Week after Pentecost
A great favour destined by the Holy Spirit for the soul that is faithful is the gift of wisdom, which is superior to that of understanding. The two are, however, connected together, inasmuch as the object shown by the gift of understanding, is held and relished by the gift of wisdom. When the psalmist invites us to draw nigh to God, he bids us relish our sovereign good: ‘Taste’, says he, ‘and see that the Lord is sweet!’ Holy Church prays for us, on the day of Pentecost, that we may relish what is right and just (recta sapere), because the union of the soul with God is rather an experience or tasting, than a sight, for such sight would be incompatible with our present state. The light given by the gift of understanding is not intuitive; it gladdens the soul, and gives her an instinctive tendency to the truth; but its own final perfection depends upon its union with wisdom, which is, as it were, its end. Understanding, therefore, is light; wisdom is union.
This gift of the Holy Spirit raises the soul to a still higher state. The five other gifts all tend to action. The fear of God keeps man in his right place, for it humbles him; godliness opens his heart to holy affections; knowledge enables him to discern the path of salvation from that of perdition; fortitude arms him for the battle; counsel directs him in his thoughts and works: thus gifted, he can act, and, pursue his journey with the sure hope of coming at length to his heavenly home. But the Holy Spirit has other favours in store for him. He would give him a foretaste, here below, of the happiness that awaits him in the next life: it will give him confidence, it will encourage him, it will reward his efforts. Contemplation –this is the blissful region thrown open to him, and the Holy Spirit leads him thither by the gift of understanding.
We know how necessary for the sanctification of a Christian is the gift of fortitude; but it is not sufficient; there is need of another gift, which completes it. This other gift is Counsel. Fortitude needs direction. The gift of knowledge is not the guide of fortitude, and for this reason: knowledge teaches the soul her last end, and gives her general rules for her conduct; but it does not bring her light sufficient for the special application of God’s law to particular cases, and for the practical doing of her duty. In those varied circumstances in which we are to be placed, and in the decisions we must then form, we shall have to hearken to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and this voice speaks to us through the gift of counsel. It will tell us, if we are attentive to its speaking, what we must do and what we must not do, what we must say and what we must not say, what we may keep and what we must give up. The Holy Spirit acts upon our understanding by the gift of counsel, as He acts upon our will by the gift of fortitude.
The gift of knowledge teaches us what we must do and what we must avoid, in order that we may be such as Jesus, our divine Master, wishes us to be. We now need another gift of the Holy Spirit, from which to draw the energy necessary for persevering in the way He has pointed out to us. Difficulties we are sure to have; and our need of support is proved enough by the miserable failures we are daily witnessing. This support the Holy Spirit grants us by the gift of fortitude, which, if we but faithfully use it, will enable us to master every difficulty, yea, will make it easy for us to overcome the obstacles which would impede our onward march. When the difficulties and trials of life come upon him, man is tempted, sometimes to cowardice and discouragement, sometimes to an impetuosity which arises either from his natural temperament or from pride. These are poor aids to the soul in her spiritual combat. The Holy Spirit, therefore, brings her a new element of strength: it is supernatural fortitude, which is so peculiarly His gift, that when our Saviour instituted the seven sacraments, He would have one of them be for the special object of giving us the Holy Spirit as a principle of energy.
Detached from evil by the fear of the Lord, and ennobled with holy love by the gift of godliness, the soul feels the want of knowing how she is to avoid what she must fear, and how to find what she must love. The Holy Spirit comes to her assistance, and brings her what she needs, by infusing into her the gift of knowledge. By means of this precious gift, truth is made evident to her; she knows what God asks of her and what He condemns, she knows what to seek and what to shun. Without this holy knowledge, we are in danger of going astray, because of the frequent darkness which, more or less, clouds our understanding. This darkness arises, in the first place, from our own nature, which bears upon itself the but too visible proofs of the fall. It is added to by the false maxims and judgments of the world, which so often warp even those whose upright minds seemed to make them safe. And lastly, the action of satan, who is the prince of darkness, has this for one of its chief aims: to obscure our mind, or tomislead it by false lights. The light of our soul is faith, which was infused into us at our Baptism. By the gift of knowledge, the Holy Spirit empowers our faith to elicit rays of light strong enough to dispel all darkness.
The gift of the fear of God is intended as a cure for our pride; the gift of godliness is infused into our souls by the Holy Spirit, in order that we may resist self-love, which is one of the passions of our fallen nature, and the second hindrance to our union with God. The heart of a Christian is not made to be either cold or indifferent; it must be affectionate and devoted; otherwise, it can never attain the perfection for which God, who is love, has graciously created it. The Holy Spirit, therefore, puts the gift of godliness into the soul, by inspiring her with a filial affection for her Creator. “You have received, says the apostle, the Spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry to our God, Abba! Father!” This disposition makes the soul alive to whatsoever regards God’s honour.
Pride is the obstacle to man’s virtue and well being. It is pride that leads us to resist God, to make self our last end, in a word, to work our own ruin. Humility alone can save us from this terrible danger. Who will give us humility? The Holy ; and this by infusing into us the gift of the fear of God. This holy sentiment is based on the following truths, which are taught us by faith: the sovereign majesty of God, in comparison with whom we are mere nothingness; the infinite sanctity of that God, in whose presence we are but unworthiness and sin; the severe and just judgment we are to go through after death; the danger of falling into sin, which may be our misfortune at any time, if we do not correspond to grace, for although grace He never wanting, yet we have it in our power to resist it.