«Father Peter John Cameron, O.P. The Knights of Columbus presents The Veritas Series “Proclaiming the Faith in the Third Millennium” The Gifts of ...»
Such divine assistance is sorely needed in our life of faith. Left to itself, our weak and sinful human will is all too inclined to retreat from following the guidance of reason and conscience. Whenever our will is hindered from obeying the dictates of right reason (because, for instance, what we know is good and right has some difficult or unpleasant features), Fortitude steps in to remove that obstacle.
- 20 Courage, therefore, helps our wills to conform rightly to reason. In the face of the greatest evils, Courage preserves the attachment of the human will to what is truly good.
In a particular way, Fortitude is concerned with the fear and difficulty of death. Giving up one’s life is indeed the greatest challenge to courage. The Gift of Fortitude, however, enables us to repulse whatever makes steadfastness outstandingly difficult—especially dangers to our bodily life. In this regard, Fortitude does more than restrain our fear. Rather, Fortitude guides us to attack our goal—our “high calling from Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14)—in a manner that is supernaturally confident and calculated. God himself secures us, through Fortitude, with confidence in his power to see us through all difficulties and to secure the ultimate blessings of heaven.
So often in life we fret and get frustrated about our lack of patience.
Saint Thomas points out that patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Fortitude. Thus the true remedy for our impatience does not within ourselves, but with God. That power, given in Fortitude, makes it possible for us to endure and persevere through all difficulties, great and small, through the guidance and confidence communicated to us by the Spirit.
Similarly, long-suffering—the ability to persevere in the midst of prolonged challenges—is a fruit of this spiritual Gift. Fortitude brings us a spirit of special forbearance in good, but taxing, works. It enables us to continue and remain constant in the performance of strenuous tasks.
Saint Thomas relates the Beatitude of “hungering and thirsting for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6) to the Spirit’s Gift of Fortitude. Saint Augustine held that courage befits those who thirst because the thirsty work hard to do whatever they need to do to get the drink that will satisfy their thirst. In the same way, the courageous work hard and apply themselves in their longing for the joy they know they will receive once they achieve their goal. This is so much the case that the courageous are eager even to divert their affection from legitimate earthly comforts and delights. They sacrifice and deprive themselves, undeterred by what they suffer. It is the gift of Fortitude that fills us with that insatiable longing
- 21 that bolsters and empowers us to counter the evils and to press on in the virtuous actions which lead us to God and to heaven.
The Gospel teachings of Jesus assert that, in the Providence of God, adversity is necessary in this present life. The Lord’s own Passion is the greatest testimony to this truth. The Spirit’s Gift of Fortitude does not abolish or deny this challenge, but it does makes us bold and confident in facing it. As Saint Thomas says, Fortitude supplies the “bread of confidence” that remains even in the future. And that is why the Gift of Fortitude accompanies us into the life of glory. For in heaven, the act of courage is the enjoyment of utter freedom from toils and evils.
The Gift of Counsel As we noted above in our discussion of the Gift of Knowledge, we human beings are rational creatures. Typically, our actions follow some degree of forethought and consideration. We ponder and mull, study, muse and ruminate. We seek out expert opinions, rely on others’ experiences, and compare present options with choices of the past. All of this reasoned inquiry so characteristic of thinking, self-reflective beings can be referred to as “taking counsel.” The Holy Spirit recognizes and esteems this most human dynamic, and tailors to our way of thinking a special Gift that deepens and perfects the human power of deliberation. Such is the divine Gift of Counsel. The Gift of Counsel renders us sensitive to the movement of the Holy Spirit in a manner supremely compatible and congenial to the deliberating way that we become motivated to act.
The human person stands in a constant state of searching. The Catechism tells us that “only in God will man find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.... He cannot live fully according to the truth unless he freely acknowledges God’s love and entrusts himself to his Creator.” In our searching, we need the invaluable guidance—the advice or “counsel”—of God, who knows all things.
Such direction comes to us from heaven through the Spirit’s Gift of Counsel, whereby we are guided by the very advice of God. Saint Thomas
- 22 Aquinas compares it to the experience of those involved in human affairs who lack what they need to work things out for themselves. In such a case, we simply turn to those more suitably qualified in order to benefit from their wisdom and expertise. The divine gift of counsel so moves us to avail ourselves of the guiding insights and direction of the Holy Spirit.
The Gift of Counsel remains highly specific and practical in its orientation. It is given for the sake of our guidance to a very particular end or goal. And what is the end that determines the operation of Counsel?
The Gift of Counsel does not bring us assistance in worldly affairs. Rather, this Gift makes us responsive to the enlightenment of God in everything that pertains to the goal of eternal life. All those who are friends of God by grace can expect this benefit of being counseled by God about what we need to do in matters necessary for salvation.
The Gift of Counsel corresponds intrinsically to the moral virtue known as prudence—the master virtue, which is the habit of recognizing the good and charting the right course to its attainment. Prudence, like the Gift of Counsel, is ordered to the achievement of what is specific and particular. Counsel, then, perfects prudence in regard to the ultimate goal of eternal life. It complements and perfects prudence by introducing the judgment and advice of God himself—and thus, enlightened by Counsel, prudence welcomes the practical guidance of God and is conformed to the excellence of divine wisdom.
