“The Gift of Understanding Makes Known the Name of the Father”
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
As we just heard, Jesus makes known the Father’s name to us. He manifests the reality of the Father to us. That name of the Father which overshadows us, protects us, and shelters us is also a luminous name. It is a bright cloud that overshadows us and comes upon us with a subtle light for our intellects. When Jesus makes known the name of the Father, he is not only giving us doctrinal statements but he’s also manifesting the glory of the Father. He communicates the fullness of the Father to us. Yet our capacity for receiving it is always limited. This superabundance of God is communicated by words and yet it is also beyond what we can put into words.
This fullness is something we can receive only by the gift of the Holy Spirit, especially the gifts of understanding and wisdom. The gifts of the Holy Spirit operate in a divine mode so they give us a capacity for what is beyond us. This gives us a capacity for knowing and loving God that is more like God’s own mode of knowing and loving. In this life of faith, it will always be obscure for us, as through a glass darkly. Yet the gifts of understanding and wisdom open our minds and hearts to more. They empower our minds and hearts to receive this manifestation of God that Jesus brings us. Jesus prays to the Father, “I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.”
This making known God is something Jesus continues to do even now, so that God’s own love may be in us and God himself may be in us. Jesus communicates the reality of God to us. We are empowered by the gifts of understanding and wisdom to receive this communication in a fuller way than we can by faith alone.
The gift of piety then helps us respond to the Father in a filial way as the children of God. The gift of piety works in us the confidence and tenderness of being God’s adopted sons and daughters. The manifestation of God’s glory does not leave us prostrate before the Absolute, but through the gift of piety we dwell with the Father as members of his household. Tomorrow we’ll consider the gift of wisdom, but now we’ll focus on the gift of understanding, which gives us a deeper penetration into the truth of God.
The gift of understanding enables us to penetrate more deeply into the truths of God. We may meditate on and ponder God’s attributes like his omnipotence, his holiness, his majesty, his transcendence. Yet there are times when God visits us manifests himself, so we go deeper than we could on our own. It can be a very subtle and common thing. But this is Jesus making known to us the Father’s name as he promised he would in his high priestly prayer. What I have talked about in terms of John 17 and the gift of understanding, St John of the Cross has described as the “overshadowings” of God. He describes God’s attributes as resplendent lamps which at times cast their shadows upon us in a pronounced way.
He says about “this casting of the shadow of God or these overshadowings of great splendor…[that] it should be observed that everything has and makes a shadow according to its size and properties…Since the virtues and attributes of God are enkindled and resplendent lamps, they cannot but touch the soul by their shadows, since…they are so close to it” (LF 3.13-14). And John says something very similar to what we saw about being in the Father’s name as including protection and a sheltering. John says about these overshadowings that this “casting [of] a shadow is similar to protecting, favoring, and granting graces. For when a person is covered by a shadow, it is a sign that someone else is nearby to protect and favor” (3.12). We might think here of a child frightened at night yet seeing the shadow of his mom approaching.
So while the gift of understanding enables us to penetrate deeper into who God is, this also brings us deeper into God’s sheltering and grace-filled presence. John of the Cross continues, “What, then will be the shadows of the grandeurs of [God’s] virtues and attributes that the Holy Spirit casts on the soul? For he is so close to it that his shadows not only touch but unite it with these grandeurs in their shadows and splendors, so that it understands and enjoys God according to his property and measure in each of the shadows. For it understands and enjoys [for instance] the divine power in the shadow of omnipotence. And it understands and enjoys the divine wisdom in the shadow of divine wisdom. And it understands and enjoys the infinite goodness in the shadow of the infinite goodness that surrounds it, and so on. Finally it enjoys God’s glory in the shadow of his glory” (3.15).
So here we are at Mass, under the shadow of God’s wings. The Eucharistic Presence of Jesus casts its bright shadow on us. The Eucharistic Love of Jesus overshadows us. Jesus says to the Father, “I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one.” Dwelling together under the shadows of God’s wings. Abiding in the same overshadowing of Eucharistic Love, we are one with one another and one with God, immersed in the shadow of God’s attributes, kept in the Father’s Name. And so we pray like Jesus did, “Father, glorify your sons and daughters, that your sons and daughters may glorify you” (Jn 17:2).