The Rosary Light & Life - Vol 66, No 3, May-June 2012
The Gifts of the Spirit: VII
By Father Reginald Martin, O.P.
A Word about Words
One of the difficulties we encounter when we begin to
take theology seriously is the technical vocabulary of our
subject. Every science has its own vocabulary, but we
soon discover that our Church's theology, rather than using
unfamiliar words, employs familiar words, but in unfamiliar
ways. In our reflection on the gifts of the Spirit we have
seen this several times already; "fear" is, perhaps, the
most obvious example. In our everyday life, fear is the
reasonable aversion we feel in the face of danger.
In our theology, however, fear is something entirely
different, and we have discovered it to be the source of
strength that enables us to assign money, public honor,
and even personal relations their proper place in our
lives. Genuine, theological fear is the sign of love that
characterizes our union with God when it is purified of
mere dread that we will be punished for misbehavior.
The Example of Wisdom
In this final reflection on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
we will consider the Gift of Wisdom, which one spiritual
writer calls "the greatest gift." Here, too, our vocabulary
betrays us. We shall discover, perhaps to our surprise,
that spiritual wisdom is not the wisdom we commonly
associate with intelligence, study, and the ability to
apply the fruits of our hard work to concrete problems.
Rather, the Wisdom that will be the subject of our
present investigation is faith made perfect, the intellect
guided directly by the Holy Spirit to gain entry into
the very life of God. This is the gift that allows us to
penetrate what our author, Fr. Vonier, names "all the
wonderful intimacies of God with [us], all the mystical
nuptials of the saints, all the woundings of their hearts
through the arrow of divine love...." (The Spirit and the Bride,
P. 190) This is what St. Paul revels in when he cries out,
in his Letter to the Romans, "O the depths of the riches
of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!" (Rom. 11:33)
Wisdom and Fear
Wisdom bears the same relation to the Spirit's
intellectual gifts that the Fear of the Lord bears to the
gifts of the will. In fact, the two are related, as the
Book of Proverbs suggests, when it claims, "The fear of
the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom." (Prov. 1.7) As our
comments unfold, we shall see that as Fear grows to
become the child's pure love of a loving Father, this love
grows until words and images are no longer necessary,
and our soul stands, at last, in utter silence before God.
Wisdom and Love
The difficulty, of course, is that while we long to see
God as He is, our love is limited and bound by everything
that holds us firmly here - as creatures - on earth. The
gifts of knowledge and understanding purify our faith
and lead us to a greater and greater certitude about
God. To our immense delight, this increases our longing
to love Him, and the more we love Him, the more we
discover to know about Him. Knowledge increases our
certitude, but - sadly - it can do nothing to satisfy our
longing to embrace the object of our love.
The Dominican theologian, H.D. Gardeil, who has
been our companion throughout these reflections of the
Spirit's gifts, paints a dramatic and poignant picture of
the soul's yearning to see the God it was created to love.
Even now, charity is already made for heaven,
proportioned to heaven, proportioned to God seen
face to face, in all his ravishing beauty, It has
infinite sources of strength which it cannot put into
action here on hearth, even with the aid of the
gifts of knowledge and understanding. The terms
in which we think of God are terms of creatures,
limited, finite. Now the charity of earth would see
the infinite God as he is infinite, and yet it knows
him in such an imperfect way....
Our charity desires then, that God be shown to it
face to face. Faith...however secure it may be,
cannot thus show him. From this fact there is in
charity a breadth of love which is not satisfied.
Consequently, charity remains unsatiated, so long
as it simply follows faith, even though enlightened
by the gifts which give it strength, removing
obstacles and placing its object in the full light.
What then shall charity do, imprisoned by faith?
(H.D. Gardeil, The Holy Spirit in Christian Life, pp. 132-3)
Wisdom the Liberator
We can hardly imagine more vivid imagery, but
Fr. Gardeil employs an even stronger metaphor when
he speaks of the soul's desire to be "free from this
restraint, this strait-jacket of faith." The soul's liberator,
he says, is the Holy Spirit. Encountering who and what
the Spirit is, is what so ravished St. Paul. The same
Spirit dwells within us, and He offers us, no less than
St. Paul or any of the other saints, the same capacity
to grasp who He is. The means by which we do so is
the Gift of Wisdom. Thus, Fr. Gardeil concludes,
The inspiration of wisdom is nothing less than
a movement of the Holy Spirit through which he
communicates to us by way of the heart, as it
were, an experience of the heavenly vision. (p. 133)
What the Gift of Wisdom enables us to see is God Himself,
the object of our faith. But we do not see with our physical
eyes, or with our intellect. The Spirit's gift of sight is a gift
that enlightens the heart. To be sure, this experience is
limited by all the limitations of our humanity, so it can be no
more than a foretaste or "preview" of what we look forward
to enjoying fully in heaven, but it is an experience that soars
above anything else we can know, understand or feel of or
about God while we are still on earth.
