This week, we begin a new series on the gifts of the Holy Spirit as we approach the great feast of Pentecost. There is a book published recently called ‘Forgotten God: Reversing our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit’ that traces our neglect of the Holy Spirit in our lives of faith and the life of the Church. We hear about the Father and about the Son but not enough about the Holy Spirit.
If we don’t hear enough about the Holy Spirit, we don’t hear enough about the gifts of the Holy Spirit either. That’s why it is good to spend some time to consider what they are and what difference they make. I love the image of a prism to describe our human nature that is penetrated by God’s grace. As the light of the sun passes through a prism and is refracted into the seven colours of the rainbow, so when God’s Spirit penetrates our humanity, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit emerge. You see, our Christian faith is not one of abstractions or vague beliefs that leave us unchanged. The gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit are tangible signs of ways that God’s life is making a difference to the person or community who receives them. With this in mind, we begin with the first gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of wisdom.
In the Bible we are told that Solomon, at the time of his coronation as King of Israel, had asked for the gift of wisdom (cf. 1 Kings 3:9). And wisdom is precisely this: it is the grace of being able to see everything with the eyes of God. It is simply this: it is to see the world, to see situations, circumstances, problems, everything through God’s eyes. This is wisdom. Sometimes we see things according to our liking, our limited vision or according to the condition of our hearts. We have a limited grasp of reality and a narrow interpretation of what is taking place. Consider the story of three builders building a house. All three are asked the question: ‘What are you doing?’. The first responded: ‘I am laying blocks’. The second said: ‘I am building a house’. The third said: ‘I am serving God as a builder’. Same facts, different interpretations and different wisdom. Wisdom is what the Holy Spirit works in us so as to enable us to see things with the eyes of God. This is the gift of wisdom.
Wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit which means that it is a pure gift from God. By divine wisdom we see with the same perspective as God himself who made and sustains all things. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge or intelligence. It does not mean that the wise person has an answer for everything, that he/she knows everything, but in the sense that he/she “knows” about God, knows how God acts, knows when something is of God and when it is not of God; they have this wisdom which God places in their hearts.
How do we receive this gift? We have already received it at our baptism and confirmation. However, it is like a gift that sometimes we forget we have and sometimes ignore. It is a gift that we need to pray for and ask for, making us available and docile to what wisdom the Spirit will bring to any given situation we find ourselves. And when we do, God grants us the grace to see with God’s eyes, hear with God’s ears, love with God’s heart. This is the wisdom the Holy Spirit endows us with, and we can all have it. We only have to ask it of the Holy Spirit.
It is often rightly said that we live in an age of information overload. TMI (Too much information). We have far less wisdom which is what we need more. Information provides answers. True wisdom provokes questions. The wisdom we need is a gift we pray for but it is also available from the great resources of our Tradition. These include of course, the Scriptures, the teachings of the Fathers, the lives of the saints, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other great resources available. C.S. Lewis sums it up by saying how engaging with the thought and perspectives of previous generations on experiences like suffering, love, death and eternal life, means that we today do not have to start from scratch but can “see with other eyes, imagine with other imaginations and to feel with other hearts as well as our own” (C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992, p. 137). Similarly, G.K. Chesterton described Tradition as the ‘democracy of the dead’ – meaning that we owe it to our ancestors who lived before us to consult their wisdom and not fall into the pride that says ‘we know it all’ as if we were the first generation to struggle with the mystery of our existence and the same questions that millions have thought about and written about before us. This is the arrogance that Patrick Kavanagh described as the ‘clever villages that laughed at ancient holiness’.
And so we see how important is the gift of wisdom. In all our decisions and actions may we pray for the Spirit’s gift of wisdom to ‘change the things we can change, to accept the things we can’t and the wisdom to know the difference’. Our Lady, seat of wisdom, pray for us!