity… The spiritual maturity of this fascination is nothing but the fruit born of the gift of fear, one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which St. Paul spoke about in 1 Thessalonians 4:4-7.”[10] As man truly attempts to understand woman in her femininity, and woman likewise toward man, giving of self to the needs of masculinity and femininity, each of the couple grows in the holy fear of God because he or she recognizes the awesome creative ability of the Father, the love of the Son and the direction of the Holy Spirit within the beloved spouse.

St. Paul speaks in his fifth letter to the Ephesians in verse 32 of the mystery in which earthly marriage between man and woman is to be an icon to the Heavenly marriage of Christ and His Church.  The Holy Spirit offers these seven gifts discussed as a way to image Christ and His love for His people in and through marriage.  The use of these gifts can aid a couple in this endeavor.  By asking the Holy Spirit for each gift at the time most needed, husband and wife have the opportunity to become a window into the heavenly marriage of the “wedding supper of the Lamb” in which Revelation 19:9 speaks at which time Christ, the bridegroom is wedded to His beloved, the Church.

God’s blessings!

 


[1] Father William Saunders, “Gifts of the Holy Spirit”, Catholic Education Resource Center,  http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0451.html (accessed February 11, 2011).

[2] Jone Johnson Lewis, “Madame de Stael Quotes,” About.com Women’s History, http://womenshistory.about.com/od/quotes/a/madame_de_stael.htm (accessed February 11, 2011).

[3] Title VII Marriage (Cann. 1055 – 1165), Code of Canon Law, http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P3V.HTM, (accessed February 12, 2011).

[4] Most Reverend Louis LaRavoire Morrow, A Catechism in Pictures My Catholic Faith A Manual of Religion, (Kansas City: Sarto House, 1954), 84.

[5] Peter J. Elliott, What God Has Joined, (Staten Island: Alba House, 1990),  p. 162.

[6] Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Three To Get Married, (New Jersey: Scepter Publishers, 1951), p. 16.

[7] William E. May, “The “Good of the Spouses” and Marriage as a Vocation to Holiness”, http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/may/marriage-2.htm, (accessed February 12, 2011).

[8] Ibid.

[9] John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them A Theology of the Body. (Boston: Pauline Books & Media. 2006). p. 473.

[10] Ibid, pp. 614-615.

Copyright 2011 Diane Schwind

 

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