What is the Gift of Piety?

In the last issue, Straight Answers reflected on the gift of the Holy Spirit identified as fear of the Lord. Recall that fear of the Lord is a profound reverence for Almighty God, which motivates us to avoid sin and attachment to all created things. Here a person realizes his “creatureliness” and dependency upon God has a true “poverty of spirit,” and never would want to be separated from God, who is love. As such, this gift arouses in the soul a vibrant sense of adoration and reverence for God and a sense of horror and sorrow for sin.

Now we address the gift of piety. Remember Pope St. Gregory taught, “Through fear of the Lord, we rise to piety.” The basic definition is “to give filial worship to God precisely as our Father and to relate with all people as children of the same Father.” Here a person shows reverence for God as a loving Father, and respects others as children of God precisely because that is what we all are.

We must not forget that through baptism, we have been reborn as a child of God. St. Paul taught, “All who are led by the spirit of God are sons of God. You did not receive a spirit of slavery leading you back into fear, but a spirit of adoption through which we cry out, ‘Abba!’ (that is, ‘Father’). The Spirit himself gives witness with our spirit that we are children of God. But if we are children, we are heirs as well: heirs of God, heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with Him so as to be glorified with Him,” (Rom 8:14-17). To appreciate this teaching, remember that “abba” is the diminutive, familiar word of the more formal father; a better translation might be “daddy.” The same holds for the “Our Father,” whereby Jesus Himself taught us to pray, addressing His Father as “Abba.”

Another point is that when St. Paul refers to us as “sons,” he is not being discriminatory. Rather, he is emphasizing that each baptized person enters into a graced relationship with God, like the relationship between the Father and the Son.

The gift of piety fosters the following spiritual dispositions: first, filial respect for God as a loving Father; second, a generous and childlike love, so that a person wants to please God, even if it means making sacrifices; and third, a loving obedience toward the teachings and commandments, respecting them as expressions of God’s love for us. As such, a person approaches prayer or worship at Mass not as a task or burden but as an act of joyful love; a person adheres to the commandments and teachings of the Church — as difficult as it may be at the time, given “popular” opinion — because he knows they express God’s truth and therefore show the way to eternal life. Immediately, we can see why fear of the Lord and piety are so closely linked.

Piety also makes us love and have affection for “God’s friends” — the Blessed Mother Mary, the saints and the angels; or “God’s representatives” who exercise His authority — the Holy Father, the bishop, or parents; or “God’s treasures” — the Bible, the church, or blessed religious objects. Concerning piety toward God’s treasures, as a child, I was taught to kiss the Bible and the crucifix, to bow my head at the name of Jesus, to be quiet and respectful in God’s house, and to avoid walking on blessed graves — all acts of piety.

As such, the gift of piety perfects the virtue of justice, enabling the individual to fulfill his obligations to God and neighbor, and to do so willingly and joyfully. With piety, the person is not only motivated by the requirements of strict justice but also by the loving relationship he shares with his neighbor. Simply, a person wants to do what is right in the eyes of God. A person thereby should have a respectful obedience to lawful superiors, as well as a humble respect for peers and subordinates. For example, Blessed Teresa of Kolkata always taught her sisters to treat those they cared for as though they were caring for Jesus Himself, and to do so with a joyful heart and with a smile.

The best way to cultivate the gift of piety is to pray the Our Father with reverence and devotion, taking time to meditate on the different petitions. A worthwhile endeavor is to read Catechism of the Catholic Church’s explication on the Our Father, (CCC, Nos. 2759- 2865). As the catechism notes, in this prayer one finds “the summary of the whole Gospel.”

A second way is to sanctify our work, meaning to be mindful that whatever we do can be made into an offering to the Lord, whether out of pure devotion, or for the poor souls in purgatory, or the reparation for our own sins. Again, as a child, I remember the sisters at St. Bernadette School saying, “Offer it up,” when we kids would complain about the heat or something else. Now as an adult, when I empty the dishwasher — which I detest — I always say to myself, “Lord, this is for the poor souls.” Piety truly can help us endure the most distasteful of tasks. Where there is love, there is no labor.

In summary, Pope Francis taught, “Piety, therefore, is synonymous of authentic religious spirit, filial confidence in God, of the capacity to pray to Him with love and simplicity which is proper of persons who are humble of heart. The gift of piety makes us grow in our relation and communion with God and leads us to live as His children; at the same time it helps us to pour this love also on others and to recognize them as brothers.”