As we celebrate the Fourth of July, there is no other place I would want to call home than the United States of America. Despite our differences, the divisiveness, and its ripple effects, I count my blessings that by the grace of God I was born an American. The gift of understanding, which we dive into today, gives me the context to know, appreciate and trust this truth and to live in hope.
Having pondered the gifts of the Holy Spirit of fear of the Lord, piety, fortitude, and knowledge, we proceed to the gift of understanding. Understanding is the gift of intelligence and enlightenment. It is the ability to think clearly; to perceive, comprehend and interpret information; and to have insight and discern meaning. In understanding, we comprehend how we need to live as a follower of Christ. A person with understanding is not confused by all the conflicting messages in our culture about the right way to live. The gift of understanding perfects a person’s speculative reason in the apprehension of truth.
St. Thomas Aquinas says understanding is the gift whereby self-evident principles are known and direct the intellect along with the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and counsel. The gift of understanding corresponds to the virtue of faith.
Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between the gifts of understanding and wisdom, which we will explore later. While wisdom is the desire to contemplate the things of God, understanding allows us to grasp, at least in a limited way, the very essence of the truths of the Catholic faith. Through understanding, we gain a certitude about our beliefs that moves beyond faith.
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.Focus on His Truth, Luke 24:45
Once we become convinced through understanding of the truths of the faith, we can also draw conclusions and arrive at a further understanding of man’s relation to God and his role in the world. Understanding rises above natural reason, which is concerned only with the things we can sense in the world around us. Thus, understanding is both speculative—concerned with intellectual knowledge—and practical because it can help us to order the actions of our lives toward our final end, which is God. Through understanding, we see the world and our life within it in the larger context of the eternal law and the relation of our souls to God.
What are some of the benefits of learning, understanding, and living in the gift of understanding?
- The gift of understanding helps us grasp the meaning of the truth of our holy religion. By faith we know them, but by understanding we learn to appreciate and relish them which inspires a mode of life that bears eloquent testimony to the faith that is in us.
- The gift of understanding helps us see how God sees. Illuminating the mind to truth, the Holy Spirit aids us to grasp the truths of faith easily and to penetrate the depths of those truths. Such illumination, grasping, and penetration allows us to enter a divine intimacy with the Lord.
- The essential quality of this gift is a “penetrating intuition” — in a sense, the moving beyond the surface. This gift operates in several ways: disclosing the hidden meaning of sacred Scripture, revealing the significance of symbols and figures, showing the hand of God at work in a person’s life, even in the most mysterious or troublesome events, like suffering; and revealing the spiritual realities that underlie sensible appearances.
- This gift assists us in understanding that all of creation is passing and a gift from God, instilling a sense of detachment.
How do we cultivate the gift of understanding that perfects our faith?
- Be open to Christ’s action in your life. Always be mindful to place God first in life, to be generous in helping others in need, and to reject what is useless. Cultivate your relationship with God by spending time in prayer, scripture and thinking about the gift of eternal life. Doing this helps us see our lives in the context of God’s plan. Decide to follow Jesus’ example and be challenged to move beyond the “what would Jesus do” mindset.
- Evaluate your habits. Do you spend more time in prayer and God’s word than watching TV or on Facebook or social media? The fleeting satisfaction we crave from these distractions will not gain for us a sustaining friendship with Our Lord and ultimately eternal life.
- Become educated on Catholic Social Teaching. By understanding the body of Church wisdom on social, political, and economic matters, we can participate in God’s desire to restore humanity and Creation into right order with Himself.
- Live the Ten Commandments. These imperatives to living in peace with our neighbor and our community, are also directives for family life and simple, practical ways to live in harmony with God. By understanding that through Christ we can again live-in right relationship with one another, God, and all creation, as it was meant in the beginning.
Many of us are searching for the answers to our society’s most complex problems. Through the gift of understanding, I know that God is the answer. The more we can allow the Holy Spirit to work through our lives we can understand and trust this is the answer. In God We Trust. Happy Fourth of July.
Smitten With the Gift of Understanding,
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