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Understanding (Gift of Understanding)

  • leads to purity of heart
  • reveals what is hidden in the major truths of Christian teaching
  • perfects, deepens and clarifies Faith, Hope, and Charity, the three theological virtues
  • reveals our personal weakness and sinfulness
  • communicates the experience of our nothingness and incapacity to do anything without God’s grace
  • initiates the Dark Night of Spirit

Understanding is one of the three contemplative Gifts of the Spirit. The other two are the Gifts of Knowledge and Wisdom

  • FG: 40, 87-89, 97-99 

Little by little, the influence of the Gift of Understanding introduces us into the Night of Spirit. Spiritual consolations cease and we feel plunged into an abyss of spiritual darkness bordering on feelings of abandonment by God. According to St. John of the Cross, this darkness is due to an excess of divine light that blinds the soul and feelings of alienation from God are due to the intensity of divine love. The Night of Spirit is the beginning of Divine Union, according to St. John of the Cross, and is caused by the infusion of divine love.

Related Concepts




The Gift of Understanding arises spontaneously with the growth of faith, and is just as likely to inspire us outside the time of prayer as well as during prayer. The Spirit enlightens us with the deeper meaning of the truths of faith. Understanding reveals what is hidden in the major truths of Christian doctrine. It perfects, deepens, and illumines faith as it relates to revealed truth, adding new depths to the mystery of God to which we consent. As we penetrate their meaning experientially, we know that the Gift of Understanding is present and is nurturing our spiritual growth.

The Gift of Understanding has two parts working at once: penetrating insight into the truths of faith and a realistic view of our own weakness and sinfulness. When fully realized, it communicates the conviction of our own nothingness and incapacity for any good action without God’s grace.

The Gift of Understanding casts light into the depths of our spirit and reveals the roots of our emotional programs for happiness, prejudices, biases, and over-identification with our bodies, feelings, relationships, roles, and cultural conditioning.


 Reflection: Listening

The Gift of Understanding reveals the deep meaning of the mysteries of Chris’s earthly life, death, and resurrection.

Reflection: Reflecting

What is the Night of Spirit? What can I do without God? Do I still have prejudices?

Reflection: Responding

Long to penetrate the truths of faith. Acknowledge and accept your weakness.