We turn now from the extraordinary and difficult parts of the active life (helped by the gifts of counsel, so we know what to do, and fortitude, so we have the strength to do it) to the ordinary. The gift of knowledge has a generic name, and it points to a general reality. Life in the Spirit doesn’t just help us know God himself (wisdom), understand his words (understanding), and know what to do in difficult situations.
Life in the Spirit changes how we see everything. In Scripture, the number seven is symbolic of fullness. The point of meditating on the seven gifts in Isaiah 11 is to see the fullness of the gift of the Spirit: to see that it’s not just one thing or another that God’s presence affects, it’s everything.
There’s a positive side and a negative side to our spiritual knowledge of this world (that is, all the knowledge that isn’t specifically about God/wisdom, his word/understanding, and hard choices/counsel).
The positive side sees God at work in the world, and discovers more deeply what it means to call him Creator. In Baptism, for example, we see that water is in the Father’s hand. He made it, it belongs to him, and he can do with it what we would never have imagined. The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
Maybe this is the central lesson of the wedding feast at Cana. We see that God can make wine out of water – and so we see more deeply what it means to say that he made wine and water in the first place. He isn’t joining late in the game: he made these things, all things, to express his goodness.
We see, too, that wine is worth making. It’s the most splendid symbol that the world exists purely to express God’s goodness. And so the conjunction of wine and marriage speaks volumes, too. As he made wine, so he made celebration, and friendship, and family. The gift of knowledge finds all things in God’s hands.
The transition to marriage reminds us, too, that God made not only the material world, but man himself. In the birth of Jesus we discover the innermost depth of humanity. Just as God can make water from wine, even more profoundly, he can make saints, and sons, from mere men. In Christ we discover the awesome possibilities of the human person – and again we are reminded that God made us. This is not a last-minute idea, tacked on to an otherwise meaningless creation. God made creation with all these possibilities baked in. That’s what it means to be human, created in his image.
In the Assumption we find human persons, even their bodies, can be taken up into heaven. We look at the world differently. We have a different understanding of created reality, a new, more penetrating divine knowledge of all that we see.
In the Coronation of Mary, and in the very fact of the Preaching of Jesus, we see the possibility that the human person can share in God’s plan, can see as God sees and will as God wills. The gift of knowledge shows the grandeur of man.
At the same time, there is a sad side to the gift of knowledge. We discover, too, what it means to call this world a vale of tears. The more we appreciate the awesome dignity of man, the more deeply we feel his abuse and degradation. The more we know what we are called to, the sadder it becomes to see ourselves rolling in the mud.
It is the gift of knowledge, also, that allows us to make a good examination of conscience, to see into the depths of what is wrong.
But even this sorrow is itself a gift of the love of God. We weep because we care, and because we can afford to care. Sin doesn’t bother those who dwell in darkness, and the shadow of death. But to those who have seen the dawn from on high, it is very sad.
In all of this, remember again that the gifts are not duties, and not just human acts. It’s not that we “ought” to “learn” these lessons. When the Tradition calls these gifts of the Spirit, it sees them more as consequences of our divinization and divine filiation. As the Spirit of God’s love dwells ever deeper in us, we “naturally” come to see more deeply.
Where we have trouble understanding what God is doing, let us ask for deeper love.