First Gift of the Holy Spirit: Charity

Seven-Gifts-Holy-SpiritIn the next weeks we will be examining the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the endowments of the heart of Christ, as named in Isaiah: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. But we do well first to consider the primary gift of the Holy Spirit, charity.

God is love, an eternal communion of Father and Son. The Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son, the gift they share, the tie that binds them.

The Holy Spirit is not first of all any kind of magic trick: not miracles, or speaking in tongues. Nor is he first and foremost the seven endowments named by Isaiah. In the Trinity, none of these things is needed. There is only the God of love, Father, Son, and their infinite love for one another, the Holy Spirit.

Ultimately, this is what Christianity is all about: entering into that loving relationship, joining the Son in his love for the Father, and for all those who are also caught up in that love. The Holy Spirit names what Christianity is all about. No love, no Christianity – because Christ himself is the eternal Son, the eternal relationship of infinite love with the Father.


To say that the Holy Spirit is essential to Christianity is to say, first of all, that Christianity is ultimately about love, and loving union. It means that spirituality is not a side issue. It is Christianity. There is nothing else but love. Or rather, everything else is there to support love. This is the point of the sacraments, the liturgy, the moral law, and devotions, to Mary or the saints or anything else. It is all ultimately about coming to love God. It is all ultimately about conversion of heart.

But to say that the Holy Spirit is essential to Christianity is also to say that this love is a gift, something we receive from God. We could put this two ways. Negatively, we can say that true Christian love is impossible without God. Our hearts are not big enough to love God as God deserves to be loved. Nor are our eyes big enough to see his goodness. He has to show himself to us, and expand our hearts to love him fully. Otherwise our love will fall short.

This is about overcoming sin, yes. But it is also about overcoming our natural limits. Even without sin we just aren’t big enough to love the Father as much as God the Son loves him.

But if it bothers you that I say “deserves,” as if God is annoyed that we don’t love him enough, you are on to something. Ultimately loving God isn’t something we get in trouble for doing insufficiently.

And so we can say the same thing better by putting it positively. God offers us more love than we could possibly imagine. To say that the Holy Spirit is essential to Christianity is to say the Christianity offers us the possibility of a love beyond our comprehension. It offers us the possibility to love God infinitely.

That is the offer of the Holy Spirit, the good news: beyond our wildest imaginings, God calls us into his own loving heart, the loving world of Father and Son in the Trinity.


Grace is the name theology gives for the impact of the Holy Spirit on the soul. It would almost be true to say that we love with a love that is not our own, that we love with God’s love, the Holy Spirit. But the mystery of the Holy Spirit is that he makes this love our own. God who created us creates new hearts in us, hearts that love him infinitely, through the impulse of the Holy Spirit molding our hearts.

We say “grace” to show that this transformation of us does not come from us. It is the Holy Spirit who transforms us, but it is us who are truly transformed. The other seven gifts of the Holy Spirit name the multiple fruits of this transformation, the ways this transformation marks every aspect of our souls.


Let us keep the Holy Spirit in mind this Holy Week. Jesus died of love, and died to share his love with us, to draw us into that love. The heart of these mysteries is the heart of Jesus, which he pours into us in sharing with us the Holy Spirit. It’s not meant to stay outside. It’s meant to transform us from within.

Does your Christianity sometimes forget about the Holy Spirit? How?

Augustine on Charity: Loving Christ by Loving the Church

st-augustine-of-hippo-2St. Augustine reminds us that our truest profession of faith is the way we love one another. One essential part of loving one another is working for unity in the Church. If we love Christ, we love his body, the Church.


Whoever therefore has not charity denies that Christ has come in the flesh. Here then do you now question all heretics. “Did Christ come in the flesh?” “He did come; this I believe, this I confess.” “Nay, this you deny.” “How do I deny? You hear that I say it!” “Nay, I convict you of denying it. You say with the voice, but deny with the heart; say in words, deny in deeds.”

