As a natural virtue, counsel is the good intellectual habit of seeking advice. The Latin word consilium means deliberation or advice. A person may take counsel in himself by thinking things through. One can also get good advice outside of oneself. This is why we call a lawyer a counsellor. As Fr. John Hardon, S.J. puts it, counsel is “inquiry about the right choice of means to attain a particular end, and the advice given in response.”
Fr. Joseph Thomas defines the gift of the Holy Spirit of counsel as “discernment on how to order created things for the glory of God and according to God’s loving plan.” We have the limited power, and in fact the duty, to change or order created things. Our guide in this case is the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Hardon explains that this gift
perfects the virtue of prudence. Its function is to enable a person to judge promptly and rightly, as by a sort of supernatural intuition, what should be done, especially in difficult situations. With the gift of counsel, the Holy Spirit speaks, as it were, to the heart and in an instant enlightens a person what to do. It corresponds to the promise made by Christ to his followers, “When they hand you over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you” (Matthew 10:19).
This gift perfects prudence because the three parts of prudence are counsel, decision, and action. To decide the best course of action, one first gets the best advice one can obtain. That is the counsel part. (Note that you cannot be prudent if you don’t make a decision or if you make a decision but don’t act on it!)
As a gift of the Holy Spirit, council is the most perfect advice of what to do. The soul knows promptly and correctly.
Counsel refers primarily to prudent conduct in one’s own case, and only secondarily in favor of others. Enlightened by the Spirit, a person learns what to do in a specific case and what advice to give when consulted or command to make if he is in authority.
We can greatly benefit personally from the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit when we don’t know what to do or say. If we are in any position of authority, we can benefit others by our advice or even command, through the Holy Spirit.
For two Doctrinal Homily Outline for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, click here and scroll down.