One gift of the Holy Spirit is counsel. This is a practical power, the ability to make good moral and religious judgments. In the course of our careers, we make countless judgments regarding professional and personal matters: What sort of job should I take? Whom should I marry? What sort of house should I buy? But how often do we ever deliberate about questions such as “What kind of person do I want to be? What shape should my ethical life take? Am I growing in faith, hope, and love?”
I watched a wonderful game back in 2009, my Yankees against the Twinkies. One of my favorite Yankees now is Brett Gardner, a player who changes the game itself with his speed. Gardner was on second when Franco Cervelli hit a comebacker off the pitcher that wound up about twenty feet from the plate.
The Twins catcher, Joe Mauer sprang out, pounced on the ball and was about to take the automatic out at first when he had enough presence of mind to take another look at the crafty Gardner who had never stopped running and was charging around third intent on coming all the way home. Mauer makes an athletic dive at the plate to catch the speedy Gardner. Watch it here.
The play demonstrated Mauer's practical prudence, the ability to sense an ever shifting pattern of play aligned against him. It was a great play for Mauer, as well as for Gardner.
The spiritual gift of counsel is a practical prudence in regard to the complexities of journeying toward God. The game there is a feel for becoming holy, a knack for answering the spiritual questions rightly.
St. Therese of Lisieux’s “Little Way” is born of this same gift of counsel, for it is nothing other than a prudential instinct in regard to the will of the Holy Spirit: in every concrete situation, no matter how trivial, what is the loving thing to do?
W H. Auden said that a poet must keep hidden his passion for his shop, Evelyn Waugh that even revision and the correcting of publisher’s proofs must be done con amore. The flamboyant genius Colette adopted as her writing motto “La règle gue’rit tout” -- discipline cures everything. Find the right work, these great artists remind us, the work you should be doing, and you will have largely solved the key question of how to spend your life.
This doesn’t mean you will be happy all the time. But the work will become an inner citadel to which you can retreat during times of crisis, as well as a reliable rampart from which to face the world and misfortune. As the historian R. H. Tawney once wrote, “If a man has important work to do, and enough leisure and income to enable him to do it properly, he is in possession of as much happiness as is good for any of the children of Adam.”
Yet almost any work can be important. With an admiration bordering on envy the contemporary poet Philip Levine used to observe a clothes presser in a Detroit tailor’s shop: “I read in his movements not a disregard for this work but, rather, the affirmation that all work was worth doing with elegance and precision and that necessary work granted dignity to the worker. For me he was both a pants presser and the most truly dignified person I’d ever met, one of the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”
Levine’s words call to mind the classical imperative: “Do what you are doing.” That is, whether you are praying or preparing dinner or playing tennis or tuning a car’s engine or sweeping a room, really focus your whole self on just that. Do it well, and you can invest even the most trivial activities with significance, transforming the mundane into the spiritual.
Practice this always.