On the Gift of Understanding

«The Holy Spirit introduces us into intimacy with God and renders us participants in his plan of love for us.»

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Below is a translation of the Holy Father’s address at this morning’s General Audience, which was held at 10:30 in Saint Peter’s Square.


Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning.

After having examined wisdom as the first of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, today I would like to point attention to the second gift, namely, understanding. It is not about human understanding, about an intellectual capacity with which we can be more or less gifted. Instead, it is a grace which only the Holy Spirit can infuse, and which arouses in the Christian the ability to go beyond the external aspect of reality and scrutinize the depth of God’s thought and of His plan of salvation.

Addressing the community of Corinth, the Apostle Paul describes well the effects of this gift – that is, what the gift of understanding does in us, and Paul says this: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him, God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). This obviously does not mean that a Christian can understand everything and have full knowledge of God’s plans: all this remains to be manifested in all its limpidness when we find ourselves in the presence of God and we are truly one with Him. However, as the word itself suggests, the intellect makes possible “intus legere,” that is, “to read within:» this gift makes us understand things as God understands them, with God’s understanding. Because one can understand a situation with human understanding, with prudence, and that is okay. However, to understand a situation in depth, as God understands it is the effect of this gift. And Jesus willed to send us the Holy Spirit so that we would have this gift, so that we can all understand things as God understands them, with God’s understanding. It is a beautiful gift that the Lord has given all of us. It is the gift with which the Holy Spirit introduces us into intimacy with God and renders us participants in his plan of love for us.

It is clear, then, that the gift of understanding is closely connected to faith. When the Holy Spirit dwells in our heart and illumines our mind, He makes us grow day after day in understanding what the Lord has said and has fulfilled. Jesus himself said this to his disciples: I will send you the Holy Spirit and He will make you understand what I have taught you: to understand Jesus’ teachings, to understand his Word, to understand the Gospel, to understand the Word of God. 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. And this is a great gift, a great gift which we all must pray for and pray for together: Give us, Lord, the gift of understanding.

There is an episode in Luke’s Gospel which expresses very well the depth and strength of this gift. After having witnessed the death on the cross and burial of Jesus, two of his disciples, disappointed and dismayed, leave Jerusalem and return to their village called Emmaus. While they were on their way, the risen Jesus comes alongside them and begins to talk with them, but their eyes, veiled by sadness and despair, are unable to recognize him. Jesus walks with them, but they are so sad, so desperate, that they do not recognize him. However, when the Lord explains the Scriptures to them, to make them understand that he had to suffer and die to then rise again, their minds are opened and hope is rekindled in them (cf. Luke 24:13-27). And this is what the Holy Spirit does with us: He opens our mind, he opens us to understand better, to understand better the things of God, human things, situations, everything.

The gift of understanding is important for our Christian life. Let us ask the Lord to give us, to give all of us this gift to understand, as He understands, the things that happen and to understand, above all, the Word of God in the Gospel. Thank you.

* * *


Dear Brothers and Sisters:

In our continuing catechesis on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, we now turn to the gift of understanding. Born of our sharing in God’s life through faith and Baptism, the gift of understanding enables us to see in all things the unfolding of his eternal plan of love. The Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and enlightens our minds, guiding us to an ever deeper understanding of Christ’s teaching and his saving mission. Like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, we often fail to recognize the Lord walking at our side and the working of God’s grace in our lives and the world around us. Yet thanks to the Spirit’s gift of understanding, our eyes are opened and our hearts burn within us (cf. Luke 24:13-27) as we recognize the Risen Lord’s presence and view all things in a new light, with fresh spiritual insight. How important it is to implore this gift of understanding! Through it the Holy Spirit dispels the darkness of our minds and hearts, strengthens us in faith and enables us to savor the richness of God’s word and its promise of salvation.

Pope Francis (In Italian):

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims taking part in today’s Audience, including those from England, Ireland, Finland, Norway, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Uganda, South Africa, Canada and the United States. Upon all of you, and upon your families, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Lord. God bless you all!

* * *

Dear Italian-speaking pilgrims: welcome! I greet the Confirmed persons of the Diocese of Teggiano-Policastro with their Bishop, Monsignor Antonio De Luca; the Salesians Sisters of the Sacred Heart; the seminarians of Catania and Caltagirone; the Deacons of the Maronite College of Rome. Moreover, I greet the participants in the Seminar organized by the University of the Holy Cross and the faithful of Montecchio for the anniversary of the foundation of their parish. May your visit to the Tombs of the Apostles and of the Popes, a few days after the Canonization of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II, be an occasion to reflect further on your belonging to the Holy People of God.

A special thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Yesterday we celebrated the liturgical feast of Saint Catherine of Siena, patroness of Italy and of Europe. Dear young people, learn from her to live with an upright conscience which does not yield to human compromises. Dear sick, be inspired by her example of fortitude in moments of greatest pain. And you, dear newlyweds, imitate the solidity of the faith of one who trusts in God.

[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]
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