New Gifts from the Spirit; Sins of the 21st Century Mean We Must Rethink Virtues, Including the Traditional Gifts of the Holy Spirit

By Heffern, Rich | National Catholic Reporter, May 28, 2010 | Go to article overview

New Gifts from the Spirit; Sins of the 21st Century Mean We Must Rethink Virtues, Including the Traditional Gifts of the Holy Spirit


Heffern, Rich, National Catholic Reporter


We Catholics have new sins for the 21st century. The old sins--sloth, envy, gluttony lust, pride--have a "rather individualistic dimension," said Vatican official Msgr. Gianfranco Girotti in 2008. "The sins of today have a social resonance as well as an individual one," he said, naming new transgressions for a new age.

"You offend God not only by stealing, blaspheming or coveting your neighbor's wife," he said, "but also by ruining the environment, carrying out morally debatable scientific experiments."

Okay, but what about virtues, those qualities that strengthen and fortify us to avoid sin and do right?

Values endure but nevertheless each age probably brings its own understanding of what traditional virtues mean practically and how they help us to cope with new realities and challenges.

The church's sacrament of confirmation, for example, marks spiritual maturity, rooting us more deeply in our relationship with God. It's seen too as increasing in us the spiritual "gifts" of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, piety fortitude and fear of the Lord.

Here are those traditional Catholic gifts of the Spirit recast for today, with a similar eye toward their social and ecological resonance.

Wisdom

Defined as knowledge, experience and intuitive understanding, along with a capacity to apply these qualities well toward solutions to problems, wisdom gets short shrift in our fast-paced, information-heavy world.

A particular variety needed for the challenges ahead will be "ecological" wisdom, the recognition that human society is enmeshed in the web of nature. We've learned that attempts at dominating nature for narrow purposes lead to destructive consequences.

Aldo Leopold, a founder of the U.S. environmental movement, described an encounter he had early in his career as a hunting party he had joined brought down a wolf in the New Mexico mountains: "We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes--something known only to her and to the mountain. I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view."

Deep respect for that fierce green fire is a key element of ecological, wisdom, which can help us understand the relationships among different parts of a system, whether an old-growth forest or our own society

Insights from ecology can be extended to the folly in other forms of domination: man over woman, whites over people of color, the owning class over the working class, the United States over other nations.

Systems of domination are harmful to the ecology of nature and of society alike. We can increasingly opt for participatory nonhierarchical structures as much as possible, such as consensus decision-making and cooperative, community-based economics.

When we view the many problems facing our society today through an ecological lens, we can see that, like tree branches, they have common roots. For example, the global concentration of wealth and power in transnational corporations is a primary source of problems, including wars, environmental destruction, loss of democracy, social injustice.

Knowledge

Wisdom includes knowledge. Science, for example, has been successful in increasing knowledge with great benefit to humanity New knowledge and technological know-how increase our power to act which, though, without wisdom, may cause human suffering and death as well as benefit.

Margaret Wheatley author of Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic Word, recalled a key experience she had while sitting on an airport commuter bus and listening as the driver trained a newly hired employee.

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New Gifts from the Spirit; Sins of the 21st Century Mean We Must Rethink Virtues, Including the Traditional Gifts of the Holy Spirit
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