Counsel: Gift Given to Us Through the Church
COMMENTARY: Part of a Register series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
So many of us seem to think that while the faith insists on being incorrigibly public and common to all Catholics, it is also “private,” individualistic and esoteric. Consequently, many tend to think of gifts like counsel as Divine lightning zaps of mystical Revelation.
Relative to this, our individualistic culture tends to think of the faith as the personal property of the pope, which he perversely refuses to “update” in order to fit the mood of the times. 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 pope is being irrationally stubborn. The assumption is that he can mold it like clay to suit himself, and only sheer pigheadedness can explain his refusal to do so.
But, of course, the Catholic faith is not the pope’s private property any more than it is ours. He can only report what Tradition teaches and explore it more deeply for its riches. He cannot lop off arms or surgically attach new legs to change the teaching of Christ for the sake of making the faith more acceptable to contemporary fashion.
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 convert G.K. Chesterton, “God and humanity made it, and it made me.”
We have the happy advantage of being able to borrow freely from minds like Sts. Paul, Thérèse, Augustine, Hildegard, Thomas Aquinas, Edith Stein and Francis of Assisi. So, far from theft, it’s fidelity. And it’s also common sense.
One of the many forms of dementia our culture has embraced is its weird habit of creating a civilization more totally 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 this: Nobody ever built a computer or a civilization from scratch. It requires teamwork — and especially team thought. In the same way, the Holy Spirit is, significantly, given to the Church, not simply to me. Counsel is given, not merely to our hearts, but through other Catholics.
In short, the gift of counsel is given to us through the Church. I need the counsel God gives to me through others as much as the counsel he gives me directly; otherwise, I’m missing out on the big picture and highly likely to do something stupid.
In other words, counsel is not found in mystical lightning zaps primarily, but in forming our hearts and minds by a disciplined, determined and studied will to listen to the full teaching of holy Church over the course of years — because the Holy Spirit speaks through the Church.
Similarly, others need the gift of counsel God gives for the good of the other. As Catholics, each of us has 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 his 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 a Register blogger and columnist.