When a priest hears confessions, there are occasions when he hears himself say something to the penitent that surprises him. When that’s happened to me, I think to myself: “Whoa! Where did that come from?” There have also been times when I’ve gone to confession and the priest says something that seems to express exactly the thing I needed to hear – even if it wasn’t the thing I wanted to hear! These are, I think, experiences of the Gift of Counsel. The Gift of Counsel is a perfection of the virtue of Prudence, which is the ability to know what is the truly good thing to do in a particular situation, as well as when and how to do it. Prudence is not to be confused with cunning, which is self-seeking and is used to manipulate or take advantage of a situation to get what one wants. Prudence is also different from timidity, which is also self-seeking and used to rationalize the avoidance of doing what is good out of fear. Prudence is about discerning what is truly good so as to do it. To develop the virtue of Prudence it’s important to form your conscience well, to get help in knowing what is good and what is evil and in distinguishing between what is true and what is false. We do this by learning what the Church teaches us, by seeking the company of people who demonstrate the virtue of Prudence, and by trying to act prudently.
Through the Gift of Counsel, the Holy Spirit helps us to choose a course of action and make decisions about what to do, especially when circumstances demand an immediate response. Because they both are ultimately ordered to our sanctification, we can say with certainty that anything that suggests that we commit an evil act can never be the fruit of Prudence or of Counsel. As we develop our ability to see everything in light of God’s love and His desire for our eternal salvation, we will understand all the more that it is never prudent to sin, and that the Holy Spirit never tells us to do what is evil. But it’s not always easy to recognize evil; it is sometimes easy to be deceived into thinking that it is good, or that we have no choice but to do evil. That’s when the gift of Counsel is most important, because it acts like a supernatural instinct for knowing what action (or inaction) in a particular circumstance is truly good and gives most glory to God.
We cultivate this gift by learning the moral teachings of the Church and approaching our relationship with the Lord Jesus with humility and docility. When we have a decision to make, we should consider our options in the presence of God, asking Him to help us to know what we should do. Sometimes He will help us to discover an alternative course of action that we hadn’t considered before, one that might not be easier but which we recognize to be the best thing to do in light of our relationship with Him and those around us.
Come, O Spirit of Counsel, help and guide me in all my ways, that I may always do Thy holy will. Incline my heart to that which is good, turn it away from all that is evil, and direct me by the path of Thy Commandments to the goal of eternal life for which I long. Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be, etc.