The Gift of Understanding

The Holy Spirit is the very “breath” of our lives as followers of Jesus.

The gifts of the Spirit are given not for the believer but for the Body of Christ. It is to make the Body complete. These gifts are intended for the church to edify it, to strengthen it, to feed it, to exhort it, to encourage it and to have the Body of Christ empowered to do the work of Christ. These gifts are always to exalt Christ, to witness of God’s power, to build up the Body, and to work to enlarge the Body of Christ by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the lost.

Understanding is a grace that only the Holy Spirit can infuse and which awakens in the Christian the ability to go beyond the outward appearance of reality and scrutinize the depths of God’s thoughts and His plan of salvation.

God gave Solomon wisdom, exceptional understanding, and knowledge, as vast as the sand on the seashore. [1 Kings 5:9] – Understanding is the ability to discern what is from God and what is not.

Understanding is also the gift of being able to perceive the hidden spiritual meaning of the Holy Scriptures, either by reading and meditating them or by listening to someone who has the gift of preaching.

Isaiah 11: 1- 4         THE IDEAL DAVIDIC KING


But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.


The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,  A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,


and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD. Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide,


But he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide fairly for the land’s afflicted.

“Understanding” is the second of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit as listed in Isaiah.   As defined in the Modern Catholic Dictionary, Understanding  is to “penetrate to the very core of revealed truths.”   The gift of understanding is closely related to faith. When the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and enlightens our minds, it makes us grow day by day in the understanding of what the Lord has said and done. Jesus himself said to his disciples: I will send the Holy Spirit and he will make you understand all that I have taught you. Understanding the teachings of Jesus, to understand His Word, to understand the Gospel, to understand God’s Word.

One of my favorite Gospel passages is the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  In Luke 24:

25 And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! 26   Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer* these things and enter into his glory?” 27  Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.    28  As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. 29  But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.  30  And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. 31   With that, their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. 32  Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?”

This episode expresses the depth and strength of this gift very well. After witnessing Christ’s death on the cross and his burial, the two disciples,  disappointed and heartbroken, leave Jerusalem and are returning to Emmaus. While they are on the road, Our Risen Lord and Savior joins them and start talking with them, but their eyes, veiled with sadness and despair, are unable to recognize him.

But when Jesus explained the Scriptures to them, so that they would understand that He had to suffer and die and then rise again, their minds open and hope is rekindled in their hearts (cf. Lk 24.13 to 27).   With the gift of understanding the disciples on the road to Emmaus were given the light to understand the Holy Scriptures and their hearts burned within as the Lord spoke to them.

The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16)


In coming to the other side of the sea,* the disciples had forgotten to bring bread.


Jesus said to them, “Look out, and beware of the leaven* of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”


They concluded among themselves, saying, “It is because we have brought no bread.”


When Jesus became aware of this he said, “You of little faith, why do you conclude among yourselves that it is because you have no bread?


Do you not yet understand, and do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many wicker baskets you took up?


Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you took up?


How do you not comprehend that I was not speaking to you about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”


Then they understood* that he was not telling them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

The gift of “Understanding” enabled the apostles to grasp Jesus’s warnings about the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Matthew 17:12-13 – The Coming of Elijah.*


As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision* to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”


* Then the disciples asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”


He said in reply,* “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things;


but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.”


Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

This passage is the conclusion of the “Transfiguration”.  When the Lord told the apostles that Elijah had come but they had done with him whatever they pleased.  The gift of understanding enabled the apostles to recognize that Jesus was referring to John the Baptist.

And this is what the Holy Spirit does for us: The Spirit opens our minds and hearts, to better understand the things of God, human things, situations, all things.   It is an important gift for our Christian life.

Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, describes what understanding does in us – and Paul says this: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit”(1 Cor 2:9-10 ).

Saint John Paul II talked about how important the gift of understanding is for our Christian life!    He said:  Through this gift, the Spirit of God breaks through the darkness of our minds and our hearts and makes us true believers, able to enjoy what the Lord reveals to us in His Word and rejoice in all that he does in our lives.

Understanding is the servant of faith that, like the gift of wisdom, it enables us to “see” with our hearts while listening to our intellect.  It perfects, deepens and illumines our faith.

It is the “Good Friday” gift that promises “Easter Sunday.”

Once we become convinced through understanding of the truths of the Faith, we can also draw conclusions from those truths and arrive at a further understanding of our relation to God and his role in the world, his role in our lives.   Understanding rises above natural reason, which is concerned only with the things we can sense in the world around us. Thus, understanding is both speculative—concerned with intellectual knowledge—and practical, because it can help us to order the actions of our lives toward our final end, which is God. Through understanding, we see the world and our life within it in the larger context of the eternal law and the relation of our souls to God.

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, most importantly, to understand the Word of God in the Scriptures.

Give us, O Lord, the gift of understanding. It helps us to perceive more and more how everything is a gift of Your love for our salvation.