Welcome to the second week of our summer retreat on the Holy Spirit! Today we’re looking at the gift of counsel and the fruit of goodness—and, honestly, one could spend a summer meditating on them alone!
I know a number of people who are “sober”—people who used to abuse alcohol or drugs and have managed to abstain from them for weeks, months, years, and even decades. In many cases, they decided on their own that they needed help. In a few situations, people close to the addicted individual staged an “intervention” by confronting the person with their actions, pointing out how those actions impact others, and then insisting on helping the person move forward into treatment.
(I’ve never experienced that kind of intervention, although once a couple of friends did corner me to insist I give up wearing so much patchouli oil. Point taken!)
Why are these interventions necessary—and why do they work? It’s really all a question of community. Our retreat today quotes Pope Francis: “The Lord does not only speak to us in the intimacy of the heart (…) he also speaks to us through the voice and witness of the brethren. It is truly a great gift to be able to meet men and women of faith who, especially in the most complicated and important stages of our lives, help us to bring light to our heart and to recognize the Lord’s will.”
In some ways, it was easier to be part of the community of faith in the Church’s early years. For first-century Christians, there was danger on every hand; every time they gathered together, their worship and fellowship could end with arrests, torture, and death. That constant danger made early Christians completely dependent on one another. It meant that their community of faith was their primary community, that there were in a sense alone against all the pressures coming at them from outside.
In that atmosphere, people took each other very seriously indeed. They looked after each other. They counseled, advised, supported, and took care of each other. When one member of the community was out of work (often those who were in trades that conflicted with their new religion—idol-makers, for example, of which there was a teeming industry—had to quit their jobs in order to live their Christian vocation), the rest of the community stepped in and supported that individual until they could find another means of support.
Most of us live in places where our religion isn’t a death sentence, but that doesn’t mean our need to have and be community has diminished in any way. This is the place where we bring our deepest fears and greatest joys. These are the people who understand our life and our struggles and our challenges, who pray with us and for us. Having the option of turning to the community of faith for advice—for counsel—is one of the greatest gifts of the Holy Spirit, and offering that counsel to others when they request it is just as great a gift.
Think about how you might respond… today!