«Father Peter John Cameron, O.P. The Knights of Columbus presents The Veritas Series “Proclaiming the Faith in the Third Millennium” The Gifts of ...»
Thus, Understanding serves to satisfy the urgent longings of our soul by enabling us to apprehend the truth about our final end: we are called to eternal beatific communion with God. The Gift’s intellectual light of grace provides us with a right appraisal and appreciation of that ultimate end. At the same time, the special perception of the truth produced by Understanding prompts us to cleave to this end firmly as our greatest good. We come to grasp the value and importance of all things in its light.
We rely on the Holy Spirit through the Gift of Understanding to enlighten our minds to recognize the supernatural truth on which our wills should be intent. In the process, we come to see all human deeds in relation to the rule of the Eternal Law and our goal of divine communion.
The supernatural light of Understanding surpasses the range of natural reason as it endows us with the knowledge of the truth of how human acts are measured by divine law.
Herein lies the supreme value of the Gift of Understanding. For Understanding reveals to us how God’s eternal and necessary truths serve as steadfast standards for human conduct. Since the field of the Gift of Understanding extends to all interests relevant to the faith, Understanding also encompasses the good deeds we perform. Understanding enlightens us
- 26 regarding works to be done. For human actions are governed by eternal reasons. And our human reason cleaves to God’s providential reasons by contemplating and being advised by them. In this way our human reason is perfected by the Gift of Understanding so as to facilitate our ready undertaking of good deeds.
Just as all those in a state of grace possess divine Charity, so too is the Gift of Understanding theirs. God never withdraws this gift from such holy ones with respect to any matter essential to salvation. Yet, ironically, as Saint Thomas explains, in other matters, the Gift of Understanding is sometimes withdrawn in order that our inability to see clearly into all things may remove temptations to pride. In other words, God wisely protects us from the self-inflated haughtiness that comes from being a know-it-all, by making it a little more laborious for us to perceive matters of lesser importance.
In a special way, the Gift of Understanding gives us privileged access to the meaning of Sacred Scripture. For Understanding enlightens our mind regarding things we have heard. Saint Thomas recalls that graced moment of enlightenment when the Lord commissioned his apostles and “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). This Gift of Divine Understanding remains a spiritual benefit of discipleship.
At the same time, even if we occasionally lack a certain clarity and intellectual acuity regarding particular articles of faith proposed to us for our belief, we should not jump to the conclusion that Understanding has failed us. On the contrary, as believers we can with confidence understand that such articles are to be believed and not to be abandoned on account of anything else. For, as spiritual people, the ultimate authority in our life is not our unguided intellect—as brilliant and ingenious as it may seem— but the divine insight and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, shared with us in the manner and to the extent that he sees fit.
Saint Thomas relates the Spirit’s Gift of Understanding to the beatitude regarding purity of heart (Matthew 5:8). The single-hearted permit their lives to be purged of fanciful ideas and damaging errors. As a result, the truth about God proposed to the pure of heart is not received as
- 27 disguised by bodily images or heretical misrepresentations. This cleanness of reception and appropriation is the result of the Gift of Understanding.
The pure of heart are promised the reward of seeing God (Matthew 5:8). In our present pilgrim condition, the Gift of Understanding empowers us to see, not what God is, but what God is not. As Saint Thomas asserts, in this life, the better we know God the more we understand that he surpasses whatever the mind grasps. And with this “knowing ignorance,” this knowing that we do not yet fully know, comes a deep and abiding peace. However, even in heaven the Spirit’s Gift of Understanding will continue to aid our insight of the divine. For there we will enjoy the sight of the Lord and behold God’s essence in the vision of eternal beatitude.
The Gift of Wisdom Saint Thomas Aquinas, looking to the etymology (the word origins) of the term, defines Wisdom as a knowing that is “tasted.” The Gift of Wisdom is, then, a special taste for God and the truth about God that we acquire by experience through the action of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom is where Knowledge and experience coexist.
The wise person, generally speaking, is one committed to thorough, rational investigation of the ultimate cause of things. Endowed with this far-reaching consideration, the wise person then judges all other causes in life through that one ultimate cause. The wise person makes judgments with certainty in such a way that he sets all things in their proper order according to the dictates of this full and far-reaching perspective.
The Holy Spirit’s Gift of Wisdom belongs to the graced person who knows the cause that is simply the highest (the ultimate) without qualification, namely God. These persons are called wise without restriction, since they can—and do—judge and set in order all things according to God’s divine design and prerogatives. For Wisdom implies a certain rightness of judgment in contemplating and in consulting divine realities. Since truly good things have as their highest cause the sovereign good and ultimate end (God himself), the truly wise must be said to have
- 28 a certain knowing familiarity with that highest cause. And knowing It radically transforms the wise person’s life.
Through the infusion of the Holy Spirit one comes to such judgment. “The spiritual man can appraise everything.... God has revealed this wisdom to us through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:15, 10).
Unlike the acquired intellectual virtue of wisdom that comes through human effort, the Gift of Wisdom comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
At the same time, the Gift of Wisdom presupposes supernatural Faith. For this Wisdom judges things according to divine truth, while Faith grasps and assents to divine truth for itself.
