Wisdom and understanding

During the Easter season at daily and Sunday Masses we hear proclaimed (even if only via television or the Internet) the Acts of the Apostles, which chronicle how the early Church was able to grow through the working of the Holy Spirit, Who enabled the Apostles and others to be bold in their proclamation of the Good News of the Risen Christ to all the world (if this were not so, we would not be Christians now).

The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” notes, “The moral life of Christians is sustained by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying Divine inspirations” (#1830-1831).

This docility does not mean that the early Christians in Acts were puppets. Rather, they found joy in having more strength to fight their sinful inclinations and live out the image of God in which they were created and redeemed.

During the seven weeks of the Easter season many people, especially those of Portuguese origin, pray to the Holy Spirit, asking for Him to help them live better His gifts, which they received in their Baptisms and Confirmations. It might be good for us to look at these gifts relative to the crisis we are currently facing.

In 2014 Pope Francis gave a series of talks at his Wednesday audiences about these gifts. On April 9 he spoke about wisdom: “It is not simply human wisdom, which is the fruit of knowledge and experience. In the Bible we are told that Solomon had asked for the gift of wisdom (cf. 1 Kings 3:9). And wisdom is precisely this: it is the grace of being able to see everything with the eyes of God. Sometimes we see things according to our liking or according to the condition of our heart, with love or with hate, with envy. No, this is not God’s perspective. Wisdom is what the Holy Spirit works in us so as to enable us to see things with the eyes of God.”

If we have the Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom, we can take stock of the current world situation, and our own personal role in it, from the Divine point of view, instead of our own. This takes Spiritual effort. Pope Francis said that “this comes from intimacy with God, from the intimate relationship we have with God, from the relationship children have with their Father. When we are in communion with the Lord, the Holy Spirit transfigures our heart and enables it to perceive all of His warmth and predilection. The Holy Spirit thus makes the Christian ‘wise.’ Not in the sense that he has an answer for everything, but in the sense that he knows how God acts, he knows when something is of God and when it is not of God; he has this wisdom which God places in our hearts.” Many times in the Old and New Testaments God corrected people who saw things not as God sees them, but as humans see them.

Regarding Christians who live this gift of wisdom, Pope Francis said, “Everything in them speaks of God and becomes a beautiful and living sign of His presence and of His love. And this is something that we cannot invent, that we cannot obtain by ourselves: it is a gift that God gives to those who make themselves docile to the Holy Spirit.” It is a blessing to know people like this — and a blessing to be a person like this.

The next gift is that of understanding. The Holy Father discussed it on April 30, 2014: “We are not dealing here with human understanding, with the intellectual prowess. Rather, it is a grace which only the Holy Spirit can infuse and which awakens in a Christian the ability to go beyond the outward appearance of reality and to probe the depths of the thoughts of God and His plan of Salvation. The Apostle Paul describes the effects of this: ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him, God has revealed to us through the Spirit’ (1 Cor 2:9-10). This of course does not mean that a Christian can comprehend all things and have full knowledge of the designs of God: all of this waits to be revealed in all its clarity once we stand in the sight of God and are truly one with Him. However, as the very word suggests, understanding allows us to ‘intus legere,’ or ‘to read inwardly’: this gift enables us to understand things as God understands them, with the mind of God. For one can understand a situation with human understanding, with prudence, and this is good. But to understand a situation in depth, as God understands it, is the effect of this gift, with which the Holy Spirit introduces us into intimacy with God and makes us sharers in the plan of love which He has for us.”

“When the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and enlightens our minds, He makes us grow day by day in the understanding of what the Lord has said and accomplished. Jesus Himself told His disciples: ‘I will send you the Holy Spirit and He will enable you to understand all that I have taught you:’ To understand the teachings of Jesus, to understand His Word, to understand the Gospel, to understand the Word of God. One can read the Gospel and understand something, but if we read the Gospel with this gift of the Holy Spirit, we can understand the depths of God’s words.”

For an example, Pope Francis discussed the incident on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35), “which aptly expresses the depths and power of this gift.” After describing the initial encounter between the sad disciples and the Risen Jesus, the pope noted that “When, however, the Lord explains the Scriptures to them so that they might understand that He had to suffer and die in order then to Rise again, their minds are opened and hope is rekindled in their hearts. And this is what the Holy Spirit does with us: He opens our minds, He opens us to understand better the things of God, human things, situations, all things.” Many of us today may feel despondent as those disciples did, feeling as if we are going through a long Good Friday. This gift of understanding can help us have more perspective — which does not mean having a “Pollyanna” approach (since there are great tragedies happening all around us), but it does mean understanding them from the perspective of the Crucified and Risen Christ. 

(We will continue this meditation on the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our next edition.)



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