[Station at St. Lawrence outside the Walls.]
This is the second of the three days’ Fast prescribed for this week. Tomorrow is the day for the Ordination of the Priests and other sacred Ministers. Now is a good time for us to redouble our efforts to obtain from God that the abundance of his grace may be in keeping with the sacred and ever-abiding Character, which the Divine Spirit is to imprint on these aspirants to Holy Orders.
At today’s stational Church, the bodies of St. Philip and St. James the Less lie in repose. This allusion to the favored ones of the Cenacle is most appropriate, because they were the first guests of the Holy Ghost.
The Gift of Understanding
The sixth Gift of the Holy Ghost raises the soul to a still higher state. The first five 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; and 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 Ghost has other favors in store for him. He gives him a foretaste of the happiness that awaits him in the next life: it gives him confidence, encourages him, and rewards his efforts. Contemplation—this is the blissful region now open to him, and the Holy Ghost leads him there by the gift of Understanding.
There will be a feeling of surprise and hesitation arising in the minds of many at hearing the word Contemplation. They have been taught to look on Contemplation as an element of the spiritual life which is rarely to be hoped for, and almost impossible for people in ordinary walks of life. But that thought is a dangerous error, and one that checks the progress of the soul. No, Contemplation is a state to which, more or less, the soul of every Christian is called. It doesn’t consist in those extraordinary effects which the Holy Ghost occasionally produces in some privileged souls, and by which he would convince the world of the reality of the supernatural life. It is simply a relation of close intimacy between God and a soul that is faithful to him in Action. Unless the soul throws up an obstacle, God reserves two favors: the first is the gift of Understanding, which consists in a supernatural light granted to the mind of man.
This light does not remove the sacred obscurity of Faith, but it enlightens the eye of the soul, strengthens her perception, and widens her view of divine things. It dispels clouds, which were brought on by the earlier weakness and ignorance of the soul. The exquisite beauty of the mysteries is now revealed to her, and the truths which until then seemed unconnected now delight her by the sweetness of their harmony. It is not the face-to-face vision which heaven gives, but it is something incomparably brighter than the feeble glimmer of former days, when all was mist and doubt. The soul is as far from scrupulosity as from tepidity, and when she commits a fault, she loses no time in repairing it. Sometimes, the Holy Ghost favors her with an interior speaking, which gives her additional light for some special emergency.
The world and its values are mere vanities in her estimation, and when necessity obliges her to conform to what is not sinful in either, she does so without setting her heart upon it. To her, this outward world, which the carnal-minded man loves to his own destruction, has just one fair side: it is that the visible creation, with the imprint of God’s beauty upon it, can be turned to its Maker’s glory. She gives him thanks when she uses it; she elevates it to the supernatural order by praising, as did the Prophet, Him who shadowed the likeness of his own beauty on this world of created things, which men so often abuse to their perdition, but which were intended as so many steps to lead us to our God.
The gift of Understanding teaches the Christian a just appreciation of the state of life in which God has placed him. It shows him the wisdom and mercy of those designs of Providence which have, at times, disconcerted his own plans and led him in a direction completely opposite to his wishes. He sees that had he been left to arrange things according to his own views, he would have gone astray; whereas now, God has put him in the right place, though the workings of his Fatherly wisdom were, at first, hidden from him. If either duty or charity require him to guide others, he may safely be trusted; the gift of Understanding teaches him to see the right thing for others as well as for himself. Not that he ever intrudes his counsel upon others, or makes himself advisor-general to all around him, but if his advice is sought, he gives it, and the advice seems a reflex of the inward light that burns within him.
Such is the gift of Understanding. It is the true light of the soul, and it is weaker or stronger according to the measure of her correspondence with the other Gifts. Its safeguards are humility, restraint over the desires of the heart, and interior recollection.
It is evident from all this that the gift of Understanding is of immense importance to the salvation and sanctification of the soul. We should therefore beg it of the Holy Ghost with all the earnestness we can muster, and we must never forget that it is obtained by the longings of our love, not by any effort of the intellect: while it is the intellect that receives the light, it is the heart—the will—inflamed with love, that wins the radiant Gift. Hence that saying of Isaias (quoted from the Septuagint by several of the Greek and Latin Fathers): Unless ye Believe, ye shall not Understand! Let us, then, address ourselves to the Holy Spirit in these words of the Psalmist: Open thou our eyes, and we will consider the wondrous things of thy law! Give us understanding, and we shall live! And let us beseech him in these words of the Apostle, wherein he is praying for his Ephesians: Give us the spirit of wisdom and revelation, whereby we may have the knowledge of our God! Enlighten the eyes of our heart, that we may know what is the hope of our calling, and what the riches of the glorious inheritance prepared for the Saints!