The Gift of Understanding

Novena to the Holy Spirit (Introduction+Nine Days)

Day Six-Wednesday of the 7th week of Easter

A few days ago I remarked that the gift of Holy Fear has two aspects. First was the grasp of divine reality that 'God exists' (in his own words "I AM"); and that He is Good and Holy. The second or resulting gift was the desire not to offend God or injure our relationship. The connection between the two aspects is linked by the 'gift of understanding'.

In the last reflection we saw how Peter acquired the 'knowledge' of Jesus as the Messiah. He 'knows' but he doesn't yet 'understand' what that means. In fact, his actions from that point until Pentecost demonstrate this. Consider how he reacts to the Lord's arrest with his outburst of violence; his later panic, fear and threefold denial. Even his experience of the Risen Christ and his dialogue with him on the beach 'Do you love me Peter', 'Yes you know I love you Lord'. All of this is his 'continuing formation' which is culminated on the Feast of Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit to 'rest' upon him and the others. NOW he understands. HERE is where he can say who Jesus really is and what he now must do.

Understanding is where 'knowledge' springs to life and leaps for joy. How often have we claimed to 'know' the Lord or some important 'truth of our Faith', but have done nothing to put that knowledge into action. 'Understanding' is the animating portion of 'knowledge': it is its 'soul'. Understanding not only enlightens our knowledge of positives: but negatives too. Sometimes the gift of understanding can bring remorse of the past or the call for drastic change: something called repentance. Knowledge of our sin can be sterile if we don't understand its meaning. When we've experienced 'a surge of guilt' regarding our sinful behavior then we have felt the presence of 'the gift of understanding'. But whatever the emotion involved, 'understanding' is a 'transformation' of a mere fact into a realization.

Let me insert a caveat: We can't run away from the duty to obey a commandment of God simply because we don't understand it. In fact, our faith might be strengthened as we carry on without a clear understanding. But in general, God will give us 'the gift of understanding' as it is required if we desire it and ask with humility.

We desire understanding when our previous grasp of knowledge or some 'Truth of our Faith' is challenged and seems inadequate. It could be a troubling passage of scripture that doesn't seem to make any sense or contradicts our current understanding. It could be a Church teaching that is quite well known but difficult to follow. We might grip our teeth and carry on with 'Fortitude' but the 'gift of understanding' will make any of our difficulties lighter.

As in all of these gifts, it's important to recall that they are being given to 'move the mission' of the Church. It's not about obtaining divine consolation as spiritual reward. Again that is for the next life. But this 'gift of understanding' is to help the 'soldier Christian' grow in maturity and enter into the task of evangelization.

Reflection questions: Can you recall a 'transforming experience' when something that you previously knew was 'true' now became animated with meaning? Can you name some articles of our Faith or some Church teachings that require greater understanding on your part?

Come Holy Spirit; fill the hearts of your faithful people. Enkindle in us the fire of your divine love.

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