Fr. Ron Rolheiser, omi


March 30, 1998

There is a striking parallel in the Bible between two stories. In each, an innocent woman, threatened by a crowd, is saved because one person intervenes, gives counsel and alters things. The stories, however, end differently, one manifesting the gift of counsel considerably more than the other.

The first is the story of Daniel, saving the beautiful, innocent Susanna. It goes this way: One day, two elderly men see Susanna taking a bath and lust after her. They approach her with their evil intent; but she rejects them, holding firm to virtue. Bitter and jealous of her power, they falsely accuse her of committing adultery, turning both the crowd and the ancient law against her.

She is condemned to die and is being led to her death when Daniel, seized by the Holy Spirit, confronts the crowd. He gives counsel. He accuses the two men of lying and to prove his point has them separated and questioned separately. Of course, they contradict each other, proving Susanna's innocence.

Daniel, though, is not finished. He turns the crowd against the accusers, demanding their deaths, and the crowd, in a frenzy of emotion, oblige. The two men are stoned to death, the very death they had decreed for Susanna.

There is in this story a moment of true counsel, the moment when Daniel is seized by the Holy Spirit and protests the innocence of Susanna. But there is also a moment when the Holy Spirit is no longer offering the counsel, that moment when Daniel incites the crowd against the false accusers.

How parallel, yet different, is the story of Jesus, calmly backing down the accusers of the woman caught in adultery! A woman is condemned to die, accused of adultery. Unlike Susanna, this woman is guilty, but that is incidental to what is happening.

Clearly, like Susanna, she is there because of jealousy and mob frenzy and is therefore structurally innocent, innocent of the mob frenzy, despite her guilt. And Jesus, like Daniel, confronts the crowd on the basis of the gift of counsel, the Holy Spirit working through him. His protest to the crowd is more powerful than Daniel's – "Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone!" – and it also has a different effect.

Like Susanna, the woman is saved, but no mob scene follows. What ensues is the exact opposite of lynch-mob hysteria: "They all went away one by one, beginning with the eldest."

Jesus' counsel not only saves the woman, but also, analogous to the defusing of a bomb, deflates a potential explosion. Nobody dies that day. The counsel of the Holy Spirit prevails. This gift, as Jesus manifests it, not only advocates for someone who is innocent (the role of the Paraclete), but it also, because it takes origins in the love within the Trinity, exposes the roots of violence - jealousy and a mob.

In these two stories we see the gift of counsel, the third gift of the Holy Spirit, manifest; imperfectly in Daniel, perfectly in Jesus. What is this gift?

Theologically, counsel is the gift of the Holy Spirit that perfects the virtue of prudence, helping us to judge properly and giving us the insight to know what to do and say in all situations, especially difficult ones. Some manuals describe it as the gift of supernatural intuition.

At a street-level, this simply means giving good advice. Most of us identify counsel with prudence which we then define as good judgment, common sense or good practical judgment . . . and soon notice it is a rather rare commodity! Valuable though human prudence is, it is not exactly the gift of counsel.

As revealed in Scripture and manifest in the story of Jesus saving the woman taken in adultery, counsel has two interpenetrating aspects: divine wisdom in knowing what to say in a difficult situation ("When you are arrested and dragged before kings on my account, don't worry about what you will say. It will be given you in that moment.") and divine insight in understanding the roots of violence and where God stands within that ("After I die, I will send you a Paraclete, an Advocate, to help you to understand all these things.").

Counsel is a gift and one either has it or does not.

That is true, but there is more. The kind of prudence and counsel that Jesus revealed in defusing the crowd and saving the woman taken in adultery cannot be taught or learned. Scripture tells us it is something given only "when we raise our eyes to heaven" and, through deep prayer, put our hearts into the flow of compassion and gratitude that passes between the Father and the Son.

To the extent we do this we will, first, begin to see and protest the innocence of others who are being persecuted; later, when the gift has grown, we will, like Jesus, be able to have the kind of insight and offer the type of counsel that defuses chaos because it points out exactly where God, and we ourselves, stand.