In the operation of Counsel the Holy Spirit upholds and ennobles our dignity as human persons by assisting us in a manner consonant with our natural way of thinking and acting. Rather than overriding or confounding us, the Spirit safeguards and enlightens our minds in a manner that promotes our human liberty. By enlivening our prudence with Counsel, the Holy Spirit opens our minds to heed God’s own perfect prudence. Our minds are then enlightened without violence, so that supernatural guidance is assimilated within the natural process of human consideration.
The Gift of Counsel bears very practical consequences, for Counsel keeps us from foolishness and from impetuosity (acting without thinking).
- 23 By endowing the soul with divinely shaped reasoning, Counsel saves us from the risks of hasty, rash, and ill-formed practical judgments on our way to eternal life. It protects us from our impulsive and precipitous ways.
The Gift of Counsel preserves us from recklessness, and guides our practical actions in the way of the soundest judgment.
It is also highly significant that the Gift of Counsel liberates us from the trap of self-reliance. We are indeed only too-strongly inclined to depend on ourselves and our own resources in the pursuit of our goals.
Such radical individualism prevents us becoming truly mature persons and ensnares us an illusion of self-sufficiency. In reality, of course, maturity always involves a dynamic of mutual, life-giving interdependence, while recognizing our constant, fundamental, and very urgent practical need for God lies at the very root of the life of faith. Saint Thomas notes that even the angels in heaven consult God regarding their duties as our protectors and guardians. The all-wise prompting they receive from God also come from the Spirit, through a Gift of Counsel perfectly suited to the angelic intelligences. If the angels in all their power and holiness stand in need of God’s practical advice, how much more do we who are ignorant, weak and still on our trial.
The Gift of Counsel is of particular importance for our cooperation with the Lord in the workings of his Providence for others. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, God “wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular ‘talents’ share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods.” Through the generosity to which we are lead by the Spirit of Counsel, this Gift effectively works to weave the very fabric of the Church.
The Lord once spoke to Saint Catherine of Siena in these words: “I have given many gifts and graces, both spiritual and temporal, with such diversity that I have not given everything to one single person.... I have willed that one should need another and that all should be my ministers in distributing the graces and gifts they have received from me.” The Gift of Counsel insures that that divine distribution will continually take place according to God’s plan in a manner that provides for our cooperation in the sharing of God’s blessings.
- 24 In light of Counsel’s connection with the workings of Providence, Saint Thomas Aquinas relates the Gift of Counsel to the beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful” (Matthew 5:7). Aquinas observes that Counsel will inevitably guide us to pardon others, since to pardon and give mercifully to others is, by grace, the remedy for all the spiritual ills of our life. The supernaturally merciful are invariably guided by Counsel, since God who opens our hearts to clemency also directs the exercise of that virtue through his Gifts.
The Gift of Counsel remains with us after death as a necessary element of the life of glory. Saint Thomas notes that even in the blessed there are some acts to be done that are ordered to an end, such as giving praise to God, or drawing others to the destination they have attained.
Such are the ministry of the angels and the prayers of the saints. The Gift of Counsel plays its role in such activities by shaping them according to what God knows is best. Of course, in heaven our need for Counsel does not arise from doubt—rather it is an effect of our complete attention to God and our total reliance on his loving wisdom.
The Gift of Understanding So much of the sorrow we experience seems to be caused by a lack of understanding. We feel grief and may suffer injury when others misunderstand our intentions, words, or deeds. That grief is complicated by the fact that we, in turn, often find it difficult or impossible to understand the actions of others. But the understanding we seek is not limited to what we say and do. We deeply feel the need for others to understand us “for who we are.” That is, we long for others to know us in an all-embracing way that includes a profound appreciation of our unique identity.
In fact, because we have been created for and ordained to supernatural happiness, we remain ever restless and unfulfilled unless we reach beyond ourselves to certain deeper and ineffable truths. Yet we are not alone in our desire to understand and to be understood. God also wants to be understood—by us! And so he blesses us through the Holy Spirit with the Gift of Understanding, to endows us with a certain, intimate knowledge of himself.
- 25 Saint Thomas Aquinas observes that human knowledge starts from the outside through our interaction with the things around us via the five senses.
However, the natural light of understanding that we possess bears only limited power. In terms of comprehension, it can carry us just so far.
Therefore, we require a supernatural light capable of piercing the boundaries restricting natural light so as to give us access to a knowledge we could never otherwise reach on our own. Such is the Spirit’s Gift of Understanding.
This divine Understanding implies a certain excellence of knowledge by inward penetration. Saint Thomas notes that the main purpose of this Gift is to effect in the believer a spiritual sureness of faith.
The function of the Gift of Understanding, then, is to enable us to see into the meaning—the core and inner truth—of the principles of what we know in the life of grace.