I can see clearly now: The gifts of the Holy Spirit
Have you ever wondered why whole systems of thought can seem to be internally consistent but lead to exactly the wrong conclusions? The current justification of gay marriage, based on a theory of rights, is a good example. Or have you noticed how whole cultures can be blind to fundamental human realities, each in its own way? The attitude of past ages to slavery, and our own perception of abortion and euthanasia, provide suitable examples. Then there is contraception—the invisible elephant!
These things are possible because human perceptions and thought-processes are profoundly conditioned by both personal desires and cultural pressures. The resulting process of rationalization is intensified when we are selfishly habituated to any immoral error. Not only do we often reason wrongly, but there comes a point when we simply can no longer see the obvious realities which our wayward wills seek to deny. A cycle of confusion devolves into a cycle of error, which devolves into a peculiar cycle of denied misery.
The human person, by his very nature, stands in need of a perspective beyond himself. Part of this perspective is provided by obedience to God as we come to know His laws through Revelation. But while obedience can habituate us to new patterns of life which free us to perceive reality more clearly, mere obedience can be slavish in its own way. By itself, it does not move us very far along the road to deep perception and right judgment.
For this, we need the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Of the seven gifts, four of them relate directly to our intellectual response to reality: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, and Knowledge.
Pope Francis has already spoken briefly on the first three in his current catecheses on the gifts of the Holy Spirit in his Wednesday general audiences. These brief verbal snapshots are well worth our attention. They help us to grasp why committed and prayerful Christians so often succeed in overcoming prejudice, seeing through obfuscation, and ordering their thoughts and their hearts not according to personal or cultural whim, but according to reality itself:
- Wisdom: Seeing with the Eyes of God (full text)
- God’s Understanding (full text)
- The Gift of Counsel (news story)
If the Pope continues to go in order, fortitude will come next, and then we will get knowledge, the fourth in the group of gifts I have highlighted here. The series will close, of course, with piety and fear of the Lord. All of the gifts are important to a proper response to reality, but the four I have emphasized explain a great deal about the growing “perception gap”—the immense erosion of common ground as Western culture continues to secularize.
Many of our neighbors simply cannot see. Reading Pope Francis’ remarks on these gifts reminds us of why we, in contrast, can see, and how we can see even more clearly as time goes on. This too is a temporal process. We have to keep at it, for none of us sees perfectly. But the process does reach perfection, beyond time, in the vision of God.
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