Once we are able to have Understanding, then we can begin to discover Counsel. Providing Counsel is a gift of the Spirit that is a wonderful, beautiful and helpful gift, unless we start talking from our own perspective and from our own desires. This essay explores how we can be better counselors to our fellow brothers and sisters, especially counselors for those who are suffering.
To counsel is to give advice, right? Wrong. If we see providing counsel to others as advice giving, we should stop talking. Saint Thomas Aquinas defines Counsel as that which “allows a man to be directed by God in matters necessary for his salvation.” In other words, God is the speaker, and he speaks through us on matters that impact our eternal well-being. With this perspective we can see how essential Understanding is when we seek to grow in Counsel. So back to the question, how can we grow in the gift of Counsel? How can we better allow God to speak through us?
If we want to be pure vessels for God to speak through us then we must be in accord with who God is, and God is Love. If we are to allow the Holy Spirit to perfect the gift of Counsel within us, we must seek to Love more. Jesus tells us in Matthew’s Gospel that Love is the greatest commandment. And then in the first letter of St. John 4:16, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”
When it comes to providing counsel to others, we often think of this as correcting people in their sin. No doubt this comes from a desire to help people amend their ways and return to God. While love can certainly involve teaching and correction, if we start correcting people because we are repulsed by their sin, we become like a judge. And if we correct people without an understanding of their life than we become a critic. And these things are not what we are called to do. We are not called to condemn people because of their sin. We are not called to tell people they are going to hell because of their sin. We are called to Love.
In the same discussion in Matthew (22:38) where Jesus tells us the greatest commandment is love, he also tells us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” We can see Jesus’ infinite wisdom in this commandment. We are all different individuals. Every human brings their own genetics, their own personalities, skills, talents, and quirks to the world. Thus when we love our neighbor as ourselves, this means that how we show love can and will have differences than others around us. We can so quickly follow the crowd when it comes to showing love. What we see someone else do, we do, which can be fine. But if we only do what everyone else is already doing we may miss our unique opportunity to love. Another alternative action we can take is to be repulsed by how we see someone showing love, so that we retract and do nothing. Brothers and sisters, we must know how God is calling us as individuals to love. This world can be so hurtful, and the suffering can be so deep. We all must summon our own callings to love and then bring these to our suffering brothers and sisters. If you are not called to directly admonish a sin, then how can you still love? If you are not called to provide a hug and comfort during grief, are you called to prayer? Are you called to providing food, clothing, or simply your presence? We can get stuck in what we see others doing and we forget that God calls each of us individually.
How I show love can be different that how you show love. And this is wonderful. This is how people are cared for, by the varieties of love that each of us can bring to a situation. We are all part of the body of Christ, and we are all in this life together. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, we can daily work to purify our love for God and therefore our love for our neighbor.
Another important point to remember when it comes to love-when we see others sin, we can be deeply saddened by this or repulsed by the horrors that result from sin. Maybe this even leaves us feeling helpless or angry. In these situations, perhaps love is guiding us to prayer. And then through prayer, action. One of purest, self-less things that we can do with prayer is ask for forgiveness for the person who has done wrong. This can be really hard when we have been directly impacted by a sin, but in this world where hate and sin abound, we need to remember love and forgiveness.
Mother Teresa talked about seeing Jesus in the sinners, in the suffering, in our neighbor. When we see Jesus in those around us, our own hearts are softened and we can love better. We are all God’s children, even in the worst of our sins. When we forget that the neighbor next door who is living in sin or who has committed a grave sin is still a child of God, we can become repulsed by that person, which can drive us farther from love. We should be repulsed by sin, but we should not be repulsed by our neighbor.
Love is how we provide Counsel. Love is how we commune with God. Love is how we support and guide our fellow brothers and sisters to Christ. So to grow in the gift of Counsel is to grow in Love. How can you grow in Love of God and neighbor today?