Proverbs 15:22 tells us, “Without counsel plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed.” One of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives in confirmation is the gift of counsel. That’s 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 to think of it as God giving us the supernatural ability to have “just the right thing to say” to somebody who needs advice. Certainly that’s part of it. But I think that, far more often, the gift of counsel is the supernatural grace that 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 acting 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 Catholic faith is the Pope’s personal property. He can mold it like clay to suit himself, and only sheer pigheadedness can explain his refusal to do so. Not so. The Catholic faith is not the Pope’s 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 God gives us through Holy Church.
That’s good news for us unimaginative types, because one huge advantage of being a Catholic is not having 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 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 fiction that we are all atomized individuals who don’t 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 God 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 doesn’t mean that the gift of counsel isn’t also given through you and me for the sake of others. As a Catholic, you and I have insights from God that 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 encounters with Christ in and through creation, the sacraments, the Church and our personal experiences. 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.
Mark Shea is content editor of