How can each gift of the Holy Spirit help us stay sober in our recovery as well as grow closer to the Lord?
As Saint Thomas Aquinas illuminated, God helps humanity in its process of perfection with particular habits. These habits or instincts enable us to transcend the limitations of our human nature and participate in the very life of God. Moreover, these gifts are necessary for our salvation.
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are indispensable resources in our struggle to establish the kingdom of God in the midst of spiritual warfare. In our journey of recovery, we must use all the spiritual tools available to defend ourselves against evil and temptation. I have found these seven gifts very useful in my own personal struggles with pornography and on my recovery journey.
Wisdom allows a person to understand things from God’s point of view. In my struggle with purity, being bored and tired were two triggers that could lead to relapse. I realized after many hours of prayer that God was offering me an opportunity to turn my triggers into a way to glorify Him. When I would feel bored or tired, I would wisely allow these things to “trigger” new healthy behaviors, such as spiritual reading or listening to chant music. With the gift of wisdom, we’re empowered to glorify God by choosing Godly solutions to our problems.
Understanding allows us to grasp, in a limited way, the truths of the Catholic faith and develop certitude about our beliefs. For example, pornography is a disordered objectification of beauty. Once I better understood that my erotic desire was a longing for union with the beautiful then I was able to see the beauty of sex and better reject the ugliness of pornography (Saint John Paul II covers some of these ideas in his Theology of the Body lectures). In other words, the gift of understanding allows us to understand truths about creation, others, and God so that we may grow in holiness.
Counsel is the perfection of the cardinal virtue of prudence. Now, while prudence can be practiced by anyone, counsel is supernatural, allowing us to judge best by intuition through the Holy Spirit. It is through counsel that we can judge rightly to ensure we do things that nourish our sobriety and don’t do things that endanger it.
Fortitude is just another (cool) word for courage. I need a lot of courage every day to avoid sin and the near-occasion of sin. For me, a daily Holy Hour, attending the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and reciting certain prayers every week are great ways to nourish the gift of fortitude. In our sex-saturated culture, it can be easy to fall but fortitude has helped keep me standing. With this gift, we are given the strength and courage to fight against evil, even when that evil is our addiction, compulsion, or unhealthy attachment.
Knowledge allows us to understand the purpose for which God has created us so that we can live up to it. I am able to remain pure in actions by practicing certain virtues, spiritual habits, and healthy life choices—and these come by way of the spiritual gift of knowledge.
Piety is one of those words we do not hear often enough. Simply put, it’s our willingness to worship and serve God not out of duty but a deep and true desire stemming from love. Once I became active in my church, received spiritual direction, joined a Catholic men’s group, and began certain daily habits and spiritual practices, my desire to serve God and ask for His love and grace—or, my piety—grew substantially!
Fear of the Lord
Fear of the Lord means understanding and respecting the utter greatness and awesomeness of our Lord. Fear can have a bad connotation, but this gift is really getting at awe or, rather, a fear of offending God out of love as opposed to fearing God because He might punish us. Everything that we are is the result of God’s love and grace, and the right response to this is the gift of holy awe (or fear). Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, bringing us back to our first gift in a type of continuous circle.
All seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are related and inspire each other toward holiness in our recovery and spiritual journey. So, having received these gifts, let us nourish them within us by keeping our hearts and minds on God as we continue on our recovery and spiritual journeys.
Aaron Walter is a lifelong Catholic and former porn addict whose ministry, NewMenRising, is dedicated to pornography addiction recovery. He is a coach, mentor, and accountability partner and is passionate about helping husbands kick their addiction and transform their lives and relationships. You can connect with him at calendly.com/aaronwaltercoachingsessions.