The Silence of Love
We might imagine that such an encounter would
invite us to bring forward all our expressions of love, all
our concerns for ourselves and those we love, all our
prayers for the salvation and well-being of the world.
But, on the contrary, we are assured by the saints who
have enjoyed this vision, that the only response is one
of awed silence in which we are aware of nothing but
God's presence and our complete nothingness.
There is no more than adoration, an amen; a
moment of losing oneself in God. For the time
being, one puts aside all definite concepts, even
those which have brought one to this state....
That is as far as the spirit of wisdom can lead us. It
lasts for an instant. It is a fleeting stealing of our heart,
a flight of the spirit, a swift soaring. We fall again very
soon on to the earth of faith. Then we begin again.
As St. Francis of Sales says, we land on the soil of
faith, we revive ourselves with some good thought,
we gain strength to take off once more. (p. 135)
Wisdom and Prayer
This is not, our author reminds us, the ecstatic rapture of
the mystics, which is altogether the result of God's initiative.
It is, however, as close to this state as we can come by our
own effort. Faith, assisted by knowledge and understanding,
reveals God to us and removes our doubts. But it does
so through words and images, and these are a constant
reminder of the distance between God and us. Wisdom,
by contrast, enables us to leave the images behind, and to
bow in loving silence before the God who calls to us in love.
St. Thomas Aquinas warns
Some, however, receive a higher degree of the gift
of wisdom, both as to the contemplation of Divine
things (by both knowing more exalted mysteries
and being able to impart this knowledge to others)
and as to the direction of human affairs according
to Divine rules... (ST, II-II, 45.5)
But our modern Dominican guide stresses that the
Gift of Wisdom is given to each of us at Baptism. Not
equally, to be sure - what gifts, talents, or capabilities
are given equally? But each of us enjoys the possibility,
to the extent of our own capacities, to enjoy this
experience. Fr. Gardeil explains that although the
encounter with God that the Gift of Wisdom equips us
to enjoy is not the extraordinary, ecstatic experience of
the contemplative saints. It is within the grasp of every
person in the state of grace, and he suggests that we
may have approached it unaware.
At certain moments, have we not experienced
this kind of annihilation of ourselves before God,
present in our interior soul. Perhaps on the
occasion of a Communion? Then the presence of
our Lord is close...God was there, and not seeking
to understand more, we prostrate ourselves in a
close sense of his immediate presence, and by the
attitude of our mind and the power of our charity,
we have made contact with this God.
These things do happen, but it is with difficulty
that we perceive their value, their dignity and
their normal existence in our life; we do not attach
much importance to them. We say truly, 'This is
a grace'... We add, 'It must be God who puts me
in this state.' He will do so, but we must prepare
ourselves for such a great favour.' (p.139)
Wisdom and Peace
One of the maxims of our faith teaches us that gifts
are never given just to enrich the individual to whom
they are given; rather, they are given to enrich the entire
Church. Such is the case with the Gift of Wisdom.
Although it immeasurably increases our love for God,
and our awareness of God's love for us, the gift does
not cease with the awareness. St. Thomas draws a
connection between the Gift of Wisdom and the beatitude
promising a blessing to those who are peacemakers,
...a peacemaker is one who make peace, either
in himself, or in others; and in both cases this
is the result of setting in due order those things
in which peace is established, for peace is the
tranquility of order, according to Augustine...
Now it belongs to wisdom to set things in order...
wherefore peaceableness is fittingly ascribed to
wisdom. The reward is expressed in the words,
they shall be called the children of God, Now men
are called the children of God in so far as they
participate in the likeness of the natural and onlybegotten
Son of God...Who is Wisdom begotten.
Hence, by participating in the gift of wisdom [we
attain] to the sonship of God. (ST, II-II, 45.6)
The Purification of Wisdom
Cardinal Manning, whom we have quoted throughout
these reflections, gives a concrete example of the Gift
of Wisdom in action. He writes that Wisdom purifies
charity, ordering it so that we first love God, then
ourselves, then our neighbor. He adds that the Gift of
Wisdom is the source of our mental prayer.
If you find it hard to meditate, you may know
the reason. The gift of wisdom is in some way
hindered. But this gift is not to be obtained by
eager poring over books, nor by the stretch and
strain of the imagination or of the intellect. It is
the gentle and calm contemplation of God and His
truth...If you wish to learn the habit of meditation,
unite your heart with God humbly and patiently,
sitting, as it were, at the feet of God, and looking
into His face. (Internal Mission of the Holy Ghost, p. 298)
And he comments that "There are some among us
who have a greater facility in acquiring the gift of wisdom
than others." These are, he says, children and the poor.
Children because they have not had the chance to sin;
the poor because Wisdom casts out pride, and makes us
realize our nothingness in comparison to God. The Gift
of Fear gives us the opportunity to cultivate the hearts
of children; the Spirit's Gift of Wisdom opens our ears
to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. "Blessed are the poor,"
He tells us, "Theirs is the kingdom of heaven." These
words are an invitation to cultivate a spirit of voluntary
poverty in which we realize that we need to be nothing
because God is "all in all."
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