The Gift of Counsel

Proverbs 15:22 tells us, "Without counsel plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed." One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit given in Confirmation is the gift of Counsel. Thatís a gift that can work in a couple of different ways and it is one of which the world is often astoundingly ignorant.

One reason is that, to the extent people give much thought to the gift of counsel, they tend think of it as God giving us the supernatural ability to have "just the right thing to say" to somebody who needs advice. Certainly thatís part of it. But I think that, far more often, the gift of counsel is the supernatural grace which allows us to receive counsel from God through Holy Church. When we lack that grace, we act much as we see a vast number of Americans act whenever some bishop or informed Catholic offers the guidance of the Tradition: that is, they talk as though the Catholic is offering his or her personal opinion and not passing along a Tradition he neither invented nor has the power to alter.

So, for instance, when the Pope says that the Church is no more authorized to ordain women than to consecrate beer and pretzels in the Eucharist, people will frequently speak as though the Faith is the Popeís personal property which he can mold like clay to suit himself, and that only sheer pig-headedness can explain his refusal to do so. What goes unrecognized is that nobody owns the Faith. It is not the Popeís property. He can only report what the Tradition teaches and explore it more deeply for its riches. He cannot lop off arms or surgically attach new legs to the teaching of Christ for the sake of giving some counsel more acceptable to contemporary fashion. Receiving the gift of counsel from the Holy Spirit means, first and foremost, being docile to the counsel He gives us through Holy Church.

Thatís good news for us unimaginative types, because one huge advantage of being a Catholic is that you can plagiarize and call it "being faithful to the Tradition." Catholics don't have to make up the Christian faith as we go along. We must all confess, with Chesterton, "God and humanity made it, and it made me." We have the happy advantage of being able to crib freely from minds like Sts. Paul, Augustine, Thomas, Edith Stein, and Francis of Assisi. So far from theft, it's just fidelity. And it's also common sense. For one of the many forms of dementia our culture has embraced is its weird habit of creating a civilization more utterly interdependent than at any time in human history, while simultaneously chattering to itself about "my personal truth of the moment" and trying to maintain the utter fiction that we are all atomized individuals who donít need anybody else in order to build the Kingdom of the Autonomous Individual Self.

The reality is: nobody ever built a computer or a civilization from scratch. It requires teamwork and especially team thought. The Holy Spirit is, significantly, given to the Church, not simply to Me. I need the counsel He gives others as much as the counsel He gives me, otherwise I'm missing out on the Big Picture and highly likely to do something stupid.

Of course, that doesnít mean that the gift of Counsel isnít also given through you and me for the sake of others. As a Catholic, you and I too have insights from Him which we alone can give the Church and which we are obliged to share just as surely as we are obliged to help those who have less money than we do. Such insights will spring from our particular encounter with Christ in and through creation, the sacraments, the Church, our personal experience, etc. We have no other way to encounter Christ but as the individual persons we are. But our individual encounters with the wisdom of Christ must be subjected to the wisdom He has poured out on Holy Church. Today pool the insights the Holy Spirit has given you with the insights He gives His Church. We'll all be the richer for it!

Copyright 2009 - Mark P. Shea