We come to the end of the Easter Season. Pentecost is a moveable feast, celebrated fifty days from Easter Sunday. As we know, this feast commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon believers, while they were in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks, as described in the Acts of the Apostles.
There are traditionally seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, though the reality is that the Spirit works in diverse ways in each of us. The working of the Spirit is not confined to a particular number.
The traditional seven are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.
Let’s look this year at the first in that list – wisdom. How will we emerge from COVID with a new level of wisdom about our place in the world?
In scripture, wisdom is seen as an attribute of God, “a breath of the power of God … an image of God’s goodness” (Wis 7:25-26). St. Paul says that in Jesus “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3). Mary is seen as the Seat of Wisdom. Through the incarnation, God called her to collaborate in bringing Divine wisdom into the world. Our baptism means that it is possible for us to have a share in God’s wisdom.
St Thomas Aquinas claimed that wisdom is the greatest of the seven gifts. He said that it helps us to see and evaluate everyday life in relation to God and the Kingdom of God. It involves a process of coming to see the deeper meaning and hidden lessons of everyday events in our lives.
The Latin word sapientia comes from the word sapere, meaning to savour or taste. Wisdom helps us to taste and see how good the Lord is and to have a taste for the things of God. It is to have a sense of the divine in all things. It’s not that different than St. Ignatius of Loyola suggesting that we are to seek to find God in all things in life. With the gift of wisdom, we see God at work in our lives and in the world. For the wise person, the wonders of nature, historical events, and the valleys and mountains of our lives take on deeper meaning.
We use the word wise to describe those who have experienced a lot in life and have reflected on their experience in a way that helps them to see the hand of God at work in the mysterious paths of their lives. Our Usual understanding is that it takes old age to gain wisdom. But there are many young people who have reflected on difficult experiences that make them wise.
Think of the young woman who has survived an extremely difficult illness and has come close to death several times. If she reflects on the experience and is able to see God’s hand, she’ll be a wise woman. Think of the young man who has helped raise his siblings after the tragic death of both parents. If he reflects on the experience and comes to see God’s grace in all that has happened, he’ll be wise. We miss an opportunity to grow in wisdom if we have tough experiences but don’t reflect on them and see God’s mysterious ways.
My sense is that a hopeful, positive, honest and forward-looking reflection on a challenging situation offers that possibility of wisdom. It was T.S. Eliot, in his Four Quartets, who spoke of having the experience, but missing that meaning. Pondering the meaning is what contributes to wisdom.
Pope Benedict XVI used an old Portuguese proverb a few times: “God writes straight with crooked lines.” It is when we can see the mysterious hand of God assisting us in the difficulties of life that we attain wisdom.
Challenging experiences reflected on in light of God can teach us much more than smooth and easy experiences. We experience true wisdom when we “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus … who emptied himself, taking the form of a slave … and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Phil 2:5-8).
How will we emerge from COVID with a new level of wisdom about our place in the world? That question is for us as individuals, but also for nations.