I’m going to explore the next gift of the Holy Spirit — understanding. Understanding is closely related to wisdom as well as knowledge. It shares many of the same attributes as wisdom such as engaging one’s mind. If wisdom is the desire to seek the truth, understanding helps explain the “why” behind those truths.
When I think about understanding, I think about my kids. I find it easy to resort to an authoritarian mode where I expect them to blindly follow my instructions. But it is far more effective to have kids understand the reason behind my requests rather than resorting to “because I said so.” Without understanding, we are in a mode of “because I said so” with God. Our Catholic Faith is reduced to a set of rules we follow merely to stay out of Hell. It’s the gift of understanding that elevates us to follow God because we can see the sound reasoning behind the rules.
Understanding allows us to see the world as God does in a limited way. We cannot comprehend all that God does, but the gift of understanding allows us to partially know and better appreciate God’s plan. The gift of understanding provides us that insight into God’s plan, and hence, passionately follow it as the saints do. Understanding is what moves us beyond obeying God because He’s the ultimate authority figure into wanting to follow Him because we know it’s ultimately beneficial to us.
Understanding in the Rosary
Let’s look at the Fifth Joyful Mystery, Finding Jesus in the Temple. A young Jesus is asking and answering questions amongst the learned scribes and scholars. God doesn’t impart the gift of understanding solely through learned scholars. In this mystery, it came through a child. God has a tendency to pick unlikely messengers whether it be Moses in the Old Testament, Jesus, Saint Peter and Paul, and numerous other saints. God often imparts understanding through unusual means. When you pray this mystery, ask yourself, are you open to all the ways God is speaking to you? Maybe He wants you to better understand Him and you’re not open to the way He delivers His messages.
Another great Rosary mystery that focuses on understanding is the First Sorrowful Mystery — The Agony in the Garden. Jesus begged God to find a different way to redeem the world but ultimately said He would do God’s Will. Jesus understood that God has a reason behind everything He does and allows to happen. Logically, we may not comprehend it or even agree with it, but it’s that gift of understanding that allows us to joyfully obey. It’s not blind obedience rooted in fear, but one where we know that what God asks of us is to our benefit.
Finally, contemplate the Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, Jesus’ Crucifixion. On the cross, one criminal challenged Jesus to save them all from death. The other criminal humbly understood who Jesus was and didn’t dare question why Jesus didn’t save Himself or them. He simply asked Jesus to remember him. That’s the root of understanding — not treating God like some sort of genie who gives us what we ask for. Instead, it’s understanding why God does what He does and seeing the greater good that comes from it.
Understanding is penetrating insight into the very heart of things, especially those higher truths that are necessary for our eternal salvation—in effect, the ability to “see” God.Summa Theologiae (I/I.12.5; I/II.69.2; II/II.8.1–3)
Understanding is not easy. Like children, we often want to do things our way and resist any authority that tells us otherwise. This is why understanding is a gift since it’s not something easily obtained by ourselves. But it’s important to understand the “why” behind our faith. Everything we believe and do as Christians has a reason. The more we understand those reasons, the happier we will be doing God’s Will.