The Gift of Piety (Holiness)

By Lenora Grimaud

Piety is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Isa. 11:1-2, which we receive in the Sacrament of Confirmation: Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Piety, and the fear of the Lord. These gifts can be seen as one gift—the gift of holiness, or the devout life. These gifts are the sanctifying gifts of the Spirit, necessary for our sanctification and for building the kingdom of God on earth. They represent life in the Spirit—the kingdom of God within us. They enable us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as our self.

All of the gifts of the Spirit are interconnected and interdependent. Each gift contains all the other gifts as well. So, piety is also wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, and fear of the Lord. St. Francis de Sales wrote a whole book on the devout life—“Introduction to the Devout Life,” and this was only an introduction to the life of piety. To really understand what piety means, we need to have some understanding of what all the gifts mean:

Wisdom: the love in which we use all the gifts of God in a way that glorifies God and sanctifies his people, as well as our self.

Knowledge: the knowledge of God’s love for us and all of mankind; our experience of God’s love; our knowledge of who God is and of all his divine attributes, and a knowledge of who we are in relationship with God; knowledge of God’s will; self-knowledge.

Understanding: the ability to use our reason to discern good from evil, truth from error, justice from injustice; understanding of what love is; ability to see as God sees; right judgment; to hear with humility—to listen—to “stand under,” take the lowest place, look up at others instead of down; humility.

Counsel: the ability to guide and direct others on the path of holiness; to give good counsel to those seeking the will of God. This gift enables us not to be judgmental and not to judge by appearances; to evaluate with equity—free from prejudice, favoritism, and bias; integrity—sound judgment, undivided, honest, and straight forward; ability to read hearts.

Fortitude: enables us to continue to trust and to pursue good no matter what the consequences; to endure trials, suffering, and hardships without complaining and grumbling—with patience and fidelity to God; to continue to believe God’s promises no matter how long it takes or how impossible it seems, like Abraham who continued to believe that God would fulfill his promise even though he was old and Sarah was barren—faith and hope.

Fear of the Lord: makes us aware of the majesty and power of God, filling us with reverence and awe—if we were fully aware of the presence of God, it would cause us to fall on our knees, fall back, or to prostrate ourselves. This gift makes us obedient to God’s commands out of fear of being separated from him; fear of offending him because of just punishment; fear of offending him because we love him, and to offend him is painful for us. This gift also makes us aware of our own poverty, nothingness, sinfulness, and unworthiness, as well as our need and desire for God’s love; it protects us from presumption and pride.

Piety is the gift of true devotion to God. Webster defines “Devotion” as: religious fervor; piety; the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal; fidelity. A “Devotee” is: an ardent follower, supporter, or enthusiast; one who is committed by a solemn act.

Syn. DEVOTE, DEDICATE, CONSECRATE, HALLOW mean to set apart for a special and often higher end. DEVOTE is likely to imply compelling motives and often attachment to an objective . DEDICATE implies solemn and exclusive devotion to a sacred or serious use or purpose . CONSECRATE stresses investment with a solemn or sacred quality . HALLOW, often differing little from dedicate or consecrate, may distinctively imply an attribution of intrinsic sanctity .

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines “Piety” as: One of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit which leads one to devotion to God (1831). Filial piety connotes an attitude of reverence and respect by children toward their parents (2215). Piety also refers to the religious sense of a people, and its expression in popular devotions (1674). Piety includes the sacramental life of the Church—Eucharist and regular Confession—as well as the Corporal Works of Mercy, Stewardship, Liturgy of the Hours, and private prayer. “Popular Piety” refers to such things as Eucharistic Adoration, the Rosary, pilgrimages, veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, processions, the stations of the cross, medals, Novenas, Divine Mercy Chaplet, etc.

Piety is not feelings, which pass like the morning dew. Feelings are a gift, a grace that can motivate love or regress into sentimentality and self-righteousness. Piety is not sacrifice or duty or obligation. Duty, obligation, and sacrifice can be motivated by love, or they can be motivated by self-interest: what we get in return; to impress others; to prove to others we are good; self-righteousness.

Piety is love, and knowledge of God; knowledge of God’s goodness, love, mercy, truth, power, authority, Word, and faithfulness in keeping his promises. Piety is seeking to know the Lord, and turning to him in times of need; allowing him to rescue us so that we can glorify him. Piety is faith in God’s love for us, that he will do what he said he will do; that he will not abandon us; that he will give us all that we need. Piety is hope and fortitude; not giving up. Piety is gratitude for everything that God has given us and others; gratitude for his gifts and graces, for life—we do not take them for granted or abuse them. Piety is giving God glory through the way we live our life; the way we witness to God; evangelization. Piety is praise of God’s attributes—we honor and applaud him; we acknowledge and acclaim all that he does. Piety is mercy—forgiveness of others; showing mercy to others; not demanding retribution or payment. Piety is obedience—standing by our word; integrity; keeping our promises, duties, commitments, and obligations—freely and wholeheartedly. Piety is saying “yes” to Jesus; following him when he calls us. Piety is seeing others as God sees them. Jesus looks into the heart and sees what people will become through love and acceptance, through the grace of God and the power of love; he sees our potential and our final destiny—whereas, the world sees people as they are, determined by their behavior and what they do. Piety is recognizing our need for God and that we are not God—that we cannot be the person we were created to be without God; that we cannot have a life worth living without mercy and love, without God; that we are sinners in need of healing, mercy, wholeness, love and acceptance. A sinner is simply one who is in need of God. As long as we live in this world, we are sinners in the process of transformation. Unless we turn to the Lord whenever we are in need or distress, we cannot experience his healing. When he rescues us we have the opportunity to glorify God. All of the above components of piety are mentioned in the Sunday Readings for June 8, 2008.

First Reading: Hosea 6:3-6
In their affliction, people will say: “Let us know, let us strive to know the Lord;….Your piety is like a morning cloud, like the dew that early passes away….for it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts.

Psalm 50:
Offer to God praise as your sacrifice and fulfill your vows to the Most High; then call upon me in time of distress; I will rescue you, and you shall glorify me.”

Second Reading: Rom. 4:18-25
Abraham believed, hoping against hope, that he would become “the father of many nations,”….He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body as already dead—for he was almost a hundred years old—and the dead womb of Sarah. He did not doubt God’s promise in unbelief; rather, he was strengthened by faith and gave glory to God and was fully convinced that what he had promised he was able to do.

Gospel: Mat. 9:9-13
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him….The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”….Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.

Normally, when we think of “Piety” we think of the external manifestations of piety, such as: praying, fasting, alms giving, a myriad of popular devotions, good works, use of medals, relics, and numerous religious articles—things that show the world that we are religious. While these are all good, piety begins with the heart. Piety is abandonment to God, holiness, and true devotion to God. Without an intimate relationship with God, rooted in faith, hope, and love, all our pious works and actions are dead works. Our holiness comes from union with Jesus. St. Paul says: The human race has nothing to boast about to God, but you, God has made members of Christ Jesus and by God’s doing he has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom. As Scripture says: if anyone wants to boast, let him boast about the Lord. (1Cor.1:29-31). Jesus has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we are able to manifest the fruit of the Spirit—holiness: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal.5:22). Piety is necessary for our salvation and the salvation of the world. When we praise God and give him glory, our devotion increases and our witness becomes more authentic. God becomes more real to us through our praise, and we make him known to the world so that they can turn to him and be healed.

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