Thursday, May 16, 2013

Taking Counsel

As stated above (FS, Question [68], Article [1]), the gifts of the Holy Ghost are dispositions whereby the soul is rendered amenable to the motion of the Holy Ghost. Now God moves everything according to the mode of the thing moved: thus He moves the corporeal creature through time and place, and the spiritual creature through time, but not through place, as Augustine declares (Gen. ad lit. viii, 20,22). Again, it is proper to the rational creature to be moved through the research of reason to perform any particular action, and this research is called counsel. Hence the Holy Ghost is said to move the rational creature by way of counsel, wherefore counsel is reckoned among the gifts of the Holy Ghost…

A lower principle of movement is helped chiefly, and is perfected through being moved by a higher principle of movement, as a body through being moved by a spirit. Now it is evident that the rectitude of human reason is compared to the Divine Reason, as a lower motive principle to a higher: for the Eternal Reason is the supreme rule of all human rectitude. Consequently prudence, which denotes rectitude of reason, is chiefly perfected and helped through being ruled and moved by the Holy Ghost, and this belongs to the gift of counsel, as stated above (Article [1]). Therefore the gift of counsel corresponds to prudence, as helping and perfecting it…

Counsel is properly about things useful for an end. Hence such things as are of most use for an end, should above all correspond to the gift of counsel. Now such is mercy, according to 1 Tim. 4:8, "Godliness [*'Pietas,' which our English word 'pity,' which is the same as mercy; see note on SS, Question [30], Article [1]] is profitable to all things." Therefore the beatitude of mercy specially corresponds to the gift of counsel, not as eliciting but as directing mercy.

St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II.II.52.1,2,4

Reflection – We are doing a little tour of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, on our way to Pentecost on Sunday, and have come now to the gift of counsel. This is really a fairly simple gift, although we can sometimes make it a bit more complicated and mysterious than it needs to be.

We are all faced with decisions to make every day. Each day life comes at us: for some, with great intensity, jam-packed with incident, action and workload; for others, slower, gentler, more measured. But for all of us, each day there are a whole host of choices to make, a continual action of the mind to go this way or that way, A or B, left or right.

As Christians we are striving to do not only what seems to be the best option according to our human reason, but to do what God wants us to do. As Christians, we know that God is present in and with us, and that His will is the most loving, joyous, blessed course of action in all things. And so, as Christians we are to seek to use our reason for sure, since God has given it to us for that precise purpose, but to use our reason illuminated by and assisted by the gift of the Holy Spirit to counsel us.

And this is simply what the gift of counsel is. We are not left alone in our constant decision making. God is here to help us, to know what is the most merciful, the most loving, the most helpful course of action for our brothers and sisters, for advancing the kingdom of mercy and love in the world.

Sometimes the gift of counsel can be spoken of in ‘spooky’ terms, like we’re getting messages beamed into our heads by an invisible radio transmitter so that we ‘know’ God’s will as if by telepathy. Certainly there are some saints and others who have had a special charism of discernment, a gift of knowledge of God’s will that is truly extraordinary. We think of St. Padre Pio and his incredible insights in the confessional into people’s deepest hearts, or of many of the saints knowing things and moving in ways that only a direct revelation from God could account for.

But while this may be an acute and most beautiful expression of the gift of counsel, it really is much broader than that. I believe that counsel is given to all of us, and in much less spectacular ways than these. Simply, God wants to help us know what the best thing is to do today. It’s a question of using our minds, for sure, to take account of all the relevant information in any decision, but even more a question of our hearts, earnestly turning towards God and crying out that His will be done in our lives.

It is always personal, always a matter of communion, always a matter of you and me turning to the living God and seeking His help and guidance and grace. It is only this turning, and this grace, that will enable us to move with great counsel and confidence in the world, and extend mercy in a fruitful, useful way to one another. So, let’s get praying: today, Lord, thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Amen.

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