“Love Goes Further: the Gifts of Wisdom and Fortitude” (6/7/2019)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
Love goes further. Love goes further than sin. Peter’s threefold profession of his love for the Lord more than makes up for his threefold denial. Love goes further. It’s like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven because she loves much.” Love goes further. In the way that God’s grace and mercy work, love goes further.
In our relationship with God, it’s important also to recognize that love goes further than knowledge. Both our powers of knowing and loving must be fully engaged in our relationship with the Lord, but love goes further. This has to do with the structure of knowing and love. As Aquinas and others describe it, knowing takes reality into ourselves while loving takes us out of ourselves to the reality. In knowing, we take reality into ourselves, we take the intelligible forms into our intellects and from there ideas are formed and so forth. So with respect to knowing the infinite God, it’s going to be something very limited. For in knowing, we take something into our minds using our human concepts which are limited.
In loving, on the other hand, we go out to the reality. You might think of the ice cream in the kitchen. In thinking about it, you have taken the form of the ice cream into your intellect. It’s not very tasty is it? Stuck in your head like that, these concepts of ice cream are not very tasty, are they? Yet the will goes out to the reality. Love goes out to the reality. You go to the kitchen on a festive occasion, and with proper permissions, you eat the ice cream. The will takes you out to the reality itself. Love takes you out to the reality itself.
Love goes further. In our relationship with God, love goes out to the reality of God. In knowing, and with our human concepts, we do our best to take God into our souls, but this is always very limited in this life. Yet in loving, we go out to the reality of God himself. In charity, our wills are already united with God. Because we live by faith and not by sight, this union of love is under the veil a bit. Nonetheless, through the theological virtue of charity, our love goes out and touches God and unites with God. Love goes further.
The gift of the Holy Spirit called Wisdom builds on this charity. Whereas the gifts of understanding and knowledge build on faith and the intellect, wisdom builds on charity. There’s a hidden experience of God through charity. There’s a hidden tasting of God in the bond of love. We are in contact with him in this union of love, and the gift of wisdom builds on this. So what the gift of wisdom gives to the intellect is a savory knowledge, a sweet knowledge, an experiential perception. It’s a knowing flowing from loving. It’s an experiential perception flowing from this union of love with God. This is all in St Thomas.
St John of the Cross quotes Aquinas by name on this and, following Ps-Dionysius, calls it a hidden wisdom or a mystical wisdom because it eludes clear concepts. It is the most sublime of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In contemplation the gifts of understanding and wisdom are most at work. Understanding helps us penetrate the mystery further, while wisdom helps us taste the mystery of God. The gift of wisdom gives an experiential perception of God, through a mirror darkly.
So how does this play out in prayer? Here’s perhaps the simplest way. I don’t pretend to be informing you nuns about this, you know by experience. I’m only trying to give descriptions you can identify with and latch on to. In prayer, at times, it’s good to aim for a holy sentiment, long drawn out. We need to do much meditation and study, but over time if it gives way to one or two holy sentiments from our meditation, we should draw this out. We should yield to these holy sentiments and sit with this holy longing, or admiration, or adoration, or simple loving gaze. A holy sentiment, long drawn out. We ponder, but our affections and will are gently stirred, gently stirred, and we taste in love. There can be sweetness, and so wisdom is sometimes a called a sweet knowledge or a savory knowledge. Or maybe there will be no sweetness. In fact, hopefully sensible sweetness gives way to something deeper.
So in the exercise of the gift of wisdom it will often be a hidden wisdom. Hence a darkness may prevail. So the gift of the Holy Spirit called fortitude will also be much needed. Fortitude is a cardinal virtue and also an infused cardinal virtue. But there is also a gift of the Holy Spirit that builds on this and is also called fortitude. Here with this dark contemplation, we can see why the additional gift of the Holy Spirit called fortitude is necessary. The virtue of fortitude may often call for forcefulness. But in prayer, forcefulness is hardly ever the way forward. St Teresa says the contemplative will need great determination—not forcefulness but determination. In prayer, there will be a facing of difficulties but it is also about finding the way that goes smoothly—the yoke that is easy, the burden that is light. The gift of fortitude is needed in prayer to endure, to press on, but in the right way. A delicate touch is needed. The touch of the Holy Spirit is needed.
In the end, with our prayer life, the gift of wisdom involves an experiential tasting and perception, yet it is a hidden wisdom calling for much endurance and the gift of fortitude. Like Peter at the end of our Gospel, we too, in prayer, may be led by the Lord where we at first don’t wish to go. We too may be stripped and bound, and led to where we at first don’t wish to go: the desert, the dark night, painful self-knowledge, boredom, distraction, littleness, the ordinary way. Wherever the Lord leads us in prayer, His call to us is to yield to Him, or as he said to Peter, “Follow me.”