How, do you say, do I deny in deeds? Because the end for which Christ came in the flesh, was, that He might die for us. He died for us, because therein He taught much charity. Greater charity than this has no man, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You have not charity, seeing you for your own honor divide the unity.

Therefore by this understand the spirit that is from God. Give the earthen vessels a tap, put them to the test, whether perhaps they be cracked and give a dull sound: see whether they ring full and clear, see whether charity be there. You take yourself away from the unity of the whole earth, you divide the Church by schisms, you rend the Body of Christ.

He came in the flesh, to gather in one, you make an outcry to scatter abroad. This then is the Spirit of God, which says that Jesus has come in the flesh, which says, not in tongue but in deeds, which says, not by making a noise but by loving. And that spirit is not of God, which denies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; denies, here also, not in tongue but in life; not in words but in deeds. It is manifest therefore how we may know the brethren.

–St. Augustine of Hippo, Homily 6 on First John


But Augustine also points out that another part of loving the Church is loving those who are not in the Church. The only way we bring them into the Church is by love, and the only way we truly love the Church is by loving those who are outside of the Church.


Love all men, even your enemies, not because they are your brethren, but that they may be your brethren; that you may be at all times on fire with brotherly love, whether toward him that has become your brother, or towards your enemy, so that, by being beloved, he may become your brother.

Wherever you love a brother, you love a friend. Now is he with you, now is he knit to you in unity, yea catholic unity. If you are living aright, you love a brother made out of an enemy. But you love some man who has not yet believed Christ, or, if he has believed, believes as do the devils: you rebuke his vanity. Love, and that with a brotherly love: he is not yet a brother, but you love in order that he may be a brother.

Well then, all our love is a brotherly love, towards Christians, towards all His members. The discipline of charity, my brethren, its strength, flowers, fruit, beauty, pleasantness, food, drink, meat, embracing, has in it no satiety. If it so delight us while in a strange land, in our own country how shall we rejoice!

–St. Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 10 on First John

Pope St. Leo the Great on Charity

From a homily on the Ascension. Watch Leo make a beautiful, and very traditional, move: from detachment, to love of the poor. To be “poor, and for the poor” . . . .

And so, dearly-beloved, let us rejoice with spiritual joy, and let us with gladness pay God worthy thanks and raise our hearts’ eyes unimpeded to those heights where Christ is.

Minds that have heard the call to be uplifted [Lift up your hearts!]
must not be pressed down by earthly affections ;
they that are fore-ordained to things eternal
must not be taken up with the things that perish;
they that have entered on the way of Truth
must not be entangled in treacherous snares;
and the faithful must so take their course through these temporal things
as to remember that they are sojourning in the vale of this world,
in which, even though they meet with some attractions,
they must not sinfully embrace them, but bravely pass through them.

LeoGreatFor to this devotion the blessed Apostle Peter arouses us, and entreating us with that loving eagerness which he conceived for feeding Christ’s sheep by the threefold profession of love for the Lord, says, “dearly-beloved, I beseech you, as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).evotion the blessed Apostle Peter arouses us, and en

But for whom do fleshly pleasures wage war, if not for the devil, whose delight it is to fetter souls that strive after things above, with the enticements of corruptible good things, and to draw them away from those abodes from which he himself has been banished? Against his plots every believer must keep careful watch that he may crush his foe on the side whence the attack is made.

And there is no more powerful weapon, dearly-beloved, against the devil’s wiles than kindly mercy and bounteous charity, by which every sin is either escaped or vanquished.

But this lofty power is not attained until that which is opposed to it be overthrown. And what so hostile to mercy and works of charity as avarice [love of material goods] from the root of which spring all evils ? And unless it be destroyed by lack of nourishment, there must needs grow in the ground of that heart in which this evil weed has taken root, the thorns and briars of vices rather than any seed of true goodness.

Let us then, dearly-beloved, resist this pestilential evil and follow after charity, without which no virtue can flourish, that by this path of love whereby Christ came down to us, we too may mount up to Him, to Whom with God the Father and the Holy Spirit is honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.