We commonly describe both piety and fear as “wisdom” for good reason. Piety remains central to worship which serves to make faith manifest, especially through our prayerful profession of faith. In the same manner, piety also makes wisdom manifest. We pray what we believe, reverence, and esteem. Our piety reveals the truths, the values, the motivations that govern our life—that is, wisdom. Moreover, Fear and Wisdom share a common occupation, for, as Saint Thomas says, if a person fears and worships God he shows that he has a right judgment about divine things. That “right judgment” constitutes the Gift of Wisdom.
Wisdom brings about a right judgment concerning divine realities as well as other things in the light of divine standards by means of a certain spiritual contact and communion (a “connaturality”) with divine things.
That is to say, the Spirit’s Gift of Wisdom empowers us to judge correctly in certain matters through a certain fellowship with them, or through a specific kind of “tasting” or experience.
Wisdom is not only theoretical but practical as well. As its principal function, Wisdom first contemplates divine ideas and realities. However, in the light of this contemplation, Wisdom also directs human actions according to divine reasons. Through the act of meditation, Wisdom ponders divine things in themselves. Through the act of consultation, Wisdom makes a judgment that directs human actions according to divine directives. In this way we see how Wisdom remains both speculative and practical.
- 29 The special association and fellowship with the divine that Wisdom effects comes from the working of Charity. As a result, Wisdom cannot coexist with mortal sin. Therefore, Wisdom abides in all those who live in a state of grace, free of mortal sin. And the degree of Wisdom that inheres in us varies according to the degree of our union with divine things. Saint Thomas goes so far as to assert that even the insane who are baptized have the settled quality of the Gift of Wisdom, but not the activity of the gift, owing to physical impediment which hinders their use of reason.
In some people, the measure of contemplating divine things and of directing human affairs according to divine standards will not exceed the minimum needed for salvation. All those living in sanctifying grace without mortal sin will attain this degree. However, certain other people receive a higher degree of the Gift of Wisdom through the extraordinary graces dispensed by the Holy Spirit. These people, far advanced in contemplation and more intimately familiar with the mysteries of God, are able to communicate these truths effectively to others. Moreover, they enjoy a higher degree of Wisdom in ordering human life according to divine standards, being able to direct not only themselves but others as well. It is for this reason that Scripture advises us, “If you discover a wise man, seek him out; let your feet wear out his doorstep” (Sirach 6:36).
Saint Thomas associates Wisdom with the peacemaker of the Beatitudes. For a peacemaker is one who brings about peace in himself or in others. Since peace is not merely the absence of conflict but the tranquillity of right order (tranquilitas ordinis according to Saint Augustine’s classical definition), it is produced when one puts first things first and arranges everything in harmony with God. This is what Wisdom does. Therefore, peacemaking is well-suited to Wisdom. For, as the wise person studies and assesses the “big picture” with a zealous concern for serving and promoting priorities, for putting first things first, he at the same time establishes authentic peace through the right order his efforts produce. As the wise person considers and evaluates the many and various options before him according to the mind of God, he produces the kind of tranquillity that proceeds only from fitting all the pieces of our life into a divinely providential whole.
- 30 We can understand, then, why the Son of God identifies himself with Wisdom. Saint Thomas emphasizes that the Son is not just any word, but the Word breathing love: the Word which is a knowledge accompanied by love. Consequently the Son’s being sent is that sort of enlightening that bursts forth into love. The Son is being sent whenever someone has knowledge or perception of him. Because of this truth, through the Gift of Wisdom, we come to share in the image of Jesus. For people are called children of God as they participate in the likeness of his only begotten Son, who is Wisdom Begotten. In the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Wisdom that we receive, we enter into the state of being children of God.
THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY AND THE GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The Annunciation to Mary and the Gift of Fear of the Lord We pray and we hope that our prayers will be heard and answered.
But what would we ever do if that answer took the form of a radiant angel speaking our name in the middle of our living room? It would probably terrify us just as it apparently terrified Mary. Gabriel soothes her with the words, “Do not fear, Mary” (Luke 1:30). The archangel frees Mary from her fright so as to bless her with the holy Fear of the Lord. For the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Fear disposes us to reverence God and to be completely devoted to him. Sanctified Fear of the Lord enables the Blessed Mother to show God the same devotion that he shows to her: “O highly favored daughter! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women” (Luke 1:28).
Fear of the Lord strengthens, renews, and refashions Mary’s hope. In response to the angel’s revelations, the Blessed Mother asks: “How can this be?” In the answer Gabriel gives, powerful hope is also given as well. Fear of the Lord helps Mary—and us—to see beyond whatever we consider constraining, unlikely, or impossible in our life. It opens up for us the boundlessness of God’s mercy and providence. All the Lord asks of us to do in response is to rely utterly on his divine help. Fear of the Lord prevents us from ever disregarding God’s assistance. Holy fear reminds us how
- 31 crucial and urgent God’s interaction in our life must remain in order for us to be happy, holy, and hope-filled.