The third gift of the Holy Spirit is the gift of Counsel. As the word suggests, the Holy Spirit is the one who doesn’t leave us on our own but advises us and directs us towards correct choices and decisions. Counsel helps us discern between good and evil, right and wrong and helps us distinguish between what is temporary and everlasting.
In the first reading at the vigil Mass at Christmas night, the prophet Isaiah refers to God as the ‘Wonder Counsellor, Mighty God and prince of peace’ (Is. 9:6). Then in the New Testament, Jesus’ life, words and actions are portrayed, especially by St Luke, as being under the direction of the Holy Spirit. He was ‘led by the Spirit’ into the desert after his baptism’ (Luke 4:1); ‘Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus exclaimed....’ (Luke 10:21). Jesus was not acting alone. He was deeply connected to the impulses of the Spirit and the will of his Father. In the early Church, the Christian community was also guided by the Spirit in the same way. On one occasion, Paul and Barnabas communicated a decision to one community in this way: ‘We and the Holy Spirit have decided’ (Acts 15:28). On another occasion, Luke tells the story that as Paul and his companions were making their way preaching the Gospel, ‘the Holy Spirit had prevented them from speaking the word in the province of Asia, they traveled through the region of Phrygia and Galatia’ (Acts 16:6). It was like the Spirit was in the driving seat of the Church, leading it here, steering it away from there.
So how can we as individual Christians and as communities, be docile in this same Spirit of God? The simple answer is through prayer and being attentive to the promptings of the Spirit. Pope Francis advises us in this regard. He encourages us to pray in our own words: ‘Lord, help me, give me counsel, what must I do now? And through prayer we make space so that the Spirit may come and help us at that moment, that he may counsel us on what we must all do’ (General Audience, 7th May 2014).
This prayer we humbly make is an admission to ourselves that we all have limited vision and understanding. We don’t have all the answers and can’t see too far ahead of us. What seemed like a wise decision today might seem foolish in a short time as circumstances change. We also have a remarkable capacity to see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear. The Spirit’s gift of Counsel detaches us in a healthy way to clinging too tightly to our own ideas and leaves us open to new ideas and new possibilities. In this way, the Spirit’s gift of Counsel directs us to the advice of family and trusted friends. It directs us most of all to listen to the Scriptures, to God’s Word, to the teaching of the Church and the wisdom of the saints.
Eastern Christianity is familiar with the concept of synergia or synergy in the life of the Spirit. What it points to is a sense of partnership or synergy with the Holy Spirit in all we do and say. This idea counteracts any abstract or distant image of God we might have where we may act out of slavish obedience and fear on one hand or out of disregard for God’s will entirely on the other.