The Gift of Understanding
Presence of God – Come, O Spirit of understanding, and enlighten me!
As we advance toward God, we encounter many difficulties, not only because of creatures obstructing our path, but also because of the impenetrability of the divine mysteries. To enable us to surmount the former, the Holy Spirit comes to our aid with the gift of knowledge; to overcome the latter, He comes to our aid with the gift of understanding.
Our intellect is incapable of seizing the infinite. Although gifted with faith, its manner of understanding is always human, proceeding by means of ideas and limited concepts, which are totally inadequate to express the divine realities. Revelation itself comes to us in human language; therefore, it cannot tell us what God is in Himself, nor manifest to us the intimate essence of revealed truths. Proceeding with the virtue of faith alone, we are constrained to stop, so to speak, at the surface of the divine mysteries. We know with certitude that they have been revealed by God; we adhere to them with all our strength and yet we do not succeed in penetrating them. However, what faith alone cannot do, it is able to do with the help of the gift of understanding. This gift surpasses our human way of comprehension and enlightens us in a divine way; it makes us “intus legere,” that is, “read within” the divine mysteries, with the light, with the understanding of the Holy Spirit Himself.
It is a swift, deep penetration which, while adding nothing new to what we already know from revelation, does make us understand the inner meaning of the revealed truth. The gift of understanding tears off, so to say, the outer coverings of the propositions and human concepts, allowing us to see the substance of the divine mysteries. Faith tells us that God is Trinity; the gift of understanding tells us nothing more, it does not make us see, nor does it explain this mystery to us, but it does make us penetrate it. Under the influence of this gift, the soul not only believes that God is One and Three, but it has the intuition that the mystery of the Trinity is essential to the divine nature and that it reveals better than anything else the perfection, the power, and the infinite love of God.
Come, Holy Spirit, come light divine!
“O light that sees no other light, light that obscures all other light, light which is the source of all other light, brightness compared with which all other brightness is darkness, and all other light obscurity; supreme light, not darkened by blindness, not clouded by darkness, not obscured by shadows; light that no obstacle impedes, no shade divides; light illuminating all things together and forever, absorb me in the ocean of your brilliance, that I may see You in Yourself, and myself in You, and all things beneath You” (St. Augustine).
“How can I approach You, O Holy Spirit? You dwell in inaccessible light, and are Yourself all light, knowledge and splendor, while I dwell in a place of darkness and am nothing but ignorance and rudeness.
“Meanwhile, O divine Spirit, I beg You with confidence to illumine me. Reveal to me the divine greatness and the divine mysteries, so that I may adore and acknowledge them. Disclose the wiles of the devil and of the world, that I may avoid them and never fall again; reveal to me my miseries and my weaknesses, my errors, my prejudices, my obstinacies, the artifices of my self-love, so that I may hate and correct them. But, O beneficent light, above all illumine my soul, that it may know what You wish of me: make me understand well the charm of Your attractions and of Your grace, and all that I must do to merit the beneficent influence of Your goodness, so that I may correspond with complete fidelity; O loving Spirit, sustain me in this fidelity unto death” (Fr. Aurillon).
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Art for this post on the gift of understanding: Augustine of Hippo [retouched], 1480, Sandro Botticelli, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.