Today we celebrate Jesus Ascending into Heaven.  In the Ascension Jesus continues the healing between Heaven and Earth, between God and man.  He promises the Gift of the Holy Spirit, so that this healing connection will continue throughout the ages, through the Church and the Sacraments.  From the beginning of creation God has been entering into the life of mankind over and over again to seal the rift caused by man’s sin.  He wants to draw us to, and be united to the Divine.  The Son of God enters into creation to heal man’s brokenness to make us presentable to the Father.  He enters even deeper into our mortality through his death and descent unto the dead.  He rises and Ascends into heaven to unite us completely with the Father.  In this He sits at the Father’s right hand and continues to intercede for us.  He enters into our lives again through the Holy Spirit to make the final and everlasting connection to unite us to the Divine.  With the day of Pentecost, through the Holy Spirit, the Church is born.   In the Spirit’s outpouring of graces we now have that constant connection to the Trinity through the Sacraments.   Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit opens our hearts and minds and bodies to know love and serve the Father.  One of the gifts of the Spirit is the gift of UNDERSTANDING.

Understanding is a gift “to give a deeper insight and penetration of divine truths held by faith.”   The Holy Spirit aids a person to grasp the truths of faith easily and to penetrate the depths of those truths, allowing one to enter a divine intimacy with the Lord.

The essential quality of this gift is a “penetrating intuition” -to move one beyond the surface. This gift operates in several ways:

  1. First, it discloses the hidden meaning of sacred Scripture, as Our Lord did with the disciples on the way to Emmaus (Lk 24:13ff);
  2. Second, it reveals the significance of symbols and figures, like St. Paul seeing Christ as the Passover Lamb (Hebrews)
  3. Third, it shows the hand of God at work in a person’s life, even in the most mysterious or troublesome events, like suffering;
  4. Fourth, it reveals the spiritual realities that underlie sensible appearances, like penetrating the mystery of the Lord’s sacrifice in the offering of the Mass or recognizing the presence of Christ in the holy Eucharist.

This gift also assists us in understanding natural truths and the use of created things but through a lens of faith.   While enjoying created things, a person understands that all created things attest to the majesty of the Creator.  Tied to the gift of Knowledge, the Spirit’s gift of Understanding helps us to use wisely these created things with a sense of detachment.   Therefore, creation does not become an end in itself, or created things idols, but one understands they are gifts from Almighty God.  Understanding moves a person always to be mindful to place God first in life, to be generous in helping others in need, and to reject what is useless.   For example, some individuals may spend much time, even hours, on Facebook or texting, but neglect daily prayer.   Do they not understand the fleeting satisfaction they crave will not gain for them the sustaining friendship with Our Lord and ultimately eternal life?

POPE FRANCIS teaches us from his Wednesday Audience:

“Understanding is not a question of human intelligence.  It is a grace that only the Holy Spirit can infuse and which awakens in the Christian the ability to go beyond the outward appearance of reality and scrutinize the depths of God’s thoughts and His plan of salvation.

Understanding allows us to “read into”: and understand things as God understands, with the intelligence of God.  

The gift of understanding is closely related to faith. When the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and enlightens our minds, it makes us grow day by day in the understanding of what the Lord has said and done.   Jesus himself said to his disciples: I will send the Holy Spirit and he will make you understand all that I have taught you: Understanding the teachings of Jesus, understanding His Word, understanding the Gospel, understanding God’s Word.  One can read the Gospel and understand something, but if we read the Gospel with this gift of the Holy Spirit we can understand the depth of God’s words.   This is a great gift, a gift for which we must all ask.

After witnessing Christ’s death on the cross and his burial, two of his disciples are disappointed and heartbroken.  They leave Jerusalem and return to their village called Emmaus.   While they are on the road, the Risen Jesus joins them and starts talking with them, but their eyes, veiled with sadness and despair, are unable to recognize him.   When the Lord explained the Scriptures to them, so that they would understand that He had to suffer and die and then rise again.   Their minds were opened and hope was rekindled in their hearts (cf. Lk 24.13 to 27).

We, too, oppressed by the weight of life and of our limitations, are unable to recognize the Lord beside us by ourselves.  When, however, we welcome the Holy Spirit into our hearts, everything acquires a new light and tells us about God and His love.  This is what the Holy Spirit does for us: it opens our minds, opens us to better understand, to better understand the things of God, human things, situations, all things.  It is such an important gift for our Christian life.” 

Come Holy Spirit fill us with your gifts, and this gift of Understanding.


View other posts from the “Gifts of the Holy Spirit Homilies” series: